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Audience-Led Marketing in the Google Marketing Platform

Google Marketing Platform (GMP) offers several opportunities for the onboarding, creation, analysis, and activation of audiences. Marketers can build audiences using data from a variety of sources (both first-party and third-party) and these audiences can be activated across the full Google stack.

One of the key benefits of the GMP is the ability to share data between platforms such as Google Analytics (GA), Google Ads, and DV360. Audiences can also be activated outside of the Google stack for email or social campaigns, using media tracking tags from your data management platform or customer data platform implemented in Campaign Manager.

First-Party Audience Targeting

First-party data is information a brand has about its own customers and prospects. In audience targeting, it is typically used for remarketing purposes and can also be used for analysis and modeling. A variety of methods are available to create remarketing lists. Pixels can be used for building remarketing lists within Google Ads/DV360/Campaign Manager depending on what is tagged. These usually cover the basics such as site visitors, conversion abandoners, converters, etc.

A more sophisticated option is to build remarketing lists in GA and push them to  media platforms. These lists can be based on any interaction with the website and even offline data (if that data is imported into GA). This opens up more advanced options for segmentation, as audiences can be pushed from GA into Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to build machine learning-based audiences, and then back out for activation in GMP. For known audiences, Customer Match is a great way to activate them across the Google stack. Customer relationship management (CRM) records can be brought in based on users who are matched via email addresses or other PII.

It should be noted though that Google does have strict restrictions when it relates to using this data in certain industries and with certain data, so pay mind to those before starting to go down the path of building out the necessary infrastructure and capabilities.

Similar Audiences

Similar audiences, sometimes referred to as look-alikes more generally, are built based on your first-party audience. They can be employed across most of the different list options, but there are important differences between how similar audiences are built for search and display within Google Ads, and display through DV360. Google Ads search similar audiences that are built using search behavior only. This means that the search behavior of the similar audience matches the search behavior of the existing first-party seed audience. Similar audiences for Google Ads Display campaigns use broader browsing activity and content the user viewed to help match the similar audience to the existing list.

Finally, DV360s similar audiences align much more with what you might expect when users hear the term look-alike. These audiences are built using Google’s machine learning algorithms, which use a black box methodology, meaning little is known about how they are created. Audiences lack flexibility, but they can still deliver a quick win for marketers.

Targeting Google Defined Audiences and Third-Party Data

Third-party data is most typically used for prospecting across the GMP. When buying third-party data in Google, you can access Google’s own data, or purchase from external vendors. Brands that purchase external third-party data need to consider how that data was originally collected, and whether that methodology is in-line with their company’s interpretation of the local data laws. Advertisers also need to weigh  whether the additional cost of using third-party data is going to be balanced out by an increase in overall return for their campaigns. A test and learn strategy is usually best when working with third-party data, regardless of source, with daily optimization to refine options.

Leveraging third-party data within Google can often be difficult and is not always allowable in a direct targeting fashion. Oftentimes third-party data can help inform creative and experience modifications as opposed to being targetable characteristics.

Other Audience Concepts

When running campaigns across GMP, it is worth knowing these other important concepts relating to audiences:

1. Membership duration: specifies how long a user remains on your remarketing list

– If you’re building a remarketing audience in Google Analytics, this can be set to 1 – 540 days.

– If you’re building a remarketing audience in Google Ads or DV360, this can be set to 1 – 540 days

(it defaults to 30 days).

– Customer Match lists have unlimited membership duration, but you can set a limit if required.

2. List recency: configure targeting based on how recently a cookie was added to the audience list, based on a day-level, granularity (DV360 only).

3. Targeting vs. observation campaign settings (Google Ads only)

– Targeting: narrow your campaign to show only to specific audiences that you’ve selected (recommended for display campaigns).

– Observation: allows you to show your ad to any user, while observing the behavior of a specific audience(s) in order to adjust bids for that audience or simply to track performance (recommended for search campaigns).

Creating an Audience Segmentation

With all of these targeting options, it’s easy to get started. However, a structured approach is necessary to avoid messy, inconsistent audience targeting strategies. Ideally, advertisers should employ the same audience targeting across media platforms, which is allowed via GMP’s sharing functionalities. This is efficient and ensures a consistent audience experience. Make use of your first-party targeting options, but do so in a structured approach.

Consider how you segment your customers in order to identify the remarketing/Customer Match lists you end up creating. Follow the key principles:

1. Mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive: No user should fall into more than one audience and your audiences should cover your entire customer base.

2. Diverse performance: Each audience should be built with different definitions that showcase a diverse range of performance.

3. Balanced groups: Audiences should be similar in size. Once first-party audiences have been built, look at how to enhance those first-party lists to improve targeting – either with look-alikes or with third-party data. Use your first-party data to analyze and understand who your customers are to help you define the most relevant third-party lists to target.

Want to learn more? Download our Google Playbook here to learn how to tie together all the GMP capabilities to generate positive ROAS for your media program.