Elise: Hello and welcome back to The Loop Marketing Podcast. In today’s episode, you’ll hear from Coegi’s President and Founder, Sean Cotton, as well as our Director of Innovation, Savannah Westbrock, as they define and explore the road map to finding your best customers.
- Where brands should start when building their audience targeting strategy,
- Ways to refine your audience with a “test and learn” approach,
- And what the process looks like to turn first-time customers into loyal, long-term advocates for your brand.
Let’s get started.
Today we are here with two of my favorite people from Coegi to talk about what I think is a very important topic, which is how to find your next best customers for your brand. So we're joined by our president and founder of Coegi, Sean Cotton, who, as you all have heard in the past, is a bright mind in the marketing world, a visionary, if you will, who started Coegi about 10 years ago when automated digital media buying was very much in its infancy. And now look where we've gotten to today. We are also joined by Savannah Westbrock, who's our Director of Innovation. Savannah actually started off with Coegi very much in its early days. She was one of Coegi's first employees, and now she's holding this role to help futureproof the company by keeping a pulse on industry-wide developments, including things like consumer privacy and the future of data collection. So welcome to both of you.
Just to give us a brief overview, I think all marketers know that it's critical to have a thorough understanding of brand audiences to build successful strategies, especially in 2023. And in our last episode, we discussed the audience-centric ecosystem and how it's important to create very meaningful touchpoints that are authentic to those key consumers. And so of course, what comes first is figuring out who that target audience is and what they care about.
But I think that some marketers fall a little bit short because they gloss over that process of figuring out how they're going to define who these individuals are and how to scale and refine these segments over time. And without this process, they're for sure wasting marketing dollars. And we get it. It's not always clear how to best define and cultivate these audiences for a large impact. So I'm excited to have you all here today to talk through the process and considerations the team should go through when planning - who that audience is and how we can help our clients reach their best customers.
To start us off, I'm going to start on the strategic side of things. Where should brands start when beginning to build an audience targeting strategy? Sean, do you wanna kick us off?
Sean: Well, as you mentioned, it certainly is a balancing act. Realizing that you want to scale your marketing, you want to reach as many potential customers as possible, but you don't want to waste your marketing dollars either. So really a great place to start is with the audience that we know - the most deterministic, most valuable customers that we have line of sight with - to start with them. Engage them, model off of them.
But then, we do need to expand our research with the human element as well. There is a limited amount of first-party data or deterministic audience data. So we have to get to know our audience beyond those deterministic data points. What are their interest behaviors, attributes, and even psychographics? Then start building upon that original data set with those insights. It can include social listening. It can include focus group data - things of that nature. That's probably the best first step when we're starting to build out our strategy.
Elise: Savannah, I know that's something you and your team are looking into the future of how are we going to be able to go about this research process in the midst of the cookieless future and where privacy is becoming increasingly critical. Can you talk about what you've been seeing across the industry and some ways to be thinking about building a cookieless audience strategy?
Savannah: Yeah, we're in this really interesting transitional time. I've been referring to the period we kind of all grew up in here at Coegi as the ‘programmatic Wild West’. We had so much data at our fingertips that we could sort of skim through pre-built audiences, and nine times out of ten, find a third-party data set that we were really confident in.
So as we shift toward consumer privacy being more of a focus, not only with programmatic buying, but in general consumer technology, we're going to have to return to some of those marketing basics that we maybe neglected. So social listening, as Sean said, is a huge one, especially with social media looking vastly different today than it did even 10 years ago.
But really practical tips of just putting yourself in your audience's shoes. And if something comes up in your research - like blogs they read, TV shows they watch, subreddits they subscribe to -spend a little time in those spaces yourself. I think it's going to spark some interesting ideas of different touchpoints you could add to your overall strategy.
Sean: And I would just add to that, which is a great point, is that we still are maintaining that data-driven approach, right? Prior to the programmatic era and data-driven advertising, oftentimes, media strategy decisions were based upon hunches or what we thought we might know about our audience.
Data-driven advertising has helped us take another approach with that - using known facts and data points to inform us as to who our audience really is. And we still should have that approach. Now, we may be looking at a variety of other sources beyond what's quantitative to what's qualitative, but we still want our assumptions to be backed up by data.
