Craig Hannabus
Craig Hannabus

The pitfalls of targeting digital audiences

by Craig Hannabus. Leave generational and age targeting behind. Build your own audience database.

by Craig Hannabus. I was looking at some data from a client’s ecommerce platform, and I noticed something rather shocking. The segment that all of their budget and creative was aimed at (the millennial) was only responsible for 50% of sales. The other 50% came from a range of age groups who seemed to be returning to the platform simply because they liked the product. A sample of one is hardly compelling, but it did take me on a journey of seriously considering how we set up our target audiences, especially when it comes to using these broad labels like ‘millennial’ or ‘Gen Z’.

I’ve sat in countless agency presentations where the word millennial is taken out and paraded around like it has some kind of meaning. As I delved deeper into the topic, I realised that any sort of generational classification is actually quite meaningless. My starting point was looking at how people’s attitudes shift as they move through different stages of their lives. While most of my research centred around the physiology of the human brain and how it ages, I will spare you the science and get to the point. As we age, our brain changes. As our brain changes, our priorities change, our abilities change, and how we make decisions changes.

Younger people will be more open-minded. Older people will be more set in their ways. It has nothing to do with your generational label and more to do with how old your brain is. As you get older, you’ll move from being like a millennial to being like a Gen X’er to being more like a baby boomer. The labels and descriptions should change as you do, but they don’t. If you’ve been labelled a millennial, you’ll be one until the day you die. All the descriptions that go with it will be yours forever. And I think it’s plain wrong.

The labels are wrong, but what has that got to do with my ecommerce example? It goes beyond labels. Not only is your generational label irrelevant, so is the year you were born. Looking at adoption rates for new technology, it takes older people as little as four years to catch up and use the technology adopted by younger people. While you could say that younger people are technology-centric, we’re almost on a level playing field, all things considered. If you are using age-based targeting, you need to very carefully examine whether you’re not losing out on a much broader audience. If your sales are coming from other age groups despite your marketing efforts to a single group, you might be sitting on a goldmine. A shift to more inclusive audience targeting should be on the cards.

In the ideal world, you’d want to leave all this third-party audience nonsense behind you. Third-party data (like Facebook and Google) should only really be used to generate first-party data (stuff that you own). Constantly using other platforms to drive your sales means that you’ll always be at the mercy of the tech giants. Once you have your dataset, you can break free of their rules, regulations, and generally poor quality of the data provided to you. You can move into a world where you can grow and segment your data where and when you please.

Back to the ecommerce data I first mentioned, 15% of the sales came from owned data. That dataset is not a priority, and yet it is generating sales for a far smaller budget than the social budget. Social generated just 1% of the sales. Leave generational and age targeting behind. Build your own audience database. Get rich.


Craig Hannabus is strategy director at Rogerwilco. He has spent 11 years in the digital marketing industry. During his career, he’s gained exposure as a community manager, content writer, developer, and UX strategist, before embracing a new role in business strategy. Craig has worked on blue-chip brands including the likes of Standard Bank, Nedbank, General Motors, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser and Caxton, to name a few.


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