I was at home the other day when, a young man knocked on my front door. He was asking me to support his political party (I won’t say which one) and despite me telling him that I support another political party (I won’t say which one), he continued to try and sway me, investing his time, and his employer’s money, trying to sell me on something that I just fundamentally don’t believe. And despite his enthusiasm and persistence, he never had a chance.

Then, as I closed the door, and tossed the pamphlet he gave me into the blue bin, it struck me… How much money are companies squandering in media doing the same thing?

Most companies define their audience based on age, life stage and gender. Armed with this information they go out and spend millions targeting these consumers with marketing messages. The problem is that consumers have evolved. They are hyper-connected. They are driven more by social pressure and personal beliefs, values and motivations. Taking this shotgun approach to media means haphazardly launching your message and hitting a large portion of consumers who, at the core, are not willing to accept the message.

Now, I know what you’re saying. Media has always taken those deaf ears into account. It’s the cost of doing business, and what can you do, since there really isn’t an alternative?

But maybe there is.

What if we stopped looking at consumers as numbers, and started looking at the beliefs and values that they hold in common?

Let’s use Whole foods as a hypothetical.

Why is it that both an 18 year old man and a 45 year old woman can be loyal shoppers at Whole Foods, spending a premium on their groceries every Saturday morning?

They don’t belong to the same age group or even the same generation. So then what binds them together with the Whole Foods brand?

The answer: It’s a belief system – a set of values that both of them use to define who they are as people, but more importantly that motivates them to believe and buy from the brands they love.

So, if I was Whole Foods and I only targeted women between 35-44 living in affluent areas, I would not only miss out on a portion of my audience that actually believes in my brand, but I would also waste a lot of effort targeting those 35-44 year old women who just don’t share beliefs with me. For example, in a recent study I conducted on affluent populations in the US and Canada, I actually found that about 30% of affluent consumers believed in pragmatism and the “common sense revolution”.

To them, shopping at a store like Whole Foods and paying more for organic produce (as an example) is unnecessary. It makes them feel like they’re falling for fads or heeding to social pressures. When I presented these findings to the CEO of a startup in the lifestyle space last week, in fact, his immediate response was “So I am wasting 30 cents on every dollar I spend on my current media buy because these people will never shop from my online store.” To which I was forced to respond, “Yes. You certainly are.”

Similarly, if I look at the retail sector in Canada, there is a percentage of the country’s population that strongly believes in social justice, environmental sustainability and in supporting local artisans. They would just not buy from large retailers who make their clothes in countries like Bangladesh and India. And if they did, they’d certainly not accept it publicly. How many retailers are taking this into account when they are building out their media plans? My guess, is very few. 

For many years now we’ve been trying to better use technology and social media to improve communications and the role a brand can play in a person’s life. Yet, when it comes to media, we seem to take the same approach to targeting that we’ve used for many years.

But brand managers are starting to see the flaw in this system.

I believe it is time we look at media in such a way that instead of taking a “spray and pray” approach, we focus on the people that are emotionally predisposed to receiving our message. People that we can motivate to do the things we want them to do.

PS: I don’t have any existing professional relationship with Whole Foods. But I am a customer, so say hi if you see me there next Saturday morning.

What do you want to research today?