by Bryan Gernert on February 7th, 2013 at 7:00 am, iMedia Connection

Digital advertising and marketing has evolved tremendously in just the past few years, driven by increasingly sophisticated targeting methods. Brands and marketers are able to reach their desired audiences at a deep, granular level, and at scale, thanks to the proliferation of data sources and technology to quickly analyze and scale that data. The digital ad industry is growing at a remarkable rate, with no real end in sight. On a macro level, the future looks bright for the industry and for the brands that rely on it.

There’s a catch, though, for all parties looking to stay ahead of the ad curve: Advanced strategies that prove capable of delivering ads to target consumer audiences, and inspire those consumers to respond, are quickly become commonplace. As good as we think we have it now, in the near future, brands and marketers will demand better results than are allowed by audience targeting as we’ve known it. But the recent past indicates targeting is on track to better serve brands and consumers alike. The availability of more data sources, from which deeper and more nuanced insights can be derived, will allow for more relevant and valuable audience targeting than ever before.

Here are some ways we expect ad targeting will continue to grow this year:

  • Social media will reveal not only what consumers like, but what they value most in their lives. In 2012, many marketers heard the call, and rightly so, shifting focus from amassing large social media followings to understanding how their social followers behave. People behave differently in social media than they do elsewhere on the web — they’re in a receptive position, attentive to messages from parties they’ve chosen to follow and sharing the messages they agree with — and those social behaviors offer valuable insights. We can discern in those following and sharing habits a lot about what people believe in and value, and about what motivates them to act. We’ve heard a lot about what people share (the engagement value of photo was one of the “big reveals” of 2012, for example), but the question of why particular groups of people share the messages they share remains underexplored. In 2013, we expect to see an even deeper dive into understanding social user values, and more of a push to incorporate those insights into holistic, cross-platform campaigns.
  • Mobile data will catch up to data from PC browsing for ad targeting purposes. 2012 was known as the “Year of Mobile”, thanks in large part to the explosion of tablet usage. Thanks to native apps and responsive web design, mobile devices are now equally as powerful as their desktop/laptop counterparts — with two key benefits: portability and convenience. Geo-targeting is on everyone’s lips when they talk about mobile advertising, but data around mobile user behavior is much richer than that. In 2013, we’ll be able to identify unprecedented insights from mobile into consumers’ lives and values. This enables the widespread adaptation of cross-screen and cross-platform campaigns, further allowing for enriched insights about consumer values, not just consumer behavior, through nearly every aspect of their daily lives.
  • Marketers will increasingly embrace and benefit from Big Data. Through 2012, we’ve seen the role of Big Data shift from just a buzzword to a necessary tool in the digital kit. In 2013, marketers will embrace tools for deriving insights from data, and smart brands will want to seek insights beyond those their competitors are looking for. The vast amount of consumer data available will provide tremendous opportunities to paint more detailed portraits of the consumer. We’ll see a lot of competition here, but the savviest marketers and brands will cut through the noise and find their target consumers at scale by understanding what they care about and what motivates them to act.
  • Audience targeting will have to move beyond demographics and geo-location. Age, income, gender, race and the like may suggest rudimentary clues about consumer behavior, but members of each demographic are motivated to act for very different reasons. To build more relevant campaigns, it’ll be crucial to group audiences not just by demographic, but by what they value and what motivates them. Those are, after all, better indicators of what makes consumers act on the ad messages they see.

2013 offers challenges, but also promises positive change to help brands reach their target audiences. It will mean breaking out of some comfort zones, but the value of the insights derived from so many data sources means these new directions are actually very comfortable indeed.