Personas and Personalization

05 October 2012 | Blog

NBC News Digital has decided to make a remarkable shift in how they target their news consumers (NBC News Kills the Demographic, Personifies Its Viewers Instead). Instead of using traditional demographics, they’ve combed through the data and instead established four archetypes of how people consume their news. They plan to use these to focus their own content and marketing planning as well as offering the new scheme to their advertisers.
As MediaPost’s Joe Mandese notes, the basic demographics categories we use today were a stopgap measure to begin with. Almost since the beginning, advertisers have worried that breaking down audiences by age and gender led to non-representative groupings. NBC’s move is a sign that publishers are starting to move towards new, data-driven ways of classifying audiences that focus on behavior.
But surely not all content producers have the ability (or the desire) to do the kind of custom data-diving NBC’s team engaged in. And even if they do, will advertisers bite? So far, it’s unclear. It makes perfect sense for NBC to classify their audience segments based on how viewers engage with their product and market their own content accordingly. But how much good does that do most advertisers? Some consumers connect to the news through multiple devices all throughout the day, while others barely skim. But does this really tell an advertiser how interested either group is in purchasing shoes or hair care products or vacation packages? These categories seem even less relevant to the average advertiser than the old traditional ones.
Surely there’s a middle ground, one that can be more useful to both sellers and buyers than the old categories. Detailed demographics, the kind that keep census workers polling and market researchers salivating, can include much more than just age and gender. Presence of children, neighborhood type, lifestyle choices, and yes, the perennial pet ownership question, are just the beginning of the kinds of data available to be mined for the benefit of both sides of the advertising ecosystem.
NBC’s bold move shows how the marketplace is beginning to shift towards greater refinement in targeting. But if ad sellers want advertisers to buy in to their segmentation, they’re going to have to meet them halfway.