Hard-to-reach Audiences

“We have a really hard-to-reach audience and our current campaign targeting just isn’t working. Can you guys help?”

It’s a common request from our clients. 

While technology has made reaching specific audiences much easier, not all audiences fit into programmatic advertising’s neat little boxes. Sure, we can track shopping habits, browsing history, social media activity – but what about audiences that don’t have reliable internet access? Or don’t engage with digital advertising? 

There are many important audiences that don’t use the internet in the same way as a highly-engaged shopper. This is particularly true for health-focused organizations trying to reach audiences across the spectrum of care. 

While it’s standard for campaigns to target by age, race, geography, or online behavior, we’ve worked with a number of clients trying to reach groups with much more specific demographics, including men of color with a history of substance abuse; individuals living with traumatic brain injuries and their families; and caregivers of children at risk for gambling in specific neighborhoods. 

What we’ve learned is that not every targeting problem can be solved with data; sometimes, reaching an audience requires more nuance, subtlety, and upfront work. To reach “hard-to-reach” audiences, you need an organizational willingness to go against the grain and away from what might be considered the standard “best practice.” It also requires more primary research; more creative thinking; and more attention to tone and authenticity.

Here are three things you can do to reach the “unreachable.” 

Involve your audiences from the start.

Don’t make assumptions. Your niche audience likely brings a perspective that’s far removed from your own – and can’t always be captured through typical survey or focus-group methodologies. You may have to meet and engage with your audience on their turf. And once you find out where they’re coming from, you will likely have to tailor your message accordingly. 

When others zig, zag.

Targeted social media ads are great. They also have their limits. Continually using the same strategies when they aren’t working won’t get you new results. Expand your thinking and experiment – and be ready to shift tactics on the fly. When it comes to working with hard-to-reach audiences, there are no magic formulas.

Get creative.

Meeting your audience where they are isn’t just about putting billboards on their street or ads on their favorite shows. Think about local influencers, and how you might use them to your advantage. Consider non-traditional advertising spaces: trash cans, community centers and bodegas, sidewalks, and the sides of commercial trucks – these are all spaces we’ve turned into successful media for public agency campaigns.

Most importantly, when you are trying to reach a hard-to-reach audience, truly think about why they are more difficult to reach. Is it because they prefer non-traditional channels? Is it because a long history of mistreatment and discrimination has led to mistrust? Or is it just that not everyone fits the traditional audience breakdown?

Whatever it is, treat your audiences with respect and take the time to learn about their lived realities. That’s how you build successful strategies that are uniquely suited to the task.