Performance Marketing Audience Targeting in the Post Signal Era

By Adam Telian, VP Media Services, New Engen

For the better part of the last 20 years, the work of a performance marketer was to find hyper-specific audiences that could convert to sales. The era of privacy and signal loss brings with it a sobering thought to performance marketers everywhere – the days of riding audiences, powered by the likes of Google and Facebook, are over.

Football Hall of Fame cornerback, Deion Sanders, is infamously quoted as having once said, “Water covers two-thirds of the Earth. I cover the rest.” Similar to Deion, Google covered one half of the digital ecosystem. Search, display advertising and retargeting provided effective methods for marketing to individuals actively looking for a solution. Meta, covered the other half creating paths to incredibly specific audience sets through user-submitted, deterministic data.

It was a reliable methodology that churned out results for everyone from Fortune 500s to Mom-and-Pop shops. As the great rap philosopher, Kid Cudi once said, “The sooner you realize things will never be the same, the sooner you can move on.”

And things certainly will never be the same again. Google and Meta are under siege from the Department of Justice and have rapidly become black boxes. And though both still lead, their market share is dwindling as marketers look elsewhere to discover untapped performance.

The Way Forward for Performance in a Post-Signal Era

As the foundation on which performance marketing has stood shifts beneath our feet, new skills, new understanding and new efficiencies are needed to ensure performance marketing can continue to bring home the sale. Agility, flexibility, and a willingness to fail fast will be crucial to navigating this uncharted path.  But there are things which will be table stakes when it comes to success in performance marketing.

Intimate Knowledge of Supply Side Platforms (SSPs) – This era of protecting first-party data will demand a deeper understanding of the platforms offering digital advertising inventory. Similar to the days of buying a print magazine ad in the 1970s, marketers will need to develop an in-depth understanding of publishers, platforms, retail media networks and other web destinations where digital ad inventory is available, how to activate it and what the individual strengths and weaknesses of each marketplace are.

Willingness to Experiment Even in Down Economies – Finding your ideal audience segments without cookies or identifiers won’t be easy. It will require revisiting our 9th grade science classes to understand the scientific method, testing and tuning a thesis and doing so regularly, and then doing it again and again to build reliable audience segments across the landscape of ad inventory. And then, marketers will need to be able to make the case that, even in a down economy, there is a need to test and iterate to stay connected and in front of, not just existing audiences, but new audiences too.

Avoid Doubling Down at the Expense of Your Future – If you’ve found fruitful audiences, that’s great. But don’t spend so much time on them that you neglect finding the audience sets of the future. Walking down the path of finely tuned audience segments is amazing. But neglecting the exploration of new audiences can spell a future death date for your brand. You’ll need to identify that right mix of acquisition vs retention to meet your current needs and continuously reevaluate as you go. The approach will differ for every brand, but attention to the distribution of your media spend is crucial.

Performance marketing in the post-signal, post-cookie era will be markedly different from the last 15 years. Applying test and iterate methodologies, and empowering marketers to make adjustments with pace, will become the centerpiece of the work. As the landscape settles over the next 24 months, you can expect these and other frameworks to emerge as the new paradigm for performance marketers.

About the Author

Adam Telian is VP, Media Services for New Engen, full-funnel performance marketing agency.