The Age of the Audience

The Age of the Audience
Kerry Morris • August 24th, 2011

In 1704, William Bradford placed what is widely considered the first advertisement ever published in North America. His ad, placed in the Boston News-Letter, attempted to sell a farm in the impossibly rural Long Island.  Mr. Bradford knew many of the readers where not likely to buy his “twenty acres…and a very good Fulling-Mill”.   But he knew at least some of the readers would be good prospects.


In today’s marketing parlance, we would say Mr. Bradford bought the media to reach the audience. Over the last three centuries, advertising has evolved, new media channels have emerged and “Fulling-Mills” have become much less marketable. However, the basic approach to advertising has remained the same.

Marketers buy media – TV ads, web sites, radio ads, billboards –they think will reach potential customers. While doing so, marketers have had a relatively limited toolset for defining their audience. Media channels could target on a few basic demographics, but even sophisticated segmentation tools were often watered down to basic age and gender targeting.

Fortunately, new technology and innovative business models are quickly improving targeting capabilities. Marketers can now define detailed audiences and reach them across channels. Some are calling this new approach audience-centric, media-agnostic marketing as it unbundles the media from the audience.

So what do marketers need to be successful in the Age of the Audience? Here are four tips to become audience-centric, media agnostic.

  • Deeper Consumer Insights – Audience definition is only as good as the data that feeds it. Marketers should look to integrate internal as well as external data -online and offline -- into their targeting approach.
  • Audience-Centric Media Tools – Work with platforms that enable marketers to overlay rich audience data on media inventory.  For example, in web display, Demand Side Platforms (DSP’s) like x+1 or Triggit enable marketers to target specific consumer audiences, regardless of which web site they visit. Analytic tools from companies like Google or Rentrak enable the purchase of TV ads based on what a specific audience is watching.  Data Management Platforms (DMP’s) from companies like Aggregate Knowledge and Exelate are emerging as powerful tools for defining audiences that can be used across multiple online channels, including a marketer’s own site.
  • Common Response Currency – Each media channel generates different response behaviors, and marketers need to have an approach for converting them to a common currency or measurement so they can optimize spend and allocate appropriately. (E.g. How do we compare the value of a Twitter ‘follow’ versus a display ad conversion versus an email open.)
  • Digital Audience Agency – Most agencies are media-centric, focused on sourcing and optimizing media. While this is a valuable role, as the world becomes more audience-centric, marketers need an agency that can help them use all available insights to identify the right audiences and craft a message that resonates across channels. Challenge your agency to think about how campaigns move from being episodic and generic to persistent and personal.

 In the Age of the Audience: Audience is the end; Media is just the means.