One of the main benefits digital marketing has over other forms of media is the accuracy of its targeting. Configured correctly, it enables advertisers to target their ads towards the right buyers, at the right time, in the right way.   

Done correctly, this creates happy buyers who find what they’re looking for, and happy advertisers who achieve a positive return on their investment.

Unfortunately, this is set to change over the next 12 to 24 months. Targeting strategies that business owners relied on to achieve their sales goals are predicted to lose their edge. Every week my team and I see changes that support this prediction and require action to retain our clients’ marketing edge. 

I have a couple of strategies you can use to help achieve a similar edge during these changing times. But before we dig into the details, let’s talk about the types of digital advertising that are cause for concern.  

Accurate targeting is built on a foundation of accurate knowledge. The depth of knowledge each advertising channel (Google, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn) has about their users directly affects their targeting capability.  

The search terms used within the search biased channels, such as Google and Pinterest, drive a multitude of targeting strategies. And as long as people keep using these channels in this way, the advertising channels will continue to hold this knowledge about them.  

If search behaviour was the only bit of knowledge used for targeting, then advertising from Facebook and Instagram wouldn’t exist. That’s because we rarely use the search option in these spaces. Nevertheless, Meta is expected to achieve US$58 billion in ad sales for 2022. So how does targeting work here?

These channels “curate” a list of interests based on the users’ behaviour within and outside of their ecosystem. Yes, Facebook was looking at the websites you visited on your phone even when you weren’t in the Facebook app.  

Not many people were aware of this until Apple insisted that apps on its phones seek the phone owner’s permission to continue tracking them in this way. Not surprisingly, a very large proportion opted out of this practice, severely restricting the amount of data heading Meta’s way for future targeting.  

In mid-2022, our social media advertising team are being notified by Meta every week that curated audiences that once underpinned high-performing campaigns are no longer supported. I can only assume there’s not enough user knowledge in their system to support their continued creation.  

Google isn’t totally isolated from this either. Advertisers on Google Display and YouTube target audiences by what Google knows about them beyond their search activity.  

Retargeting campaigns are a good example of this type of strategy. Focused on delivering banner ads to those who have visited your website without converting, these can either be a subtle reminder to return or a pervasive pain, depending on how they’re configured.  

Remarketing relies on the internet browser you use sharing your data with the websites you visit. It does this through a small text file stored on your computer or phone. Not all browsers allow this to occur – Apple’s Safari and Mozilla Firefox are two that don’t.  

Google’s Chrome browser does, for the moment. However, Google has signalled that this will come to an end in mid-2023, spelling the end of your remarketing campaigns. It’s a big change because Chrome is the most popular of all browsers, with over 60% of worldwide users. When data sharing stops, you can expect that the vast majority of internet users will no longer see your remarketing.

So, if these multibillion-dollar channels are struggling to continue delivering reliable targeting strategies, what can the lowly business owner do?

Fortunately, quite a bit.  

Strategy #1: Leverage your own data, in a privacy compliant way.    

Nearly all channels allow you to upload email lists that they will match against their user account details for you to use for targeting purposes. If the list is big enough, some channels will give you the option of creating an audience “similar” to the one you uploaded.  

Naturally, your privacy policy will need to cover the use of customer data in this way.  

This is the path most advertisers will take to make remarketing work, if they can build a sizable email list of interested people from their website (and that, in itself, is not a small problem to solve). 

The more privacy complaint data you have, the greater your targeting options. What’s more, the accuracy of this data can’t be challenged because an email list of customers is a list of actual customers – not a curated audience that an ad channel “thinks” are your customers.  

Strategy #2 – Find and market in the places your customers hang out.

I have used the magazine analogy before when talking about web development and it suits this targeting conversation as well.  

Not all people interested in renovating read renovating magazines, but a large proportion of the readership will complete renovation projects.  

So why not find the nooks and crannies of the internet that attract the attention of your target audience, and focus your advertising efforts there? Measure the success of the traffic from each nook you find to see which has the highest propensity to convert, and then you can bias your spend to the more profitable spaces. 

These are just two of the strategies our team is developing to help clients navigate through the changing space of digital marketing. I predict more change to come over the next 12 to 24 months.

Go here and let’s start a conversation if you want to start planning for these changes.