The power of audience suppression

We have all had that moment when we thought to ourselves “why am I being targeted with that ad, I’m never going to buy one of those…(OR I just bought one of those!)”. Sometimes knowing who you don’t want to target is just as, if not more powerful, than knowing who you do want to target. It reduces media wastage, improves efficiency and drives effective sales growth by avoiding spending media dollars chasing down groups of consumers that have no interest in buying your product/service.

Understanding non-buyers

Advertisers usually find it very easy to identify and profile buyers of their products/services. They can quickly tell you for example that the buyer of their brand is “middle aged women with a high household income, interested in fashion and online shopping, and they drive 4×4’s”.  What marketers are less able to understand or articulate is that if they have an average profile for a buyer, then it stands to reason that they must have an average profile for a non-buyer.

Non-buyers of your brand are very important people, and learning about their traits and attributes is vital in understanding the consumer groups that you don’t want to proactively target with advertising.

Non-buyers of a category can have attributes that are universal (even legally regulated) for that category, for instance non-buyers of alcohol in the UK are under the age of 18, non-buyers of gambling services in the UK are under the age of 18, and non-buyers of Pet Food don’t own any pets…you get the idea.

Other non-buyer traits will have more nuanced and less universally binding characteristics, such as non-buyers of Porsche cars having less than average household incomes, or non-buyers of Sci-Fi movie tickets being fans of Romance and Comedy. Over time non-buyers of a category/brand can begin to show aggregate patterns in demographics, interests and behaviours, which can be key in determining which consumers will not buy from either the category as a whole or from your brand in particular. Using a DMP you are better able to analyse the traits and average characteristics of non-buyers

Recent buyers, may no longer be in market

Sometimes non-buyers are simply consumers who have recently purchased the product and are therefore no longer in market. That may not mean that you don’t want to target those users at all, but it may mean that you choose to show them an up-sell or cross-sell message based on their recent purchase.

Over exposure can be just as damaging to brand as under exposure and advertising the same product to a customer post-purchase is not usually a good idea.

Exclusion vs. Suppression

The question is whether or not non-buyers should be excluded completely or just targeted less aggressively.

Now obviously those groups of non-buyers that are non-buyers through law or through some fundamental dynamic should be excluded from advertising, but what about those that show attributes and preferences, which collectively make them an average non-buyer, should they be excluded?

The answer is no, they shouldn’t be excluded, only suppressed.

The mathematical rationale is behind the word average. If the average non-buyer is less likely to purchase the product, that means some will and some wont, and therefore a proportion of non-buyers will still make a purchase, and if they do you want that purchase to be of your brand and not your competitors.

Furthermore, circumstances change, people change, and preferences and behaviour changes. In other words all non-buyers may not be non-buyers forever.

Take the example of a luxury watch retailer – my profile may not fit with the existing profile of a Patek Phillippe customer and more than likely fits with a non-buyer of that brand.  But I am an aspirational guy and I hold out hope that one day my income will change, and my other socio-demographic traits will fall in-line with the profile of a Patek Phillippe customer.

If Patek Phillippe waits until that day then I will have no brand affinity towards them, I won’t care whether I buy that watch, and I’ll be just as likely to buy a Rolex. An element of what we must do as marketers is to understand who our non-buyers are, why they are non-buyers, and understanding that a proportion of them will one day become potential buyers and build some brand affinity with them.


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