Can a Campaign Be Too Targeted?

It’s a generally accepted tenet of direct response marketing that the more targeted your campaign, the more successful that campaign is likely to be. There are circumstances, however, when too precise a target audience can actually work against you and force you to make compromises that jeopardize the ultimate ROI from your program.

This is a common phenomenon amongst start-ups and smaller companies, those firms that have precious few dollars to invest in marketing and thus (with all good intentions) figure the best way to maximize efficiency is to target only the very select number of prospects most likely to need their particular solution.

When we ask these firms about their target audience, we often get something like the following in response:

* Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York (“the only places we have sales reps thus far”)
* Financial Services industry (“we only have two customers and they’re both banks”)
* VP level and above (“we don’t have the time to waste upselling”)
* Must have [insert esoteric technical requirement here] installed (“it just makes the sales cycle a whole lot shorter if they already have this in place”)

And so on. Of course, if we as an agency had ready access to a list of Southern California VPs of Financial Service companies with [Acme Widget Pro 2.0] installed, none of this would be an issue, but therein lies the rub: we don’t.

Some of the most effective vehicles available to direct marketers today are the least targeted, search being the primary example. There are ways to target search, most notably by geography, but in the end, you don’t control who clicks on your ad. Same for content syndication. Or newsletter sponsorships.

Faced with an impossibly precise audience, we usually have one option only, and that’s to build a list from scratch and then market to that list, perhaps through a combination of telemarketing, e-mail (if the names by some miracle are opted-in), and direct mail. On the plus side, we’re starting with a list that is already pre-qualified, and thus one that should respond well to our message. On the minus side, such initiatives are hugely time consuming and often prohibitively expensive.

Paring your target audience down to only a tiny segment of the potential universe may seem like a worthy shortcut, but in the end it’s mostly inefficient. It’s typically more productive to broaden your audience to include any company, job function, industry, etc. that might feasibly have a need for your solution. Your campaign will be less targeted, it’s true, but you’ll have much more flexibility when it comes to media vehicles, and your Cost Per Lead will be less as a result.

3 thoughts on “Can a Campaign Be Too Targeted?

  1. Howard Sewell

    The other issue with highly targeted campaigns is that (in our experience) companies have rarely developed a compelling message, content, or offer that aligns precisely with that audience. The result is a highly targeted campaign utilizing a generic message or offer, and response that is well below expectations.

  2. Karen

    Howard, this post has been bugging me for a few weeks – with enormous respect I must disagree. What I have found time and again is the issue that matters most to the company is not the number of leads you generate, or even cost per lead. What matters is how much revenue you can help generate. That’s the real ROI after all. If you do a non-targeted campaign, and the sales team can’t convert the leads, then it doesn’t matter how cost effective the campaign is. It is harder for my reps to close a deal in a non-core industry because a) they have less knowledge of how to connect with the company’s pain points, b) there are no customer references. They lack credibility, which is fundamental to winning business.

    That doesn’t mean I disagree with the idea of going broader through tactics such as search and other web marketing programs. Yet with those, I still have to filter well and throw out a lot of wasted “leads” that my team could not easily convert. And I have seen better results – even in ROI – from taking the difficult approach you mention: building our own list through TM & direct mail.

    I just think you forgot the main point here: revenue from closed deals trumps cost per lead every time.

  3. Howard Sewell

    Hi Karen! Thanks for your very thoughtful comment. I agree 100% that ROI is king. And the types of targeted campaigns you describe can be successful, and merited, in certain circumstances (heck, we’ve designed them for clients ourselves). However, what I’ve personally seen first-hand is that many companies, particularly start-ups, DEFAULT to the “target account” approach simply because they feel it’s the quickest way to get to qualified leads (those that will generate ROI). And on that note I strongly disagree. Particularly with some kind of lead nurturing sytem in place, broader programs can often generate a lower CPL and yes – a better ROI – than more tareted campaigns. In the end, budget allowing, the ideal solution is almost always some combination of the two: broader, “air cover” campaigns like search and content syndication to drive a constant stream of inquiries, and occasional, more targeted (but not too targeted!) campaigns to reach key prospects.


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