How does an audience first agency work?

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At 181st Street, we’re a full- service audience first agency. We pride ourselves on achieving industry-leading results for the brands we work with, on the metrics that really matter. 

Such as a 18% uplift in sales during Golden Quarter for ethical retail brands,  a 92% increase in subscription renewal rate for a vegan beauty box, and an 80% conversion rate on an ad-driven mailing list growth campaign for a high-end photography studio. 

How do we do this?

Everything we do is audience first.

We go deeper than stereotypical personas with cute rhyming names, which are usually pieced together based on best guesses. You won’t find any “Marketing Marys” or “Spendy Steves” in the strategies here. 

Because ultimately, while it’s helpful to have a particular customer in mind when you’re designing your user journey and writing your content, personas built on stereotypes are too general to create meaningful connection. Which means they won’t resonate, so they won’t convert.

Instead, we build strategic audience profiles, informed by a wide range of demographic and psychographic research and data points. 

We use behavioural science to understand why people act the way they do. 

We mine online reviews and conduct social listening to understand how they speak, what they think about your competitors, and exactly what pain points they’re experiencing. 

We use empathy mapping to see things through their eyes. 

And we draw on the experience of our Director, Dr Lumsden-Groom, who has a Masters Degree in socio-political economics and a DSocSi in socioeconomics & rhetoric, and helped to explore the fundamentals of the now mainstream ‘seven-tier class system’ in the early years of behavioural economic theory. 

Andrew has delivered some of the world’s most innovative and high converting behavioural microtargeting campaigns, both politically and commercially, in the UK and internationally.

Essentially, this means that we can understand exactly who your audiences are, where they are, how they think, what they like, how and why they buy, and how they like to be spoken to. 

We can break your audience down into multiple different segments based on disposable income, spending behaviour, preferred platforms, and multiple other meaningful differentiators that allow you to take a more targeted approach to your marketing. 

All of this audience intelligence is backed up by rigorous data, so we can help you make informed decisions that get to the hearts and minds of your potential customers and increase your conversion. 

Because when you build genuine connection, speak their language, and solve your customers’ needs, you can unlock serious commercial gains.

How does this improve your marketing?

For example, we can tell you that affluent millennials care deeply about sustainability when buying from luxury brands. 

But so can every other survey, trends report and agency blog out there. 

What they can’t all tell you is that while this audience expects sustainability as standard, they don’t want the marketing messages they consume to lead with it. And while they value the craftsmanship behind well-made products, they are not moved by the heritage of luxury brands in the same way that older high-net-worth consumers are.

What this means for luxury brands is that while your marketing and advertising to a ‘baby boomer’ audience may focus on tradition, heritage, and the importance of preserving quality craftsmanship, the message for your millennial audience should shift to the “here and now” narrative, showing the people behind the products, with the message of sustainability “baked in” and strongly implied. 

(And in reality, as our friends at PEW Research Centre agree, entire generations are not a target audience anyway. You cannot expect people to think the same way or want the same things just because they fall into the same age bracket. An audience first agency can use scientific data to segment and speak to your target customers more effectively).

With an audience first agency by your side, you can take the same marketing assets (such as video footage of your producers) and turn it into a multi-audience, multi-channel, segmented campaign, targeting different audience segments at once, in the way they like to be spoken to, with the stories they want to hear. 

So you can increase conversion, drive ROI and make your marketing budget go further.

And this doesn’t just apply to the luxury retail industry either. 

Audience profiling at this granular level works for consumer-facing brands and B2B. 

Our audience first research can tell you what’s keeping the CFO you’re planning on pitching to up at night, or why 69.5% of shoppers are abandoning their cart on your site, and what to do about it. It can help you tighten up your ad targeting to improve your Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) by increasing your conversion and making your brand more relevant to your different audiences.

It can even help you spot gaps in the market and new opportunities for growth. 

With audience first intelligence, we can help you identify which customer segments are most likely to buy your product and which demographics are currently being under-served by your competitors, so you can tailor your strategy to fill the gaps that the rest of your industry has failed to see.

But this is about more than your messaging, and real audience insight is driven by more than just demographics.

It’s about what you do with the data to drive results

When it comes to buyer behaviour, target context is just as important as target audience. 

But there is often a tendency to overestimate the importance of personality, and underestimate the importance of context.

In 1973, psychologists at Princeton University conducted an experiment which proved how seemingly incidental contextual factors significantly influenced behaviour. 

They asked 40 trainee Catholic priests to complete questionnaires about their motivation for entering the church, unpicking whether they were more motivated by helping others, or ensuring their own salvation.

Upon completing the survey, participants were told to record a 5 minute talk on a given topic, and were sent to see another colleague in a different building to complete this task.

A third of the participants (chosen at random) were told that they were already late to meet the colleague, to create a ‘high hurry condition’.

Another randomly selected third in the ‘intermediate hurry condition’ were warned that the colleague was ready for them now, and the final ‘low hurry condition’ third were told to head over, but that it would be a few minutes before the colleague would be ready.

As the participants travelled to their destination, they passed someone seemingly in distress – slumped, head down with eyes closed in a doorway. He had been briefed to cough and groan as the participants passed.

The crux of the experiment was to see which participants would stop and help.

In total, 40% of the participants stopped. 

But the primary determinant behind their decision was not related, in any sizeable degree, to their motivation for joining the priesthood (helping others or saving themselves); instead, it was driven by how time-pressured they felt.

