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From Super Bowl to Supersegments: The Evolution of Digital Audience Segmentation

Ah, it’s once again that time of year. It’s Spotify Wrap time. It’s tie up this year’s campaigns time. It’s making plans for 2024 time. Above all, it's a good time to remember that our craft, digital marketing, is a story of relentless evolution, marked by constant shifts that redefine how we connect with audiences. 30 years ago, we ran one of the first Super Bowl ads for an internet company, today, we’re delving into AI-driven data-driven segments. Quite the ride. 

As my mom always says, it’s a good time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we are going. How as digital marketers we innovated, adapted, and transformed how we find and reach our audiences. To look back at the technologies that shifted and shaped each era and remind us of the essence of marketing that remains tried and true no matter the whizzbang technological advancement of the day.

 

1990s: The Search Revolution

In the 1990s digital marketing was primitive, but the potential was vast. The emergence of search engines like Yahoo and Google marked the beginning of what would be a seismic shift in how businesses reached consumers. Early digital advertising was premised on casting a wide net, hoping to catch as many eyes as possible. That’s what we did at Computers.com when we ran our breakthrough Super Bowl Ad.  Search engines begat banner ads that, while rudimentary, were revolutionary using simple demographic or geographic data for broad targeting. People actually clicked on banners. When AT&T put up a banner for its “You Will” campaign, it got a 44% click through rate, a number you can only dream of today. 

The problem was that ads lacked personalization. SEO began to emerge as a vital tool. Websites vied for top spots on search engine results pages, but the algorithms were less complex, focusing primarily on keyword matching rather than user intent or experience. Marketers relied on basic web analytics, counting page views and clicks but gaining little insight into user behavior or preferences.

 

2000s: Social Media Emerges

The turn of the millennium brought with it the burst of the Dotcom bubble, leading to a more discerning and mature digital space. Social media platforms like Friendster, MySpace, and eventually Facebook emerged and changed the game. These platforms allowed for a deeper understanding of audience behaviors and preferences creating opportunities for more nuanced marketing. 

Behavioral tracking gained momentum as data and cookies enabled marketers to track user activities across sites, leading to more targeted and relevant advertising. The pushback was a rising concern about user privacy and ethical data usage, with the Cambridge Analytica incident as an industry reckoning point.

Brands used behavioral tracking to create campaigns like Burger King's viral ‘Subservient Chicken’, a groundbreaking effort in interactive marketing that blended humor and interactivity and showcased the power of engagement over reach. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign used psychographic data to tap into the real emotions and attitudes of its audience, challenging beauty stereotypes and creating a deep, emotional connection with consumers. 

 

2010s: The Mobile Revolution

The proliferation of smartphones in the 2010s completely transformed the digital marketing landscape again. The "Mobile First" philosophy became essential, as more users accessed the internet via mobile devices than desktops. This shift led to the emergence of contextual and location-based marketing. This was the rise of Big Data, allowing for more sophisticated behavioral segmentation and integrated cross-platform marketing. The era also saw the rise of influencer marketing, with campaigns like Daniel Wellington's Instagram collaborations setting new standards. 

Advanced behavioral segmentation was epitomized by Amazon's personalized recommendations, a testament to the power of Big Data, with brands like Walmart and Targeting following suit. One of the most iconic campaigns of this era was Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like." Launched in 2010, this campaign used a blend of television and online platforms, leveraging the growing trend of mobile video consumption.  Starbucks' "Mobile Order & Pay" campaign leveraged mobile experiences to deliver convenience and personalization through the seamless integration of digital and physical customer experiences.

 

2020s: Machine Learning and AI

Today, we stand at the forefront of an AI revolution in digital marketing. TikTok's algorithm-driven content has redefined engagement, ushering in an era of hyper-personalized marketing at an unprecedented scale. The impending death of third-party cookies is posing new challenges for marketers, prompting a shift towards first-party data and privacy-focused segmentation strategies. This has led to the rise of deterministic segmentation, with companies like Skydeo providing marketers high-performing data-driven Supersegments to target audiences more accurately. 

We’re starting the decade with a bumpy ride, but as always, a new road leads to new opportunities for marketers that can adapt and be ahead of the pack.

 

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

 From Super Bowl's mass-market approach to today's Supersegments, it’s been quite the ride. Time’s change, but some things remain the same. The essence of marketing remains unchanged: creating meaningful connections with your audience.  As technology evolves, so must our strategies and tactics. Each era in marketing has brought a new era of marketer.

The lesson is to remain agile, constantly learning, and unafraid to embrace new technologies and platforms.

 

So, cheers to you 2023 – You challenged us, surprised us and certainly kept us on our toes. And here’s to 2024, we can’t wait to see where you take us next. 

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