Paid Ad Segmentation

The Puzzle

I don’t think that it would be a stretch to say that the single most important problem to solve in marketing is how to best get your message in front of the right audience. This challenge has existed since the beginning of human communication. If you are not speaking to the right audience, then it doesn’t matter how powerful you message is or how well it is crafted. This is not to say that the creative or the message do not matter, in fact, they are very important indeed. Reaching the right audience with a poorly conceived or poorly crafted message will also fail.

The puzzle to solve in any marketing endeavor is what to say to whom, how best to say it and when and where to do so. This combination of the right message, expertly crafted, delivered to the right audience is the key to success.

An example will help illustrate this.

Hamlet’s Mousetrap 

In Shakespear’s Hamlet, the title character has a problem and uses storytelling, segmenting and delivery to solve it.

Shakespear sets this play in the Kingdom of Denmark where we meet Hamlet, the prince.

In the opening scenes, the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father visits him and explains that he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle.

We learn that the Queen, Hamlet’s mother, marries Hamlet’s uncle after her husband’s death.

Hamlet, grief-stricken, needs to find out the truth of this ghost’s message. If this truly is his father’s ghost, then he’s telling the truth, but Hamlet is concerned that it may be the Devil delivering a lie to sow discord.

Hamlet’s problem is that he must ascertain the truthfulness of the claim that his uncle killed his father.

Along comes a traveling theater troop and Hamlet formulates a plan. He’ll have them put on a play and watch his uncle’s reaction.

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” Hamlet speaking in Act ii, Scene ii

Hamlet’s plan is to deliver a strategic message to an audience of one.

“I’ll have these players play something like the murder of my father before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks.” 

The play is aptly named, “The Mousetrap” and it works. Upon seeing the play, Hamlet’s uncle becomes visibly distressed and leaves. This reaction tells Hamlet what he needs to know and he moves forward with his plans to avenge his father. 

Now relate this to a modern use. Hamlet had a problem and used storytelling, segmenting and delivery to solve it. All three components had to be done well or it would’ve fallen apart.

  • [problem] He needed to know whether or not his uncle killed his father.
  • [storytelling] The play had to depict the events of the murder well enough to elicit an emotional response. 
  • [segmenting] Hamlet’s uncle
  • [delivery] Hamlet’s uncle had to see the play

There is no point if the play isn’t done well or if it plays to a sold out theater without Hamlet’s uncle in attendance. Everyone in Denmark could attend and it wouldn’t matter if the one person that the message was intended for didn’t see it.

The One

People tend to get caught up in large numbers. A large number of empty robot accounts liking your Instagram pictures is completely useless. Would you rather have 150 likes from fake purchased accounts or 5 likes from real people engaging with your message? If you would rather the bigger number, then you are too concerned with how you look and not concerned enough with building relationships with your audience. This isn’t to say that large numbers are bad, but you want large numbers of real, engaged human beings that are interested in your message/brand/product/etc. Large numbers of real people come from slowly building one relation at a time.

Social media is not made up of large groups of people, big numbers or crowds. It is made up of individuals relating to individuals. No one gathers in a group of twenty people to read your status update. There are not theaters full of people reading the same twitter timeline. Nor is there a country full of families in their living rooms all viewing the same facebook page at the same time.

Social media is about the one. The one girl planning her wedding by scrolling through Pinterest on her phone or the one guy carrying on a heated political discussion on Twitter or the one mom asking her Facebook friends for parenting advice or the one recently unemployed person updating his Linkedin profile. Social media is about the one person.

The TV market fragments, news at 11

As a practitioner of social media, you’ll want to be very narrow in your segments. A segmented audience of one is very targeted indeed! I know that I said that I wouldn’t use the word target, but I’ll use it here. The segmenting of mass media has happened slowly over time, but it is approaching its apex. 

There used to be 3 TV networks in the states. Popular shows would have massive ratings back then. Advertisers were excited about this new and innovative way to reach potential and existing consumers. They could run an ad on a popular show and a huge number of people would see it. There was a little bit of segmenting, like the type of show and when it ran during the day.

For example, soap operas played during the time that housewives, who cleaned their homes and purchases soap, were home watching TV. The term “soap opera” actually comes from the soap companies that advertised during these daytime dramas. But, advertisers were basically paying to show their ad to everyone. There was very little segmentation.

For example, soap operas played during the time that housewives, who cleaned their homes and purchases soap, were home watching TV. The term “soap opera” actually comes from the soap companies that advertised during these daytime dramas. But, advertisers were basically paying to show their ad to everyone. There was very little segmentation.

Then cable came along and with it came more segmentation. Suddenly, people had entire channels devoted to sports, movies, cooking, science fiction, cartoons, news, etc. The market fragmented and ratings dropped. This was great for advertisers! Now they could be more targeted while paying less. They could reach fewer people and be more effective because they were more likely to be the right people for their message. 

