Home Digital Marketing The Crawl, Walk, Run Guide To Audience Suppression

The Crawl, Walk, Run Guide To Audience Suppression


Brands often have a long list of people they don’t want to show ads to: customers who just bought a product, current subscribers, non-subscribers or a group of people in their CRM database they know won’t qualify or be interested in a product.

To avoid showing ads to people – a technique called audience suppression – brands need tech, talent and a strategy to back up their choices. Audience suppression done right cuts down on media costs and makes customers happy. Done wrong, it can annoy them and send KPIs plummeting.

Here’s what agency and tech experts have learned along the way about how to do audience suppression right.

How has this tactic been used historically?

Direct mail marketers use audience suppression all the time to make sure the same person doesn’t receive too many offers, or to avoid exposing them to a better offer right after they convert to an okay offer. Email marketers have continued this tradition, withholding certain messages from subscribers unlikely to be interested in them. But in other mediums, like TV, marketers haven’t been able to use the tactic – although that’s changing.

My brand is just getting started. What’s the basic way to use audience suppression?

Make sure you aren’t showing ads to users who just bought something online.

Before advancing on to anything else, brands need to use this simple, high-value technique. “Suppressing converted customers from your retargeting campaign is critical to optimizing,” said Serge Del Grosso, SVP of media services at Merkle.

Still, many brands have a hard time even doing that right, continuing to show ads long after an online purchase. “That is the most common holiday complaint from family and friends,” said MediaMath Chief Product Officer Jacob Ross.

I’m crawling. How do I walk?

Brands can also suppress customers who don’t have the right purchase profile to qualify for the prospect pool, advised Del Grosso. And they can suppress prospects that have already been exposed to an ad multiple times – though figuring out just when to give up requires detailed analysis.


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Or, instead of not showing ads to users who converted, brands can mix things up by showing users a different offer – like a camping backpack to go with their hiking boots.

Good audience suppression also needs to work across devices.

“We have one customer that sells subscriptions for a TV service,” said LiveRamp CMO Jeff Smith. “Similar to a direct mail marketer, they are always tweaking their offers to acquire the customer. The last thing they want to do is offer that customer they just hit on a web browser with the basic offer [who converted] and give them the advanced offer on the mobile device.”

How do I run?

Smart advertisers will understand the customer life cycle for their products and use that knowledge to inform audience suppression strategies.

“You should not be suppressing audiences in perpetuity until you have built up a healthy picture of how your customer historically interacts with your brands,” said Essence’s Jon Taylor, global director of data strategy. “I certainly wouldn’t suggest suppressing audiences from day one if you are uncertain about when you should bring them back into the targeting mix.”

Brands make audience suppression more effective by bringing together offline and online purchase data. “Offline transactions are as important as ecommerce transactions in looking at what customers to suppress, ” Del Grosso said.

A bank, for example, needs to bring together online and offline databases in order to smartly suppress audiences.

“If you just use online information about your customers, you aren’t taking into consideration all of your customers that already have credit cards, for example, in an offline database,” said Bryan Simkins, technology solutions partner at Transparent Media Partners. “You may be wasting acquisition media dollars on customers who already have a credit card because your systems aren’t connected.”

What will mess up my campaign?

“One of the most common mistakes is the time lag between the conversion and removing them from the prospecting pool and retargeting pool,” Del Grosso said. Campaigns require active management to ensure customers are moving in and out of the right suppression buckets.

Second, brands shouldn’t start suppressing audiences right out of the gate. It’s better to let a campaign run across a broad audience and then start making decisions. That way, traders can look at the average ad frequency before conversion, for example. Otherwise, brands risk removing people who were still on the path to purchase or incorrectly excluding audiences.

Data quality is also a biggie. If brands want to suppress ads to women, and the data is only 50% accurate, they’re wasting money on media and on data, Ross said. And brands might be making incorrect assumptions about their audiences. For example, men may use the product, but maybe women are buying the product as a gift. 

How do I measure the ROI?

Audience suppression can move the needle on almost every brand metric, from CTR to sales. Focusing on the proxy metrics, like clicks, can be an easy way to get a feel for efficacy. But it’s even better if the brand or agency can connect new audience suppression strategies to sales or a cost per acquisition.

“We have a number of clients looking at a CPA [cost per acquisition] on the financial services side,” Del Grosso said. “When the operator starts seeing the cost per order creeping up, that’s a trigger that tells us our costs are going up and we need to refresh our audiences.” The agency will then suppress users that haven’t converted after a high frequency or bring back others that haven’t been served ads in a while.

Brands should also keep qualitative metrics in mind. “The softer aspect is not wanting to make your brand seem creepy because you are following them around with an irrelevant message. That’s part of the ROI too,” said LiveRamp’s Smith.

“You have to think about what the true lifetime value is of exposing users to ads over and over again,” MediaMath’s Ross said, himself a veteran of retargeter Criteo. But making determinations about lifetime value is difficult, and one he thinks is best solved by machine learning algorithms. 

What technology do I need?

Brands definitely need a DSP to optimize quickly. If brands need to activate in multiple places, they may need a separate DMP. If they’re bringing in CRM lists or offline data, a data onboarder may also be in order.

Do I need to hire anyone with special training?

Mastery of DSPs and DMPs is a must, said Essence’s Taylor. “Historically, segmentation skills have existed further back in the campaign planning process, in strategic planning. We need to bring more of that thinking forward into campaign management and data management.” That said, most media planners are adept at doing audience suppression – but analytics experts will help refine strategies and provide more insight.

What’s the future of audience suppression?

Better identification will enable omnichannel audience suppression. Suppressing audiences across multiple channels, like television, out-of-home and digital, is the oasis that agencies and tech companies are plodding toward. There is steady progress in cross-device and cross-channel identification of audiences, which will pave the way for omnichannel audience suppression.

Also, brands want to start doing audience suppression using people-based identifiers, not cookies, which will make it easier for brands to tie their decisions to business outcomes like sales.

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