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Why audience targeting doesn't need to be a hail mary

The Denver Broncos beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, ending the Pats' season and quashing their hopes for (yet another) Super Bowl appearance.

I'm a diehard Patriots fan, and to say this was disappointing would be a massive understatement.

The Monday after the game, I received this email from NFL.com. The topic? Congratulations to Denver fans on the Broncos' upcoming Super Bowl trip.

[caption id="attachment_8753" align="alignnone" width="674"]Denver Broncos Super Bowl Email Subject Line: "Broncos Fans, Get Your Super Bowl XLVIII Ticket Packages Today! "[/caption]

Now, as you can imagine, this is the last thing I'd want to see.

After my rage subsided, I realized why it happened. The sender targeted me based on purchase behavior. Earlier this year, I bought a pair of Broncos tickets and attended a game at Mile High Stadium. Somewhere along the way, I must have been moved into a Bronco fan segment.

In some ways, this makes sense. A team could make some basic assumptions about ticket purchasers. It might say that purchasers might like to attend events (football games), support the team (the Broncos), live in the area (Denver), or any number of other points. These are logical conclusions, and as marketers, we've probably all made them

However, when looking at the user experience there's a clear gap between these assumptions and reality. The gap is a lack of audience insight.

I do love football games, but I'm not a Broncos fan and don't live in Denver. I happened to be in the city and wanted to watch a game – as much to see the Broncos as the visiting Redskins. In fact, I ran into many fans from out of town who had similar motivation for attending the game. The major assumption – that all attendees are Broncos fans – is incorrect.

To further complicate things, I live in Seattle, the home of the Super Bowl-bound Seahawks. I've attended many Seahawks games, follow the team closely, and would have been happy to get a similar email about their NFC Championship victory.

Looking at these audience insights and scenarios, we can see that targeting fans with the right content suddenly becomes a more complicated exercise. So how do we do it better?

Customer preferences

NFL.com does have a preference center for account holders. It's not something that's promoted to users, though. Before getting this email, I'd didn't know it existed. And when I did find out, it turned out that using it required creating an additional account.

Had NFL.com promoted this preference center, users like me would know that they could customize communications. After creating an account, I found out it had a lot of options: I could select my favorite team, provide my zip code, and manage subscriptions.

[caption id="attachment_8751" align="alignnone" width="300"]NFL Preference Center NFL.com's preference center sign-up form.[/caption]

Sending a welcome message that identifies this as a feature would help create a better experience and help them gather more valuable customer data. It also might help decide what communications not to send — such as the Broncos Super Bowl email.

Behavioral data

NFL.com also seem to gather some behavioral data. And some of this is done pretty well. They sent a few emails based on my purchase for the Denver game, which were useful and relevant. They included transactional messages, reminders, and review requests. These were triggered off of my purchase, and were relevant to me not as a Denver fan, but as a person attending an event. However, the behavioral data might lose its relevance when removed from the context of the event itself.

In addition to the Broncos email, I also got an email a couple months ago promoting a Seahawks event. I assume this is because the address I entered was in Seattle. It's also remotely possible it could be based on browse behavior, though it seems unlikely. The question it raises is: which data points take priority over others? And if address is more important than the event I attended, wouldn't it make sense to send a Seahawks Super Bowl email instead of one for the Broncos?

[caption id="attachment_8750" align="alignnone" width="300"]Seattle Seahawks Event Email Email promoting an event for the Seattle Seahawks.[/caption]

Behavioral data could also be used to send communications based on more timely actions. These speak more to something the customer did and less to who they are, which improves the chances that what you're saying is relevant. I've browsed tickets and gear for both the Patriots and Seahawks, I've never gotten any browse or cart abandon messages to bring me back to the site. And I've later gone on to buy through StubHub, Nike, or other sites.

Channel and partner orchestration

In addition to NFL.com, there are other official websites where fans interact with a team. These include NFL team sites (such as patriots.com), ticketmaster (which runs the official ticketing site for all NFL teams), and team "pro shop" e-commerce sites (which sell gear and apparel). Each of these has an email program and seemingly collects customer data.  Users often move from the main team site to NFL.com, Ticketmaster, or the pro shot site without realizing it.

If there are multiple channels or partner sites working together, then orchestration between their communications should be a goal. The experience of moving between a team site, NFL site, Ticketmaster portal, and pro shop site is actually pretty seamless. The challenge is that users are likely to expect communications from these places to be equally seamless. A Patriots fan who subscribes to the Patriots pro-shop email might be shocked to get a communication about a rival team from the NFL. This might make perfect sense on the back end, but to the user it's strange.

[caption id="attachment_8752" align="alignnone" width="286"]New England Patriots AFC East Email Email sent by the Patriots Pro Shop after clinching the AFC East division title.[/caption]

Start by talking to other business groups and partners. It's likely that you have similar goals and could support each other. Also, evaluate the entire experience between the audience, the communication channels, and the destination points. This identifies gaps that the customer will see, but might be missed by an individual business group.

Best of luck in your targeting. And GO SEAHAWKS!

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