The television market has continued to fragment to the point now that viewers can watch whatever they want whenever and wherever they want to. Advertisers have been slow to pick up on the streaming market, but it is very segmented and has a lot of potential. 

Sawed-off Shotgun vs Sniper Rifle

This brings us to the sawed-off shotgun vs sniper rifle analogy. Both guns are effective weapons, but they have very different purposes. The shot from a shotgun spreads to hit a large area. The shorter the barrel, the more it spreads, but it is a short range weapon. A sniper rifle’s shot doesn’t spread at all and can travel a long distance. The purpose of a sniper rifle is to be very precise and hit a single target from a distance.

It’s silly to try and argue that one is better than the other. It is all situationally dependent. Marketing strategy is like that too. Sometimes, a brand has enough money and has been around long enough that a shotgun approach to the market is exactly what is needed. Think of Coca-Cola and Pepsi for example. Their campaign objectives are better served by a large mass market “shotgun” approach. Other companies that don’t have the presence or brand recognition of Coca-Cola would be better served with a heavily segmented “sniper” approach. 

Both are good in different situations and for different reasons. We’ll be focusing on social media’s strength, reaching one person at a time.


As I’ve said before, social media channels are businesses that are very eager to tell you about their audience. Most of them have a business model that is using their users’ information to help advertisers segment and reach the right audience. The ability to reach someone who may be interested in your product or service is incredible on social media, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can do it for free. Often, you have to pay to play.

Think for a moment about the way advertising costs are measured. They usually are measured by a CPM or cost per thousand impressions. An impression is the opportunity a viewer has to view your ad. In other words, the ad showed up on their page, but there’s no way to tell if they saw it. A PPC, pay per click model charges you based on actual clicks. It seems more expensive, but it measures something that the user actually did. You can only do PPC online (there’s no way to click on your TV screen right now, there will be, but not right now).

You can also measure conversions online. A conversion is an action that a user takes after clicking on a link; something like buying a product or subscribing to an email newsletter. A conversion is usually the whole point of running an ad unless your Pepsi and you’re just looking to strengthen your brand recognition. Most social media ad platforms offer a way to track conversions on your site. This can get a little complicated to set up, but it very valuable information. 

If you have someone that purchases something from your site, wouldn’t you want to know more about how they got there, where they came from? Or more specifically, if you ran a series of ads on several social media channels that someone clicked on and then purchased something, wouldn’t you want to know which ad and on which channel?

Paid advertising on social media doesn’t have to cost a lot of money if you are strategic, segment your audience properly and watch your data.

Remember, social media is about one on one relationships, so think about how you can reach individuals with very specific criteria. Narrow in and tailor your message to that narrow audience. 

If you are marketing a new band that has music similar to some popular bands, why not segment and go after fans of the popular bands? Run an ad that says, “if you like [popular band], then you’ll love [new band].” Fans will recognize the band they like and could show some interest. The plus side is that you are only going to show this ad to fans of the popular band, so people who don’t like that band won’t even see the ad and you don’t pay for people who don’t see the ad! Now do that with 15 times with a different popular band in each ad, watch your data, push the ads that work and pull back on the less effective ads.

A couple of tips.

You’re looking for a person who thinks a specific way, but you can only find them through the information available. The game then is to try to identify ways to segment your potential audience by the available data that the channel has to offer. The media that people consume is very telling. Someone who is interested in geopolitical issues can’t be segmented by their thoughts, but they probably watch certain types of movies and read certain types of books. Magazine subscriptions are a fantastic way to segment. If you’re launching a new software plugin that adds functionality to excel, you could go after readers of The Economist and avoid readers of US Weekly. 

The basic idea is to look for adjacent traits. Your product/service/brand will have a potential user base that has specific traits. The trick is to try to identify ways to locate those user traits in the segmentation options. 

Let’s say that you are prompting your Kickstarter campaign to produce a documentary about left-handed baseball pitchers. Well, I imagine that isn’t a typical segment you’d find on Facebook, but you could segment by people who follow one of the pitcher’s facebook page, or by those that have read his biography, or by those that have watched similar documentaries, or people who follow a particular influencer who blogs about baseball… 

Again, identify the traits of your potential audience and find creative ways to segment for those traits. You can advertise to people who follow adjacent brands, have specific interests, certain types of online habits, etc.

You can also use negatives to segment. A negative will eliminate parts of your segmented audience. Start with a general segment and then see if you can carve off irrelevant segments. For example, if I’m going after a Country Music segmentation to reach an audience with a particular political leaning, then I may choose to eliminate either Johnny Cash or Lee Greenwood depending on which side of politics I’m focusing on.

Be creative and try to imagine what your intended audience does throughout the day. How do they entertain themselves? How do they want to be perceived? Where do they work? Who are their heroes? Who do they hate?