Connecting the Data Dots on Facebook and Beyond

The Future of Targeting Is Here. So, What's Your Strategy?

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One of the most enjoyable things about running a Facebook media and technology company is the wealth of unexpected, yet extremely informative branding insights we uncover on a daily basis. Facebook is unique in the online ecosystem, because its users share a wealth of interests, demographics, geographic and social data with each other. We can then use this data to best understand brand composition and audience responsiveness to target against these interests, and then look at campaign performance data to find out which interest groups performed the best across specific audience segments.

This is where we often uncover surprising correlations between consumers and brands. Facebook is like a real-time focus group, much faster than traditional focus groups (which tend to be costly, slow and less accurate). Facebook members can "like" very specific brands, product types, activities and entertainment choices, and can thereby display brand insights that standard focus groups usually miss, especially the importance of such interests as "patriotism," "pizza," "manly drinks" and "hip-hop," to name a few that outperformed the highest-performing marketer-targeted segments. These branding insights have led to modifications in creative and media placements across all media channels (both digital and traditional) with impressive results.

It's not just Facebook, of course. A number of companies are using extensive third-party data sources to glean new audience insights. Sometimes these insights expand a brand's target audience to include people the brand had previously ignored. Sometimes the insights reaffirm a brand's target audience, but provide new information as to what else that audience really likes. In the process, they're uncovering new formulas that shrewd marketers can use to drive new levels of success.

One company, Lotame, generates loads of audience insights through its Crowd Control platform, and is able to segment these consumer groups by income, social influence, and technical prowess. Just as with Facebook, Lotame's insights uncover the unexpected intersection of interests. A recent Lotame study, for example, found that so-called gadget junkies -- the people who discuss mobile phones and video game systems online -- are 10 times more likely to be interested in music than the average consumer. The demand-side platform MediaMath teamed up with Lotame to learn that football fans were, on average, three times more likely to be interested in investment products than is the general population.

Another company pulling together unique audience insights is OwnerIQ. This company uses "ownership signals" -- indicators that a person actually owns a particular brand of product -- to identify the people likeliest to want an upgraded product, an accessory, or a competitive product. In one case, a major furniture retailer discovered that its website was attracting a disproportionate number of consumers who were also in market for a high-definition TV.

There are a slew of other companies popping up to dig into audience insights as well. The social marketing firm Media6Degrees analyzes how consumers behave around the web and uses that data to calculate what it calls your campaign's "social signature." Another company, RadiumOne, tracks and evaluates social sharing across the web to group consumers based on social connections. They can then use these connections to serve relevant adds. And Clearspring, the makers of the AddThis sharing tool, uses its massive amount of sharing data to uncover to show publishers how their visitors are sharing content, then feeds that data into real-time exchanges for ad targeting.

How these insights inform your advertising is up to you, of course. What's new is the ability to sift through massive amounts of previously unconnected data rapidly, and the discovery of correlations that surprise even brands that already pay a lot of attention to their customers.

These examples rely on third-party data, so they're suppositional to some degree; no one checked a box that said, "I am interested in a high-definition TV -- offer me a deal," or told the brand which of their friends may also want such a TV. Facebook insights, on the other hand, derive from first-party data that users willingly share with their friends. When they say they "like" a particular stereo, or mention where they went to school, or record their birthday, or describe their favorite brands, drinks, and pastimes, they're also helping marketers find them. When users like a brand and ads targeted at those users perform well, marketers can draw insights across a number of categories, including very specific interests, such as "patriotism," that have demonstrated interest in CPG products made in America.

The best way to uncover audience insights is to utilize existing brand insight data and then experiment and broaden out targets across Facebook to uncover new insights and target audiences. At Blinq Media, we utilize Facebook as a real-time focus group. Of course we run campaigns targeting the audience the brand advertiser wants — but we also run small ad flights against new target audiences, experimenting in order to learn which scenarios perform best. Turning up the combination of female whisky drinkers in their 40s, for example, can help you reach an audience that also wants to quit smoking. Knowledge like that can help you maximize campaign results and minimize media waste in ways that had been unimaginable.

Dave Williams is the CEO of Blinq Media.
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