Targeting Is Marketing

“You aren’t marketing if you aren’t targeting.”
— Tom Burrell

How do you define marketing? I see marketing as two groups — usually a company on one side and the potential customer on another — who need to connect.

Marketing creates that connection, whether it’s a 30-second commercial, a photograph in a print ad, 140 characters in a tweet or 100 pages in a website. The connection — or engagement — requires that one side has something the other side wants.

Back in the day, every ad intended to reach everyone until Tom Burrell came along. The Planet Money Podcast from NPR titled “This Ad’s for You” details the rise of Mr. Burrell and the first-ever African-American targeted advertising.

It’s a fascinating story and one that every marketer should listen.

His posits regarding how one should engage a target audience truly provide a lesson in Marketing 101 and insights into just how society changed in the last four decades.

Today’s marketing is splintered and spliced until the demographic research can be expressed, explained and overwrought with heavy-laden data that can overwhelm any marketer.

And that leads me to my advice on targeting — study the research, look at the qualitative, quantitative, voice of the customer and every other data point available — but the end of it all is a gut reaction.

For me, I create a few canaries in the coal mines to know whether I’m killing the market or energizing it. They’re not friends, colleagues or people who even know they’re the people influencing the process. These sometimes arbitrary choices help me get a beat on the market and how effective a campaign might be.

All the studies, all the research and all the data won’t always provide the direct and honest feedback an conversation that a chance encounter on an airplane or an unprompted phone call to a customer.

The most extreme example might be Ron Johnson and his tenure at JC Penney. Although he’d been successful at smaller retail transformations at Target and Apple, his extreme makeover at the discount chain purposely ignored current customers. Mr. Johnson never visited stores, instead sending missives via video. He didn’t even move to the town of the corporate headquarters of Plano, Texas.

Being in touch with your target audience doesn’t mean lacking people who fail to like something. In fact, having detractors might even be a good thing.

We’ll talk more about audience response later, but for now, know that marketing is targeting.

Published by

Michael Cheek

With more than 20 years of communication experience, Michael Cheek offers solid marketing expertise, especially in the digital frontier. He currently resides in Georgia but he's open to relocate anywhere the opportunities take him. Learn more at You can follow him on Twitter at and see more about his professional experience at Reach him via e-mail at

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