Ad targeting reminds me of the Chicago voting mantra from the 60’s—“vote early and vote often.” You may recall that in the 1960 election, the former Mayor Daley of Chicago used the names of tens of thousands of dead people to “vote” for John F. Kennedy. While the ad community isn’t busing in dead voters per se, it is keeping questionable count of who drives online ad results.

As consumers are becoming increasingly social and we head into 2012 marketing planning meetings, it’s time to shake out those hanging chads.

What Exactly Are You Measuring?

Sure, you may be a part of the 62 percent of marketers and ad agencies that plan on spending more money on social media in the next six months. (By the way, congratulations if you are). But, do you truly know what is driving click-throughs? Is behavioral targeting? Re-targeting? Social targeting?  Or a combination of the three?

If you are unable to understand the differences between various audience targeting approaches, we can assume there’s some serious excess in your digital spend. Here are a few “dirty secrets” of audience targeting, which when uncovered, will help you better expand audiences and measure results:

Say NO to duplication

Marketers are paying to target the same people multiple times which yields media waste. One classic example is the brand that uses social targeting (either on Facebook or on other parts of the Web) to identify and serve an ad to a new, potential customer. A couple days later, the brand then serves that same person an identical ad through one of its “retargeting” campaigns. This time – after having seen the ad multiple times – the consumer finally bites by clicking on the ad and making a purchase. In this scenario, the advertiser is paying multiple targeting companies for one sale.

Just as alarming as the superfluous spend, is the fact that the brand often has no idea which of the campaigns was most responsible for driving the customer purchase. Before you direct additional dollars to corpse-like programs, take a look at your digital spend and look to decipher what’s working and what’s not.

Understand the tools in your tool box

Behavioral and social are Different. Social targeting and re-targeting can play nicely together, but are actually very unique. Let’s take the voting analogy a step further. Brands will retarget the same consumer multiple times with the same (or similar) ad much in the same way that a politician might repeatedly advertise to the same potential voter – hoping that he or she eventually will cast  a vote for him. Social targeting, however, is used to target and advertise to the many friends of a particular constituent or consumer. And, as marketers we should always have an eye towards expanding audiences and gaining actionable insight.

Capturing Insights Leads to Long-Term Gain

As obsessed as we marketers are with conversions (the percentage of people actually purchase based on an ad), however, we’d be best served in the long-term by not thinking merely about immediate ROI numbers. Rather, long term success comes to those that are equally focused on gaining comprehensive insights from the data captured in their campaigns.

For instance, do you know if your target audience is more inclined to purchase as a result of consuming video or text-based display ads?  And, in this day and age of viral marketing, do you know with whom your customers are connecting with online? Shockingly, many marketers can’t answer these questions with a great degree of certainty.

As you’re grappling with spend allocation and have inevitably heard about “Voter Counter Shenanigans,” during the November 8th elections, think about this: have you found a sensible balance between behavioral and social targeting, and re-targeting?  Are you continuously targeting the same person or expanding your pool of prospects? If you are knowingly doing so, are you wasting your campaign dollars by double-counting your ad conversions? Ultimately, the success of your campaign – whether financial or political in nature – will be dependent on understanding how your target audience consumes and shares information.

Allie Kline is the vice president of marketing at 33Across.

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