Marketers today face many challenges, no matter their industry. With competition coming from all angles and unshakable consumer "ad blindness," brands must find ways to reach niche audiences with the right messaging at the right time.

Audience targeting is synonymous with online advertising today. If you aren't sending your message to a specific audience, you are "spraying and praying"—a technique that works well if you have an unlimited budget and no one to answer to for campaign performance.

After you've implemented an audience-based tool, such as a data management platform (DMP), and started segmenting your customers and prospects into audiences, what's next?

Here are five steps for successful audience targeting, enabling you to pair audiences with the right messaging to communicate in more personal and meaningful ways, ultimately allowing you to reach your business goals.

Pixel your campaigns

Before you can start targeting your ads, you need to place a pixel on your properties (including your website and campaigns) to gather data about the audience. Pixels are small blocks of code on a webpage that allow websites to read and place cookies, which then passes anonymous information back to you about the person's behaviors online, including what pages they viewed.

For digital marketers who have used Google Analytics, this process should be fairly straightforward. Google Analytics uses pixels to track the path to conversion of your audience.

Most marketing technologies offer their own pixels to collect different types of data. So whether you are working with a DMP, a demand-side platform (DSP), or an exchange, talk to your vendor and make sure you are gathering the most information available.

Identify your clickers or converters

Pixeling your campaigns enables you to build an audience of "clickers" or "converters"— highly engaged audience members who are more likely to become your customers.

Once the audience is built inside your DMP or DSP and you have allowed a few weeks for data collection, to learn more you should dive into the analytics or audience profile about this valuable audience.

Most marketers have a good idea about who their target audience is. But the insights gathered based on your customer's online activity may tell another story. Until you get information on who your online audience really is, you may be targeting the wrong people. And that won't get you anywhere.

For example, you may think that your target audience is something like soccer moms, so you have spent your targeted advertising on women age 25-44. But the audience profile report may tell a different story. Maybe those most likely to click on your ads are people (not just women) with an interest in financial products.

Whatever insights you glean can be used for the next campaign. So instead of targeting soccer moms, try targeting a financial audience the next time around to see whether your clickthrough rate increases.

Personalize your messaging

In digital marketing, one size does not fit all. Not every customer responds to the same message. The goal of any campaign is to get the most bang for your buck, and send a message that resonates most effectively to your audience to drive sales or leads.

The insights gleaned from your audience can be used to customize your messaging for further enhanced engagement, or to find more of those people who may also become customers (known as "lookalikes").

For example, if you learned that those most likely to click on your ads are women who also love dogs, to resonate with your audience you may want to consider including dogs in your next marketing campaign.

Identify lookalikes

Once you have identified your ideal customer, you can purchase third-party data to reach more of your target audience that hasn't already visited your site or interacted with your brand.

Lookalike audiences are new people who are likely to be interested in your product, because they are similar to your important customers. You can base your lookalike audience on a variety of sources, but the clickers and converters mentioned above would be a good place to start.

For brands that need to increase the size of their audience for a targeted campaign, lookalike modeling is used to create reach. It uses third-party data available from a data provider or a DMP to enrich your "seed" audience (i.e., the base, in this case your clickers or converters) so you can fulfill your campaigns.

By targeting people who "look" or "act" like your target audience, you can focus your ad spend on those most likely to engage with your products and services.


Retargeting is the most basic use case of audience-based marketing: You target ads to users who have previously visited your website or have shown some interest in your product or service. Retargeting refers to targeting those people again, in the hope of bringing them back to your site.

Amazon is one example of a company that is great at retargeting, as I'm sure we have all noticed. Whenever you shop for something on Amazon but don't complete the purchase, you'll find an ad for that item on another website the next day. Such ads are great at reminding you that you forgot to buy, so why not come back to the site to finish the job?

Retargeting can be based on previous interactions, such as a product search or an ad click-through. If paired with cross-device technology, retargeting can also happen across screens, so you can reach your audience on mobile and desktop, for effective, continuous messaging. Cross-device targeting is very powerful, but it's a little more advanced than traditional retargeting.

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Those are just five ways to put your audience data to good use to increase customer engagement and improve the efficacy of your digital campaigns. You already have mountains of audience data at your fingertips. Are you using it to its fullest potential?

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Five Steps to Successful Audience Targeting in Online Ad Campaigns

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image of Michel Benjamin

Michel Benjamin is a B2B digital marketer and the director of marketing at AUDIENCEX, an independent programmatic trading desk in Marina del Rey, CA.

LinkedIn: Michel Benjamin