How Constraints Deliver Brand Focus

Paul BaileyJuly 12, 20214 min

Customers, consumers, clients – whatever we call the people who buy your product or service, no business would be around for long without them.

Now, when it comes to identifying your customers, consumers, or clients (let’s call it your audience from now on), there are two schools of thought:

  • reach as many people as is possible.
  • segment your audience and identify those most likely convert to sales

I use both of these approaches, but each of them has issues. The argument against reaching as many people as possible is often that there is a degree of ‘wastage’ in this approach. You are spending money speaking to some people for whom there is possibly no, or very little, likelihood that they will ever convert to a sale. On the other hand, the argument against segmentation can be that if you aren’t careful then you’re missing out on some people who could convert to a sale – you make your audience too narrow. In this way, the arguments against each are the inverse of each other.

Reach too many people and you’re wasting money. Reach too few people and you’re wasting opportunities.

But, there is another way to consider how you create your audience, and that’s to think about those people who either you have no interest in reaching or they would have no interest in you. In his seven part Primal Branding structure, Patrick Hanlon referred to these people as your ‘outsiders’. A brand is a vehicle through which you can align an organization and people, and these people would be those ‘inside’ the brand – so it follows, if you have insiders you must have outsiders.

I was reminded of this approach recently when I was speaking to the excellent strategist JP Castlin. We were discussing constraints – a topic he had covered in his brilliant newsletter – and how, rather than being a negative, constraints can be extremely valuable and bring focus. Constraints can give us a framework within which to work, allowing a flexibility within that space. Often strategists try to define a set path, off which we shouldn’t veer, but this is a very restrictive and actually not at all practical approach. Instead of rigidly defining what we must do, there is a benefit in defining what we definitely mustn’t do and then anything that sits within those constraints is fair game.

This conversation brought my thinking back to the idea of outsiders – which was actually how I used to help clients define their target audience back when I was brand consulting (borrowed with kind permission of Patrick Hanlon). In the area of your target audience, it can be helpful (and actually easier) to define who those people are that you definitely don’t want to reach. Your outsiders. Dependent on your industry or offering, these people might be outsiders because they simply can’t afford what you offer, or they have a preference that’s opposite to your offering (eg meat producers and vegetarians), or even that them being associated with your brand would be detrimental to your brand (Burberry actively trying to distance its products from UK football hooligans is a great example of this). There are many valid reasons people might be ‘outsiders’ for your brand, both practical and emotional.

So, rather than targeting everyone, or targeting a potentially limiting segment, how about targeting an audience that comprises of everyone who’s not an outsider?

By identifying those you want ‘outside’ your brand, then everyone else becomes your target audience.

The people who are your outsiders become your constraints – they create the framework within which everyone else is your audience. So long as people aren’t an outsider, then they are fair game and an audience worth your while and your money to speak to.

This approach may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s being utilized by organizations right now. Audi Denmark recently claimed a 70% conversion rate by testing what they term ‘exclusion lists’. Working with PHD Media Denmark and ad-tech firm Semasio, Audi Denmark reached a solution that used a mix of audience and contextual targeting. The campaign narrowed in on most likely buyers while creating an “exclusion list” of least likely buyers based on media consumption habits and demographic characteristics. Frederik Meincke, PHD Media Denmark’s digital innovations director, said that “This was somewhat of a surprise to us, and it shows the power of taking a different approach to targeting by specifying what you don’t want instead of specifying what you want,”

Now, the apparent success of the Audi Denmark test and the writing of this article isn’t to say that this is the right way to define an audience and the other approaches are wrong. Not at all. I often use STP (segmentation, targeting, positioning) and other times I simply advise clients that we are best to reach everyone possible.

The point is that, sometimes, it’s easier to identify who you don’t want than who you do want. 

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Paul Bailey, Strategy Director at Halo

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