Pavel Shegolev
18 Feb 2019
Wider than you think! 5 reasons to test on a wide audience.


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I've always been keen on testing ads and ideas on a wide target audience. On one hand it helps to confirm that we haven't made a mistake when selecting our TA. On the other, it is important to evaluate the full financial potential of an idea and that can only be done when testing on a full base of potential consumers.

When working in retail and FMCG sectors, test after test, I would see the same tendency. The results from surveys on narrow TAs were almost always identical to that on the wide basis, while the best case scenario would be a 100% match. In other words, to solve a problem of choice, testing on a wide base would be sufficient. Besides, it would also give us an opportunity to clearly see the potential beyond the target audience.

Here are the 5 reasons why you should test ads and ideas widely.
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Reason 1. More than 50% of purchases are made by consumers outside of your TA "non-target audience".
The non-target audience are the infrequent consumers who don’t fit inside the "official" predefined criteria within the positioning of a product or a service. And this makes up 80% of all consumers, it’s just they buy your product infrequently. Prof. Andrew Ehrenberg uncovered this pattern based on examples from over 30 markets. In his book "How brands grow" Byron Sharp gives many examples supporting this notion based on data from completely different industries, B2C and FMCG. I happen to have observed the same.
Reason 2. Penetration is king! The market penetration strategy is more effective than building loyalty alone.
This conclusion is based on analysing different push strategies. I’ll reference Sharp here as well.

"Growth in market share comes by increasing popularity; that is by gaining many more buyers of all types, most of whom are light customers buying from brand occasionally"
Reason 3. Information travels way beyond your target audience.
Products and services today are much broader than their actual physical manifestation. They are surrounded by ads, content, reviews, comments and discussions on social networks. In other words today’s products are products themselves plus information around them. The knowledge about a product always reaches further than its user base. For most categories information always precedes consumption or usage. Even with targeted ads the reach is far beyond the target audience. Like, Comment & Repost. All people involved will consume the information element of the product. And part of them will play an active role, i.e. will form new information about the product.
Reason 4. Non-consumers also influence purchase.
Decisions about choices and purchasing are heavily influenced by reviews be it leader opinions, discussions on social networks or views of friends and family. What's interesting is that those people may not be consumers but they have formed an opinion and communicated it based on exposure to ads or information about the product. This type of influence is only getting more powerful. This phenomenon lead to the review of the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model and the emergence of the AISAS (Attention, Interest, Search, Action, Share) model. Amongst the important metrics there are desire to learn more and desire to share. Those actions can be practised by people consuming information alone, they don't have to consume the actual product itself: "I saw a loan being advertised, which I don't personally need but my friend might. So I told him about it. The offer was too good to miss.".
Reason 5. The TA might be too small or wrong altogether.
First of all, a small target audience, a nucleus so to speak, is required at the stage of developing positioning for the new brand, product or service. It is required to help the product focus on specific needs and emotions. However, this does not mean that the product will only be consumed by this niche audience. For example, there will be other people who would also want to visit a barbershop besides those with beards and those who currently go to another barbershop. A beard is an acquired asset! A great marketing concept may motivate people to grow a beard and make it pretty ;).

However, it is easy to give the wrong impression when it comes to products with novel benefits. Energy drinks: Red Bull, Burn and Adrenaline Rush were originally positioned as premium drinks (high price) to be sold around the Russian night clubs. But soon after launching a big advertising campaign a massive proportion of consumption started coming from outside the TA, from outside the nightclubs. It was long distance lorry drivers needing to stay awake; not the night party people at all, but night shift workers. The promise of staying energetic hit the spot for them in terms of their needs and justified the high price. The potential of the product had been underestimated.
So which audience should you run your surveys on?

These 5 reasons lead to two simple recommendations regarding which are the best audiences to test potential ideas on and to make decisions:

  1. Mass appeal ads should be tested on the whole population. Since the ad will be viewed by many people it is important to know what the overall resonance will be. And this will give a general feel of the idea’s potential.

  2. Avoid narrowing down the TA beyond the category consumers. Limiting the TA makes sense when no mass advertising is being used. You shouldn’t narrow down beyond consumers of the category over a long time (around a year) where the category is defined wide (category + close alternatives). Even better to open up to non-rejectors of the category.


I would like to thank Nikolai Korotkov ("Otkrytie" bank, over 20 years experience in research, business and scientific pursuits) for helping me with this piece and Andrew Sychev (Fastuna development director, professor at the "Iskra" school, with over 20 years experience in research) for useful information, links, personal views and motivation to dig a little deeper.



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