iQU's Fraser MacInnes on why when it comes to user targeting, it's often better to shoot to miss

Learn lessons from your mistakes

iQU's Fraser MacInnes on why when it comes to user targeting, it's often better to shoot to miss
Fraser MacInnes is a mobile games industry professional who cut his teeth writing for Pocket Gamer. He's now working at iQU, a behavioural knowledge company working in the games sector.

You can read the first part of Fraser's series of columns on segmentation here.

This week, the art of targeting:

If segmentation is about getting to know audiences, targeting is about making use of that knowledge over time.

There are gamers who would love to play your game, but they've never heard of it and maybe never will.

The reasons for this are many and complicated but by and large, it's because developers and advertising networks - especially non-vertical specific networks - make product and audience assumptions that do not always play out in the real world.

Shoot to miss to learn to shoot to hit…

After it becomes clear that a product initially marketed towards American males aged 18-24, unexpectedly generates a healthy slice of organic growth among Australian housewives, it's often too late to do anything about it.

Detecting these things early on is vital if marketers are to target their offerings effectively.

After an audience has been segmented, you have to make choices about which segments to target and it's not as immediately obvious where the right fits are at the outset of a marketing campaign as one might think and it's definitely not a one-time deal – targeting is a process.

The basics

So, you are a game developer that has a new MMORPG coming out and you decide to spend 20k of your monthly 100k marketing budget on a cost per install (CPI) campaign to acquire some players.

You approach an affiliate network that has access to a large segmented audience across a range of websites, meaning that, broadly speaking, the affiliate network knows, or at least can make sound guestimates about, where certain audience segments are concentrated across their visible network.

Then some basics about the game need to be clarified, such as, which territories can it be legally distributed in, is it localised for all of those territories etc.

Additionally, the advertiser may make some additional stipulations (read: assumptions) about the campaign, regarding things like genre and other content-based factors. After all, there'd be little point pushing an ad for a subscription-based, download-only Diablo III clone to a website that exclusively covers F2P, web-based Farmville clones. Right?

Most of the time yes, but audiences are much less predictable than that. In reality what happens is, you don't hit the target the first or even the second time, but you get closer and closer with each freshly targeted chunk of the budget, thus spending it more effectively over time.

Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better…

Think about it like twanging arrows at a scored target board. If you have good eyesight, you'll probably at least hit the board on the first shot, but you'll probably still be significantly wide of the bullseye.

Over time, provided you peer ever closer and concentrate hard, you should get nearer and nearer to the target and may even occasionally hit the centre.

Sometimes however, though you felt that your aim was a little off when you loosed the bow string, the arrow ends up striking much closer to the target than you expected - and, to the endless frustration of those in the field, the opposite is also true. So what's the moral here? Sometimes, try to miss.

This is because, maybe your data management platform (DMP) knows enough to say a group of gamers behave in certain ways and hence like certain things, but that's still a reasonably crude slice of the whole picture.

Do you play only iOS games? Or do you dip into the odd bit of Skyrim between Angry Birds sessions? The point is, it's easy to miss people when you are trying to target them based on the data you have and it's possible to catch people when you're not even aiming at them.

To this end, campaign optimisation, where the networks the affiliate pushes deals to is tested, retested and re-targeted, is the best way to spend campaign budgets effectively. But what does effectively mean?

This comes back to last week's point about the quality of users and it's where targeting gets a little bit technical and even, political.

Quality, not quantity…

Let's go back to our developer and their 20k budget.

Let's say they want to run a CPI campaign. Many ad networks will merrily burn through that budget with huge quantities of traffic (or reach) that's not necessarily well suited to the product, because they're only interested in delivering enough eyeballs to achieve the requested number of installs - based on the conversion rate of their total reach.

Finding quality users is just not part of the deal.

This gives those networks a high yield (i.e. the quantity of the campaign budget burned vs. the total on offer) but likely very low conversions. Worse still, the quality of the conversions made - which is often hard to measure - will also often be lower, with gamers launching a game maybe once before turning away for good.

In contrast, vertical specific networks (tend to) take care to segment and target for the right traffic for the product.

They may only spend a smaller percentage of a budget within an allotted time – resulting in a lower yield – but the hope is that the money spent will result in much higher conversions, and ultimately better quality users (i.e. those that play for longer and spend more money).

Thinking out of the box

Not all marketers understand this, but what they do understand is their boss banging their fist on the desk, demanding to know why they haven't spent all the marketing money they've been given.

This is especially true of major publishers that come from the box retail space and are trying to make sense of the complex mobile freemium market, where the usual marketing mores don't really apply.

So what can these poor henpecked souls turn to for solace?

Well the thing to remember, every time we get an audience wrong and miss our target, we learn something new about that audience and over time, this builds a picture where drawing that obscure connection between Angry Birds and Skyrim for individual users becomes, by degrees, easier.

In other words, we create gamer profiles, which I'll be exploring in the next column – set your target for next week!

Part 3: Gamer profiles
You can follow Fraser's industry commentary on his blog, or else grab bite-size rants via Twitter.

PocketGamer.biz regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.