Only 10% of the ‘high hurry’ participants stopped, compared to 45% of the intermediate and 63% of the low hurry participants.

In a post-experiment interview, almost all the high hurry participants mentioned the man, and, on reflection, acknowledged that he was possibly in need of help. But they often had not worked this out in the moment because they were too focused on the pressing engagement they were already late for. The time pressure context was the driving force behind their behaviour.

And the final contextual twist in this experiment? 

Half the participants had been asked to give a talk on jobs best suited to graduates, and the other half were asked to talk about the parable of the Good Samaritan – three religious men passing a stranger in need, and only one chooses to stop.

As religious students, the participants would be very familiar with this parable, and it would be reasonable to expect that those participants with this at the front of their mind would be more likely to stop and help. 

But this wasn’t the case. 

The topic of the talk they had been tasked with (another contextual factor) made no difference to their decision.

One of the advertising industry’s most deeply held beliefs is that brands must identify and focus their communication on a core target audience. 

But focusing on this alone fails to understand that contextual factors are often more influential on behaviour than personality. 

And as this experiment shows, context is critical, but which particular context is not always obvious. 

The assumption would have been that the participants’ motivation (tied to their personality) would have been they key driving force influencing their actions, and that the group tasked with speaking about the Good Samaritan would be more likely to stop because of the direct contextual link between the story and the events they were experiencing. 

But in reality, the biggest influential factor was the time pressure participants were under.

When you take an audience first approach, you can conduct your own tests to understand which contextual factors have the greatest influence on your audiences and their behaviour, and use these to inform your marketing, advertising and messaging so you achieve the results you need. 

Or you can hire an audience first agency to figure this out for you.

Either way, this intelligence should inform everything about your strategy, from where you place your ads and how you design them to ensure the best recall, to when you send your marketing emails to ensure greatest cut-through on your call to action.

Effective marketing understands how your audiences behave

Behavioural science shows us that humans are not rational. We also know that most of our behaviour is unconscious and habitual. 

This is great news for market leaders. If buying your product is a ‘force of habit’, it’s unlikely that those loyal customers will switch any time soon. (But you still shouldn’t get complacent, or pivot your strategy in a way that alienates core audiences without a plan – as alt-milk leader Oatly discovered). 

If you’re not tapping into consumer habits, you’re likely facing an uphill marketing battle trying to disrupt deeply ingrained subconscious behaviour.

 How do you snap your potential customers out of autopilot and persuade them to buy your brand instead?

Again, an audience first approach is essential.

If you want to change a consumer’s habitual behaviour, you need to draw their attention to it and jolt them out of it.

In 2014, supermarket Sainsbury’s coined the phrase “sleep shopping” – in recognition of the fact that most supermarket shopping is done on autopilot. They found that shoppers were buying the same items every week, despite the fact that there were over 30,000 products on offer. Their creative agency even sent a man in a gorilla suit to do his weekly shopping in store, and when questioned upon leaving the store, a surprisingly low percentage of shoppers had noticed him!

Our habits are context specific. If our environment changes, our habits become loosened – and it is these critical pinpoints that present the best opportunity for behaviour change.

Of course this is easier for bricks-and-mortar retailers like Sainsbury’s who can influence the in-store environment, but it’s not impossible for digital-first brands to achieve too.

Significant life events – like moving house, having a baby, getting married, ending a relationship or starting a new job – are all critical moments of change where our habits are most likely to reshape and reform. And if brands can target customers at these moments, they can influence behaviour change in their favour.

For example, when a consumer changes social group – by starting a new job, going to university, or getting divorced, they may be more open to changing their appearance and looking externally for a confidence boost, making these significant target moments for brands in the fashion and beauty industries.

Interestingly, psychologists from NYU and UCLA found that the years when your age ends in ‘9’ are moments when you’re more likely to undergo greater reflection. We don’t perceive time as progressing in an even manner, which means we place greater significance on certain landmarks, like approaching a new decade. “Nine-enders”, as the psychologists referred to them, are more likely to take drastic action towards big life changes. Data even shows that “nine-enders” are 48% more likely to enter a marathon for the first time than other age groups!

As an audience first agency, we work with your audience data to identify which life events and moments of potential change are most relevant according to your brand category, and use behavioural science insights to design targeted campaigns delivered at these critical times.

Audience targeting is for more than just your paid ads

Your brand has multiple stakeholder audiences – from your customers (which should be broken down into multiple audience segments), to your employees, suppliers, supporters and investors. Each audience has their own priorities and communication preferences. 

Without an audience first approach, you end up sending everyone the same message, hoping you’ll achieve cut-through. (But in times of crisis this strategy really reveals its weaknesses – as Spotify found out too late).

With a persona-driven approach, which is the way most agencies operate, you’ll find yourself dealing in stereotypes. Overwhelmed with multiple channels to manage, and still struggling to know what to write when it comes time to update your social channels, send out a newsletter or produce a progress report.

But when you take an audience first approach, you can make strategic decisions about your business, brand and products based on how your audiences think, behave and buy. Which means you can drive behaviour change, increase conversion rates and improve ROI across all communications to all your different audiences.

if you’re ready to make your marketing budget go further, unlock new growth opportunities and achieve greater ROI by really getting to know your audiences, we can help.

Book a free consultation call with a member of our demographics team today.