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The Ultimate Guide to Audience Managers

Learn why marketers use audience managers to personalize their marketing campaigns.

Luke Kline


June 24, 2024


11 minutes

Managing different audiences.

Your customers want to be marketed to; they just don’t want it to feel like they’re being marketed to. Every marketer knows that personalization leads to better campaign results, but most marketers cannot target and reach the right audiences because they don’t have the data they need to build those audiences. The common denominator for the world’s biggest brands is their ability to send the perfect message at the perfect time through the perfect channel, and all of them rely on audience managers to power these use cases.

This blog will cover:

  • What is an audience manager?
  • How do audience managers work?
  • Types of audience managers
  • Audience management use cases
  • Best audience manager platforms

What is an Audience Manager?

An audience manager is a tool that lets you to segment and aggregate customers into audiences and then sync those audiences to your various marketing, advertising, and operational channels.

These platforms allow you to segment customers using specific attributes, behavioral data, user-completed events, custom traits, relationships, or even custom data science models.

Once you’ve defined your target audience, an audience manager will then aggregate the appropriate records so you can target that audience in your marketing channels.

The purpose of an audience manager is to provide self-serve audience capabilities for your marketing team so they can unlock faster velocity, experimentation, and measurement to understand how different cohorts engage across various marketing channels.

How Do Audience Managers Work?

From a high level, all audience managers work in a very similar fashion, but they’re not all created equal. There are four components to audience managers: filters, boolean logic, query execution, and activation:

  • Filters allow you to apply certain conditions and group users in your audience segment when they meet certain conditions or criteria that you define (e.g., shopping cart abandoners).
  • Boolean Logic lets you narrow your audience using boolean operators like “AND,” “OR,” and “NOT” to create more complex and granular segments (e.g., loyalty members or customers who have purchased in the last week).
  • Query Execution abstracts the audience cohort you visually define and translates that information into code (usually SQL). This code is then used to query the data and populate your audience with users who match your specified criteria.
  • Activation sends your audience data to the appropriate marketing channel (e.g., Facebook, Iterable, Braze) so you can use it to power business-specific use cases.

Here’s a screenshot example of what an audience-built-in Hightouch would look like:

An example of an audience built in Hightouch

An audience created in Higtouch Customer Studio

Bundling these capabilities into one platform is extremely beneficial because, without an audience manager in place, you’re forced to submit tickets to your IT team any time you want to build custom audiences or, even worse, simply rely on broad and generic targeting approaches. Audience managers allow you to be hyper-specific in how you engage with your customers because you can segment users into various groups using specific data points to adjust your messaging and marketing channel on a per-audience basis.

Types of Audience Managers

The MarTech space is incredibly crowded, and audience managers are no exception. The most important factor to keep in mind when evaluating audience managers is that they’re not all created equal. Many audience managers only have access to a limited amount of your customer data, like user-completed events, which is a big problem for companies with custom data models for business-specific objects like workspaces, subscriptions, households, etc. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the five main categories of audience managers:

  • Composable Customer Data Platforms (CDPs): These solutions provide the most flexible audience managers because they allow you to create audiences using any and all of the data available in your data warehouse. Instead of storing data in a separate platform, Composable CDPs simply run on top of your existing infrastructure, giving you a non-technical interface to interact with the data in your warehouse. Whereas most audience managers strictly allow you to segment on basic attributes and behavioral events, Composable CDPs give you access to both online and offline data, providing a complete view of your customer.
  • Traditional Customer Data Platforms (CDPs): Traditional CDPs are probably the most well-known platforms in the audience manager space, but your ability to create audiences is directly linked to the data available in the platform. This can be quite detrimental as most CDPs are limited to event-tracking data, and all data usually has a strict schema structure that only supports basic objects like users and accounts.
  • Data Onboarding Solutions: Data onboarding platforms offer some audience management capabilities, but these solutions are largely designed to enrich your existing first-party data with additional third-party identifiers before you upload them to your ad platforms for campaign targeting. One of the core downsides to these platforms is that it can take upwards of 2-3 days for your data to reach your ad platforms.
  • Ad platforms: Every ad platform provides a basic audience manager you can use to define target segments for paid media use cases. However, the default setting for large platforms like Google and Meta is limited to basic demographic targeting, affinity audiences, life events, and other broad data points you can use to hone in on your ideal customer profile (ICP).
  • SaaS platforms: Most SaaS platforms, such as email service providers and lifecycle marketing tools, have audience-building capabilities. However, you’re strictly limited to the data available in the platform.

Audience Management Use Cases

The number one use case for an audience manager is personalization because delivering personalized experiences causes your customers to take action, which translates to business growth.

