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It’s All About the Who

  • Linda Harrison

    Linda Harrison

It’s All About the Who

Every high school journalism student should know there are 5 Ws that every good news story must have, the fundamental elements of who, what, when, where and why. And “how” is often added to the list. These are sometimes called the elements of circumstance. Picture Sherlock Holmes – he had an amazing ability to infer explanations based on simple, yet specific, and often overlooked observations that suggest behavior and motives.

Identifying the 5 Ws has been part of marketing since the first ads of ancient civilizations. What does the consumer desire? Where is the consumer and when and why might he or she want a product or service? The answers to these four were not all that complicated. The forecast says it might snow, and I own a store that sells snow shovels. So my customers might need them this week. What? Snow shovels. When? This week. Where? Up front by the cash registers. Why? Because it’s going to snow, duh.

But the harder question to answer is who? Of the people walking through my doors, who has the propensity and the ability to buy snow shovels? Who has always been a tougher question to answer and one that marketers have struggled with basically forever.

Solving the who is where the magic lies. Who has the capacity (ability) to buy my product or service? Who might aspire to have it? Who already has it? Who buys or has an interest in products or services that are similar?

If you can answer the often-vexing question of who, you’re also challenged by the how. How do you reach them?

The traditional direct marketing industry has long tried to be the how that championed the who. Direct marketers were able to avoid shotgun, “spray and pray” advertising where they knew they wasted much of their ad spend. Instead they were able to focus on targeted direct marketing to the “whos” that research suggested would best respond.

This was often based on geographic or known demographic data such as home ownership, gender or presence of children. This was great stuff, but today marketers and consumers alike have come to demand and expect much more. Consumers want marketers to not only deliver compelling messages, (the what) but messages that resonate with them specifically, (the who) when they need them and where they naturally are going to be.

Digital marketing blends art and science to create engaging, meaningful messages for unique audiences to “auto-magically” target based on real people — the right real people. This allows for messaging that does not waste the sender’s ad spend or the eyeball time of the receiver. And data is the fuel that informs the science and makes it all work.

Demographic information such as age, gender and wealth helps – but there are now rich intellectual detection clues available that Sherlock Holmes would be envious to have. Known data as previously discussed (presence of children, home ownership and wealth) can be mixed with attitudinal, lifestyle and segmentation data that suggests clusters of people whose behavior indicates they might respond. To top it all off (with a deerstalker hat like Sherlock’s), predictive data can be leveraged based on information from market researchers’ panelist and purchase data to add further propensity clues to our “who.”

This all gets complicated and wonky sounding in a hurry, but it’s really important to not get overwhelmed and forget that all this complicated science at the end of the day is all just determining the 5 Ws. And digital marketing, like good journalism, starts with professionals like Acxiom’s Data Guru team who know how to ask the right questions. Who are you really looking to reach? Who might look like these people? And what platforms are best positioned to reach them? For more information, email