Greg Hamilton

Why You Shouldn’t Target Your Marketing: Target marketing fails

July 21st, 2015

Targeted marketing, or the practice of aiming marketing collateral at specific prospects or customers, has become so prolific that it is one of the largest tools in the modern marketer’s toolkit.  In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration lists targeted marketing as the third step in marketing implementation.

Imagine yourself attending the brainstorming session for your next marketing campaign or participating in one at a trendy advertising agency. Does anyone in the room ever verbalize the thought, “Let’s not target this campaign to anyone?” Of course not; they would be laughed out of the room.

However, simply targeting your marketing is not equivalent to being customer-centric, or customer-first, and this is where the majority of us go wrong. Aristotle hints at this in his master work, Rhetoric: “For it is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also say it as we ought … ”

It is in the spirit of saying it “as we ought” that I humbly submit to you five steps that have the capacity to royally mess up your targeted marketing by not implementing it with a customer-centric approach.


Step #1: Target Just Your Intended Audience



Reality: We as marketers must recognize that, while our intended prospects and customers are included in our target group, by their very nature marketing messages will also be consumed by those who are not a part of that group. It is never customer-centric to offend another group while targeting your desired customer segment.


Step #2: Make Sure It’s Clever



Reality: In marketing, just because it’s clever doesn’t mean that its customer- centric. Don’t get so caught up in your own joke that you don’t realize that you are the butt of it. Bonus points should be awarded to the above ad on the right. This is a funeral service provider who encouraged its prospective customers to “off” themselves in the name of generating more business. While I concede that this is one way to increase demand, it certainly can’t be called customer-centric. After all, who is going to ensure that the deceased actually uses the service?  


Step 3: Target Without Context



Reality: Never fear, context is here. Oh wait. No, it’s not. We as marketers must recognize that, once released into the wild, messaging can appear in many places, some more appropriate than others. Saying it “as we ought” includes “where we ought.” Putting a few minutes of thought into your customer’s journey, especially considering where they will be interacting with your brand, will make your messaging more customer-centric.


Step #4: Never Strive for Clarity 



Reality: Clarity trumps persuasion. Don’t worry about finding the perfect words or pun; just make sure your customers are totally clear on your message. Ask these three questions in any campaign, from your customer’s perspective:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do here?
  • Why should I do it?

Make sure that you orient your customer to what they are seeing, and then instantaneously answer the second question through clarity. Any confusion will stop a customer cold. The last question is the most challenging, but the most crucial when it comes to driving conversion.


Step #5: When All Else Fails, Make It Free 



Reality: Telling customers that something is free does not necessarily equate to messaging in a customer-centric way. I don’t know about you but I am certainly passing on osteoporosis, regardless of the cost of entry.



We all make mistakes. As some of us make them more often than others, my heart goes out to anyone associated with these examples. I offer my sincerest thanks for allowing us to learn from your experiences. For the rest of us, the next time you find yourself in that brainstorming session at a trendy advertising agency remember that simply targeting your marketing is not the equivalent to being customer-centric, or customer-first.

Aristotle: “For it is not enough to know what we ought to say; we must also say it as we ought … ”


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Greg Hamilton

About Greg Hamilton

Gregory Hamilton, Senior Academic Curriculum Manager, MECLABS As a member of the content team at MECLABS, Gregory develops academic curriculum and content for our corporate training certifications. His goal is to bridge the gap between the theoretical rigor commonly found in graduate education and the practical application found within the business world. As a part of this effort Gregory works with several of the world’s foremost experts in value proposition to produce peer-reviewed academic research in the form of papers and articles. Additionally, Gregory can frequently be found facilitating certification courses and workshops with our Research Partners on the topics of value proposition, landing page optimization, online testing methodologies, email marketing and lead generation. Gregory earned his Master in Business Administration degree (MBA) at Lindenwood University and loves exploring the intersection of marketing, psychology and philosophy.

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  1. Kylie Davidson
    July 21st, 2015 at 09:03 | #1


    This is great!

    I would add that while these ads are attempting to generate attention and interest, they are lacking the expression of a value proposition. I’m not quite sure what several of these ads really want me to do. This reminds me of Coca-Cola’s polar bear campaign; yes, polar bears remind me of winter and are cute (and kinda scary), but how are they even remotely related to Coke products?

    Again, nicely done!


  2. July 30th, 2015 at 16:10 | #2

    Wow! These are some epic fails. It amazes me how blind marketers and advertisers can be with their promotions. It’s a good idea to step back and think things through, or look at your promotions from a distance. Literally.

    Although I have to admit I’ve made a few of these mistakes myself. :/

    Steve O

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