Is Targeting More Important than Reach for Marketers?

July 15, 2020

Woman working alone in an office smiling at her computer

Years before creating the world’s largest hedge fund, the team at Bridgewater Associates had a big decision to make. They could remain a boutique brokerage, theoretically making it easier to stay focused on what made them successful in the first place. Or they could try to become a legendary institution. 

“I felt about this fork-in-the-road choice the way I felt about most others,” explains Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio in his bestselling book, Principles: Life and Work. “That whether or not we could have our cake and eat it too was merely a test of our creativity and character.”

Targeting vs. Reach: Why Not Both?

First, a caveat. Target vs. reach isn’t an either-or proposition, but there is a natural conflict between the two. 

The more nitty gritty we get with targeting, the more difficult it becomes to scale for widespread reach. The more people we aim to reach, the more difficult it becomes to make any one person feel special. There’s a push-pull factor at work here. 

But as the internet and social media have evolved, targeting and reach aren’t as binary as they once were. B2B marketers have been busy exploring this expanded gray space, tinkering with targeting-messaging combos, testing, finding new ways to push the limits of personalization without necessarily needing to expect an equal and opposite reaction in terms of reach. 

Targeting and Reach: Where to Start?

Another of Dalio’s notable quotes is this: “While you can have virtually anything you want, you can’t have everything you want … Choosing a goal often means rejecting some things you want in order to get other things that you want or need even more.”

For the purpose of being able to focus, which goal should B2B marketers prioritize? Which do we want or need more: quality targeting or widespread reach? 

If we’re talking about a large B2C brand, widespread reach might win out. For most B2B brands though, the opposite is true. To successfully persuade decision makers and decision influencers to seriously evaluate what’s often an intricate solution to a complex problem, personalization is pretty much required. Busy professionals have too many options and too high of expectations to notice (let alone engage with) messages that carry little meaning to themselves personally. 

For most B2B marketers, the clear choice then is to make quality targeting the first priority. To start a B2B marketing initiative with targeting and reach on equal footing is to invite confusion. Once we’re confident in our ability to engage the right person with the right message, only then does it make sense to see if we can slice the cake wider. 

Targeting and Reach: What’s Working?

This section isn’t about examples of what’s working. It’s about the actual question, “What’s working?”

Forcing this inquiry is a good place for B2B marketers to begin identifying opportunities where targeting and reach can coexist. Assuming you’ve decided that quality targeting should take priority over reach, start by watching your high-engagement highlight reel. Play it in slow motion, so you can really spot what’s going on. 

For example, suppose you post something to your LinkedIn Page and it receives good engagement. So you post something very similar a few weeks later. Same thing – people really seem to like the message. Upon closer inspection of your LinkedIn Page Analytics though, it’s clear that the vast majority of those clicking, liking, or sharing the post are IT leaders. 

Knowing this, you might figure that amplifying the post – or the underlying message of the post –  to IT leaders with similar titles at similar companies would result in this key audience segment knowing more about your brand and what you stand for. So you test it out. If you’re wrong, you can tweak and try to scale reach again later. If you’re right, you can maximize and monitor. 

Now, as you’re probably painfully aware, success with one stakeholder, while good, isn’t usually good enough. Most B2B marketers need both hands and sometimes a foot to count the decision makers involved in a given deal. This decision-by-committee dynamic is a foundational reason for the rise in account-based marketing, adoption of which should continue to accelerate. So, to be really effective,  the iterative process described in the previous paragraph would need to play out until you have a playbook for engaging any stakeholder who consistently plays a role in purchasing your solution. 

IT decision makers might have messages and a nurture track meant just for them. As might finance, operations, the user-base, and so on. The more stakeholders you can engage via targeted, meaningful messaging, the better your chances of building consensus. LinkedIn’s targeting capabilities make it possible for B2B marketers to reach select audiences at scale with personalized, testable messaging. You can also take these capabilities off-platform with the LinkedIn Audience Network

Of course, if what’s described above is a far cry from your current approach, this will take time and other resources to build out. Complicating matters further is the fact that your internal stakeholders probably won’t accept a slippage in lead flow while you figure things out, even if the purpose is to onboard prospects with a higher propensity to buy. So most companies will want to tackle these targeting-plus-reach initiatives gradually, starting with the most pivotal stakeholder and expanding from there. 

Once you’ve got a go-to program for addressing all stakeholders within your ideal customer profile, you might consider replicating the process for another promising market. 

Will this be easy? No. This process will test your team's creativity and character. But in the end, it will be more effective and more fulfilling. 

To get a better sense of how other B2B marketers are becoming more sophisticated in terms of targeting and reach, download A B2B Marketing Jumpstart to Account-Based Marketing.