I think a good example was some campaigns we did with BODYARMOR for a number of years. Obviously athletes are their target audience in the sports drink category. But our research showed that moms were actually a primary purchaser of BODYARMOR in bulk at large retail and big box stores. So that became an entirely different audience with a different messaging strategy. But it was backed up by data we saw from our research and campaigns.
Elise: So you want to start with what we have available to us in terms of deterministic audiences. Then we want to challenge those biases of who we think our audience is. Or maybe just that small subset of the best audience we have. But maybe there's a whole world beyond that. We also have to think historically about what we found in terms of being a good audience from a third-party perspective is going to fall by the wayside. It's not going to have the scale any longer, or it's just not going to be compliant with the regulation changes.
A lot of brands I've been hearing from are wanting to figure out how they can best capitalize on first-party data analysis and insights to identify potential new customers. Savannah, can you talk about that process and any roadblocks you've seen brands experience in these early stages of figuring out how to navigate a cookieless future?
Savannah: Absolutely. I feel like that was the first place our recommendations went when Google made their announcement to deprecate cookies. But there have been roadblocks along the way. To your point, a lot of brands are realizing that the way they set up their point of sale systems or their website was not necessarily the best strategy for getting all of their data in one place. But especially if you have consumers who are loyal to you, who use your products, who are willing to give you things like their email address and their phone number, you want to have all of that in one spot.
So whether it's a CRM system or ACP system, you want to make sure it's in a area where we can evaluate it. And to Sean's point, let that really high quality audience determine what things we might experiment with as we broaden our strategies.
Elise: And then, Sean, I know when we first were talking about this topic of first-party data, something that I think brands fall short on is figuring out how to apply that data in a holistic view across multiple different channels. Can you talk about how brands should approach that to be able to bring the most value possible?
Sean: Absolutely. Because we all are experiencing so many media touchpoints in our day-to-day lives, we want to take a holistic view when we have valuable first-party data as-to how broadly we can use it to gain insights for our audience.
It could be in the websites they visit. But it also could be the influencers they follow, the TV shows they watch, their location patterns, and even heat maps to the retail chains they frequently visit. By taking that high level viewpoint of how these customers spend their day and where they devote their attention, we get a full view of how we can engage them as they are exposed to so many different messages every day.
Savannah: And I'll add, Sean, that also helps us understand how our audience is responding to our messaging throughout the lifetime of our campaign. So for example, one thing a lot of Coegi planners are beginning to do is implement a performance scoring model as a part of our measurement strategies.
Using the simple example of someone in market for a car purchase - if they're visiting our brand's website and looking at different vehicle models, they might still be in the discovery phase. If we know they visited the actual lot two or three times and spoken to salespeople, that's a much more invested person who's a lot more likely to take the next step. So it helps us retroactively look at each touchpoint along the way and the actions that grow out of them to help us understand the true value and effects of our marketing.
Elise: You're going right into the next step of what we're consistently doing once these audiences have been strategized and activated. It's all about figuring out - how do I measure the effectiveness and determine if I’ve found my next best customer?
You bring up the performance scoring model, which I think is critical to bring together multiple data sets to not have a biased view of how audiences are performing or engaging across multiple touchpoints. But how do you use that model to build a test and learn approach, which is so critical to the process of refining and scaling audiences?
Savannah: Well, one of the ways we've used it is just to empower our full team to come together. Whether it's our in-platform specialists, strategists, research team, and even our clients as well. Having that proactive conversation about what each step of a consumer journey really means and how each step needs to be measured against our media.
If you have that conversation upfront with all the correct people in the room, it not only informs your setup strategy, but it can help your optimization strategy. It can help you put together reports with really valuable insights. And overall, it's led to more successful start to finish campaigns that we can replicate in the future.
Sean: And this approach also powers our measurement strategy and learning agenda. As we are researching and laying out the strategy for a marketing campaign, we make certain hypotheses as to what we think will happen based upon that research and strategy. But, as we monitor the impact of that campaign, we're proving those suppositions either correct or incorrect and making pivots. The test and learn approach allows us to iterate on an ongoing basis to drive performance.
