I’ve been quite bullish on the need to move away from straight demographics in marketing and media from some time. And I haven’t been alone. We see in research that a person’s age or sex isn’t always the best marker of what the consumer is interested in. Even some products that historically might have been limited to a demo or sex are seeing a bit of change. One example of that is where we are seeing more stay-at-home fathers who are responsible for buying the diapers – and they’re not into the same programming that a mother might be into. I understand that the example is nowhere close to becoming a norm, but it illustrates the point. What concerns me more than the slow move to affinity marketing from demographic marketing is the opportunity for publishers to bring bogus solutions to market that only make the transition messier. The latest affront can be found in a MediaPost exclusive with NBC News Digital’s confusing move towards a “Persona” structure that seems even worse than straight demographics.
Before getting into the details of NBC’s move, its important to point out that the shift from affinity to demographic sales from a publisher prospective might not be such an easy thing. Even if a publisher perfectly hits a demographic segment, we know that not everyone in that segment is interested in all things exactly the same. As data and algorithms are refined, there will be ways to define the buckets and deliver to them more easily. But, at this time, the easier way to target may well be through smart social media targeting. And traditional publishers shouldn’t be too far behind – unless they go in the wrong direction.
Which brings us to NBC News. Their direction is confounding. Instead of breaking down their affinity into what their users are specifically are interested in, they are effectively playing off of how much their users are interested in. Instead of Demographics, they want to move to Persona. That’s great if they want to hit those who are more interested in more granular buckets like political, entertainment, sports, local and more. But they are basing their four buckets on how much news they read. From the description, they don’t glean much about the individuals based on these segments ranging from avid digital news readers to spotty or traditional news consumers:
- “Always On:” Consumers who are constantly connected to news feeds across multiple devices throughout their waking day.
- “Reporters:” A slightly smaller segment of “digital natives” who grew up consuming news via online and mobile media, and who have manifested the behaviors of news disseminators, taking pride in their ability to break important news to their friends via their own social media postings.
- “Skimmers:” Consumers who are not passionately connected to news.
- “Veterans:” Consumers who primarily rely on traditional media as a trusted source for news.
NBC News Digital will be focusing on the first two Personas, but as a media buyer, I really don’t have an idea about what any of those groups are interested in. I understand that the “Reporters” might be most likely to share news information with friends, but does that mean that they care about what branding comes along with it? Do the CPMs I pay mean more when it reaches “Always On” readers more because there is the assumption that there are more impressions? Or is it worth less because those readers may be much more adept at tuning out the ads those who are not always checking online for the latest news?
Perhaps the solution for the latter issue is based on sponsorship opportunities. But, such an engagement is even more challenging in the news environment due to the accepted separation of editorial and advertising.
I couldn’t find much more information about the program – other than MediaPost’s piece on it, so I don’t know what NBC is looking to do. Sadly, it looks like NBC may have garnered a headline, but ended up diminishing its proposition because there wasn’t enough within the article or supporting it. With the input the group has from research teams and other organizations, I’m hopeful that there is more sense to this than can currently be seen. Otherwise, it is just another in a long line of curious announcements that miss the especially engaging aspects of digital media and flattens them almost to incomprehension.
At the speed in which we are moving forward and the challenges of selling in concepts and practices to clients and management in that same expedited time, we collectively need to be thinking more clearly about the products and measurements we introduce. Decision makers are too quick to pass judgement that it still causes many to shake their head when half-baked or confusing concepts are presented to the marketplace. The true shift from media planning for demographics to affinity needs to happen – and can happen – but we can’t be placing obstacles in our own path.