Marketers: Avoid These Four Pitfalls in Personalization

By Jennifer Pelino, IRI Media Center of Excellence


A global retailer reached out to IRI recently, frustrated that its online and digital advertising wasn’t having the expected impact. Its in-store sales were down, consumer online sentiment seemed to be neutral, and the company felt that it had spent a lot on advertising with little return. Sound familiar?

It did to us. The retailer already knew it needed to create more personalized and targeted advertisements, but it didn’t know what to do to reach the right consumers, especially with the shopper journey increasingly fragmented across online and offline media.  

Digital media has undoubtedly been a massive source of new and inexpensive opportunities for marketers, but the advertising industry is still stuck on the traditional approach of reaching as many consumers at the lowest price possible. This low-touch mass approach is wildly ineffective in a marketplace where consumers are demanding more relevant and personalized communications and more importantly costing the advertiser more dollars in the end as the majority of their “low cost” dollars are ineffective. I think many of us will admit we also experience some frustration with digital ads and email messages in our own inboxes that contain irrelevant content and offers.    

These media targeting strategies often fall short, whether it’s with lower sales, irritated consumers and/or wasted advertising dollars. To make your targeting strategies more effective, here are the top four issues to avoid.

1. Using Outdated and Ill-timed Data

Our team constantly repeats this: targeting can only be as good as the data inputs. To achieve a better return on your advertising spend, the data must be current, integrated and reflect consumers’ behaviors and attitudes. Additionally, the advertising needs to be addressed at the appropriate time in a consumer’s purchase cycle. Using the most accurate and fresh data allows you to reach consumers right as they are about to make their next purchase, not right after they have purchased. 

2. Sacrificing Precision for Reach

If you want to connect with today’s consumers, quality trumps quantity. Always. Rather than serving a generic message to a broad group of shoppers, it’s much better to reach a narrow subset of high-potential customers with a targeted message that resonates and leads to action. This could involve maximizing your owned media spaces, highly segmented email campaigns with customized messages and ads targeted at sub-sub segments. Move towards personalization at scale.

3. Relying on Inaccurate Purchase Propensity Data

Knowing which households are most likely to buy a particular product or category can only be done with the right purchase propensity data. Advertisers and agencies today implement multiple targeting tactics, from demographic to contextual, but none of these deliver the same precision as knowing who already buys.

4. Failing to Optimize Against Today’s Omnichannel Marketplace

Think of all the shopping and information choices that consumers can tap into today. Imprecise targeting is a lose-lose situation that wastes marketers’ time and annoys shoppers with irrelevant “noise” in the form of ads. To enhance sales impact and lift, advertisers must begin every targeting effort with a deep understanding of the media consumption patterns of their key audiences. It’s important to narrow your media investment to those whose behavior is most impacted by the media exposure, increasing efficiency and effectiveness.

These tips can help marketers make sense of the path to purchase, and find and understand consumers wherever they are. The ability to see what consumers are doing across media channels and connect it to their in-store behavior makes an otherwise confusing path to purchase much more clear. 

To learn how IRI’s audience targeting solutions can work for your brand, contact me at

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