Savannah: And it's truly such an added value of being honest and transparent - having those real conversations with our teams and clients upfront. You know, so many times our instinct is to want to always be the expert in every piece of our campaign. This gives us an opportunity to say going into it, this is our expectation, these are our benchmarks, but let's plan for what to do if this doesn't work or what time in our campaign we might want to pause and revisit this idea and tweak it from there.
Elise: I'd like to hear to what extent you believe there should be a strong human element in the test and learn process versus where you allow the machine and AI to take over? I'm going to use an example of a lookalike model. So you have some sort of seed audience, whether it be website data or CRM data. I you put it into a DSP or a social platform, we're able to look at it over time and see which attributes are gaining strength and scale and being able to refine that seed audience to find potential new people who look and behave similar to our best customers.
But where do you have to tell the system to pause to figure out - this may be what looks right from a cost per click perspective, but this isn't actually leveling up to the goals of the business at large.
Sean: Yeah, we have to understand our audience. We work in a lot of regulated industries, such as finance and pharma and healthcare. So that's been highlighted to us from the very beginning. Being respectful to our audiences, understanding sensitivities their data, whether it's finance or health certainly, but that extends to all humans.
It's really comes down to putting guardrails around machine learning - simple things such as frequency caps and sequential rotations of your creative messages to tell a story. You mentioned chasing the cost-per-click or the click-through-rate that comes to rigor with your measurement strategy.
Is that what is really driving growth for your brand? Or are you simply capitalizing on consumers that were going to engage with your brand anyway by hitting them over and over again and it makes your vanity metrics look more favorable. I think it's a combination - certainly it's understanding the human element, putting guardrails in place for machine learning to respect our customers, and then having a strong, rigorous measurement strategy.
Elise: I'd also say that exactly what you just described in terms of guardrails of frequency as well as sequential messaging lends itself naturally towards figuring out, - how do I go from that first touchpoint with the customer where maybe they purchased for the first time, but aren't necessarily loyal yet, and how to change that relationship so it is long lasting?
I know we've seen several brands take wrong turns. They are maximizing impressions of retargeting. So they're hitting them with the same message over and over when maybe it's a product they've already purchased or it's been too short of a period of time since they purchased. How do we avoid alienating customers from oversaturation and build a roadmap that allows that relationship to be built over time?
Savannah: Well, I love what Sean said about just making sure your audience is seen as a person, as a human. And I think one of the easiest ways to do that is to put yourself out of like your work-brain mode and think, “what annoys me?”. When I get that same ad on CTV 400 times, for example. What turns my view of a brand off and what can we avoid in our strategy? I think as we're putting together those tactics, you want to avoid the things that rub you the wrong way.
Sean: I think it's important to take a fresh look at our customer base regularly. We've worked with clients that do have a very sizable CRM database, but just due to the complexities of managing that over time, some of those records may be years old. But they're still in the same database as some of their newest customers. Well, obviously we're going to speak to those individuals in different ways in an ideal marketing strategy.
So again, having a data strategy as to how we refresh our customer database. We don't forget about those who were our customers a long time ago. But some of them may be loyal customers that have been with us that entire time. Some of them may have lapsed, so we're going to approach them differently. Understanding the nature of our our first-party audience is another way to communicate with them effectively.
Elise: So it sounds like there's a need to have some rigor with your first-party data. You can't just set it and forget it and expect it to be equally effective three months from now. I mean, people's behaviors change very rapidly and their opinions of your brand will change with it. Also, to your point, being able to segment a lapsed customer, giving them the incentive to come back and reengage, to re-showcase the value of the brand. And when you do still have a customer on hand, rewarding them and thanking them for their loyalty, whether it's through a discount or some sort of exclusive deal, I think is super smart.
So we're at a great point where I wanted to jump into some questions from listeners that have come in. The first one is about figuring out where to draw the line on where personalization with your audience becomes a little creepy. So how do you figure out how to build an ad or a user journey with multiple touchpoints in a way that's customized to the individual without feeling a invasive?