From a marketing standpoint, there are several reasons why you’d want a central place for your teams to build and maintain audiences:

  • Paid Media: One of the number one use cases for marketing teams is managing advertising campaigns across various ad networks. Out of the box, most ad networks only offer basic targeting capabilities. However, if you can sync your first-party data to these platforms directly, you unlock far better targeting capabilities because you can match your users against the users available in the platform to reach your target audiences and also unlock lookalike audiences. For example, one of the best ways to optimize ad spend is simply by excluding existing customers to ensure you only target net new prospects. With an audience manager, you can easily create a suppression list to upload to your ad platforms to optimize bidding and spending.
  • Lifecycle Marketing: Lifecycle marketing is another critical use case that audience managers help solve because they allow you to create different audiences that you can test across different channels like email, SMS, and push notifications to keep your customers engaged throughout and after the entire buying process. For example, if you’re an online retail company like Amazon, shopping cart abandonment is a huge problem. With an audience manager, you can create an audience of cart abandoners and send them a reminder to complete their purchase in the next few hours so they don’t miss out on two-day shipping.
  • Loyalty Programs: Today, pretty much every retailer has a loyalty program, but successful loyalty programs require you to have an intimate understanding of your customers so you can craft highly relevant offers and personalized experiences. Audience managers help you segment users based on their purchase history, viewing habits, attributes, traits, and more, so you can craft highly relevant messaging tailored exactly to their preferences. PetSmart uses Hightouch for this exact purpose to power 4 billion highly personalized loyalty emails every year.
  • On-Site & In-App Personalization: One of the biggest and underused use cases for audience managers is powering dynamic customer experiences on websites and in apps (e.g., delivering different web and app experiences to different users based on interests and engagement with your company.)
  • Journey Building: Triggering automated campaigns and orchestrating customer interactions across channels is another critical use case for audience managers. Simply defining who you want to target isn’t always enough; you also need to enroll those audiences in multi-touch customer journeys. For example, if you have an audience of users who abandoned their shopping cart, you might want to enroll them in a re-engagement campaign where you send a push notification on day one reminding them to complete their purchase and an email on day two with a special offer.

Obviously, this is a very simplified list of examples, but the the main reason that audience managers are so important is because they allow you to control every aspect of your campaign, from your audience to the channel you choose to communicate in. The fact that these platforms let you self-serve without going through your data team is a major unlock because it allows for much faster velocity when it comes to optimization and experimentation because you don’t have to wait weeks for your IT team to pull data for you.

Best Audience Manager Platform

There are a lot of different audience managers to choose from on the market, but your decision to purchase a solution should be based on the use case you’re trying to solve and the outcome you’re trying to drive. With that in mind, here’s a quick summary of the top six audience manager platforms:

  • Hightouch is a Composable CDP that connects directly to your data and provides a non-technical interface where marketers can visually build audiences and then sync them to over 200 different destinations. Whereas most audience builders only allow you to build audiences using a subset of your data, Hightouch gives you access to any and all of the customer data unique to your business. Best of all, the platform doesn’t store any data.
  • Salesforce Audience Studio used to be the native audience management solution available in Salesforce Marketing Cloud, but as of February 2024, this product has officially been deprecated. Now, Salesforce is trying to migrate customers to their new Salesforce Data Cloud offering, which provides more capabilities than the previous audience builder but is extremely expensive and inflexible.
  • Adobe Audience Builder is a data management platform (DMP) that sits on top of the Adobe Experience Cloud. This platform lets you pull in data on your customers from other Adobe-native products like Adobe Analytics and use that information to build audience cohorts, which you can then push to other marketing tools to power your campaigns. However, much like Salesforce, this product is also approaching its end-of-life stage as the company continues to push customers onto Adobe Real-Time CDP.
  • Segment is a traditional CDP that provides audience-building capabilities. The default implementation of this solution is usually limited to behavioral data, but the platform recently launched support for linked audiences so you can build and create cohorts using the data in your warehouse.
  • LiveRamp is a data onboarding platform that provides some basic audience management capabilities. However, the audience builder is difficult to use, and the platform and marketing teams are often forced to rely on the data teams to make data available in LiveRamp before they can actually start building audiences.
  • Google Audience Manager allows you to build audiences directly in Google so you can target them for advertising on both Google and YouTube. This platform is specifically built to help you target specific third-party audiences and can be a great option if you’re looking to reach wide audiences.

Closing Thoughts

Every marketer knows that personalization is key, but it’s impossible to personalize if you don’t have access to the data you need to segment audiences. The most important aspect of any audience builder is the underlying data because fancy UIs and UXs can be copied, but architecture is much harder to change. The fundamental problem with most audience builders today is that they only give you access to a very limited and basic amount of customer data (usually behavioral events).

Hightouch was designed from the ground up to give marketers access to any data point in their data warehouse, which makes it far more flexible when it comes to supporting custom data models and objects that are unique to your business. If you’re interested in learning more about how Hightouch can help your marketing teams move faster and build bigger and more accurate audiences, then book a demo with one of our solution engineers.

More on the blog

  • The Ultimate Guide to Journey Builders.

    The Ultimate Guide to Journey Builders

    Learn why journey builders are the secret to creating great marketing campaigns.

  • The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Campaigns.

    The Ultimate Guide to Marketing Campaigns

    Learn how you can use data to build highly personalized and targeted marketing campaigns that drive growth for your business.

  • What is a Composable CDP?.

    What is a Composable CDP?

    Learn why Composable CDPs are seeing such rapid adoption, how they work, and why they're replacing traditional CDPs.

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