Savannah: Well I think obviously creepiness is subjective for everybody. But for me, where I have felt that line was crossed is when I am getting a super personalized message from a brand that I don't remember or I'm unfamiliar with. So that speaks back to what we've hit on with maintaining and nurturing your CRM list. You know, I may have bought a product from this company four or five years ago and they've slipped my mind. So when I get that really hyper targeted search banner ad or those t-shirts on Facebook that have my name and my occupation and my birthday on them, for some reason - those things are typically when the red flag goes up. They feel a little bit more invasive than a personalized email from a company whose products I've bought four or five times.
Elise: Perfect. And then Sean, we have a listener who is wondering what's the process you go through to figure out your ideal audience when you're a brand in the startup mode? You've identified a perceived need in your product or service, but where do you start to build on that audience strategy?
Sean: I think a good place to start is simply your website analytics. If you're a startup, you're likely going to do some sort of PR release. You're going to do some things to get your name out there, or physically you may be doing some efforts to engage your customers face-to-face. Take all of those opportunities to gather as much data as you can.
Fom a online standpoint, there's always your website analytics.You can drill down to the city level or even to portions of a city level to find where traffic is coming from. If you have multiple pages on your website, which pages are visitors most engaged with? What time of day are they coming to your website?
There's a number of signals there that can be a starting point for what customers are looking like. If you are able to engage face-to-face, even if you talk to ten people about your brand and what you're doing, you're going to gain some insights about what the response may be at a much larger scale. So you want to record that and then research that feedback.
Savannah: There's also an opportunity in the early days to think about creative ways to incentivize people to get more involved with your brand or use your service more frequently. A really common one is offering a discount if people sign up for your newsletter or following up for their information after a webinar.
Elise: Perfect. And then the last question we have is: where do you start when you're starting from scratch on gathering first-party data? I mean, the first thing that probably feels a little obvious is something like a lead generation ad on Meta. But what are some more creative ways that brands can dig into what these individuals value to get a headstart?
Savannah: This is where partnerships can really come into play. Second-party data is a great place to start. If you don't have a really robust CRM list of your own, try to look for businesses who might have really high-quality data and do your due diligence to evaluate it.
You can also look at things like retail media partnerships. If you've done that on-the-ground research of where your consumers shop, what kind of things they're interested in - there might be something where you can go to Target Roundel and say, okay, we know that our audience is in market for maybe some parenting items. Let's look at those wishlists and see if there's a unique way we can reach them here.
Sean: And you can also tap into your creative executions in some cass. For instance, on Meta, someone who watches a video all the way through can be put into a bucket that can be used as a first-party audience. Then you can do lookalike modeling off of that. You can do the same thing with programmatic video and there's certain types of creative formats that you can gather user information withint. So that's another way that we can start to build some of that first-party data.
Elise: It's been a really great conversation talking about how to strategize for audiences, how to figure out how to measure their effectiveness and test and learn over time so that you're continuing to maximize your ad dollars. And then lastly, figuring out how to really tap into human nature and build long-term loyal customers.
But something that Coegi cares a lot about is transforming our brands through digital transformation, through unique insights, things like that. I'd love to hear your number one tip for brands who want to use audience targeting and relationship building to truly transform their brand in 2023. Savannah, would you like to kick us off?
Savannah: Sure. And I'll just return to one of the most important things we've said today: just not forgetting that your audience is made up of people. Each member of your audience is going to have a unique relationship and journey throughout their experience with your brand. Any opportunity you have to segment your grand audience into groups of people that are going to be a little bit more receptive to different types of messaging at different stages of their journey is a great way to start thinking strategically.
From there, it can inform the channels that you execute on. It can inform your creative messaging, and overall, it just lays a really solid foundation from people who are new to your brand to the loyal customers that you're ultimately hoping to build.
Sean: The only thing I would add to that is, for brands that want to build relationships with their customers, be careful not to let your own personal biases get in the way of identifying who those most valuable customers are. I think of luxury skincare campaigns we’ve ran in the past, and again, the media assumption is: our best customers are high income individuals that can afford to buy this really expensive skincare. That's just the media assumption.
But oftentimes, a stronger indication of who their most valuable customers are, is people who want healthy, beautiful skin - that's the most powerful signal. And that doesn't always mean they have a high income, right? Because it's that important to them. They will sacrifice money on other things in order to have the best skincare. So to that point, not allowing biases to get in the way and maybe excluding some really valuable audiences from our communication messages and building a relationship with them.