What is microtargeting and how does it actually work?

1 min read
What is microtargeting and how does it actually work?

Since the 2016 US election, microtargeting has been on everyone's lips, and it was also used diligently in this year's federal election. But what exactly is microtargeting and how does it actually work?


The aim of microtargeting is to develop the most specific target groups possible using large data sets, which are then advertised with precisely tailored advertising messages. Properly applied, microtargeting has many advantages in terms of data protection and is much more resource-efficient than conventional advertising measures such as TV advertising.

What is microtargeting?

Microtargeting refers to the precisely tailored delivery of specific advertising messages to very small and precisely segmented target groups.

The segmentation of the target group plays the decisive role in providing the desired people with exactly the right message. The more accurate and detailed the personal data is, the better the results will be.

Personas have long been used to develop brand strategies. Marketing experts develop fictitious persons with names, photos, occupations, marital status, income, hobbies, goals and needs. These fictitious persons help to answer important questions of any conceived advertising measure.

  • Does Martin like the website?
  • What bothers him about a competing product?
  • Does it understand the language of the advertising campaign?

This personification directs the discussion to a tangible level, from which meaningful improvements and simplified communication within the marketing team often follow, because it is easier to develop advertising messages for a specific case than for a heterogeneous target group.

How does microtargeting work?

Microtargeting uses statistical analysis to divide the total population into specific target groups based on demographic, political, religious and interest-based characteristics. Marketing and communication experts tailor advertising messages to the interests of this target group to achieve a communication goal, such as casting a vote. Political messages can be communicated in a variety of ways. For example, different target groups can be addressed and convinced with minimally differing content.

Both companies in the B2B and B2C segments can make use of microtargeting. Huge data sets are used for this, which, after evaluation, enable precise targeting, which can be driven to microtargeting. According to estimates, 300 likes on social media, for example, are enough to predict a person's behaviour better than their own partner. In most cases, microtargeting refers to digital marketing measures via social media, for example, although personalised advertising material sent by post or customer telephone calls can also benefit from microtargeting.

In addition, microtargeting is much more resource-efficient than conventional advertising measures such as TV or radio advertising, as communication only takes place with the relevant target group, e.g. prospective buyers or swing voters, and not with the entire group. As a result, the same resources can be used to address the desired target group more frequently and more precisely, which significantly increases the achievement of the communication goal and often brings a great advantage over competitors.

Scandals & Controversies

The extent to which microtargeting can be exploited came to light after the 2016 US presidential election


Both major American parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, use huge data sets on potential voters for their election campaigns. This data is collected through home visits, telephone surveys or tracking tools on websites and apps to divide society into many target groups.

However, Donald Trump's campaign team took microtargeting to the extreme. The Republicans worked with the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, which apparently used illegally misappropriated data to conduct analyses to identify specific groups of voters. These groups of voters were then promoted on Facebook with tailored political content. Cambridge Analytica claims to have been largely responsible for Donald Trump's electoral success, although this claim was made mainly for self-promotional reasons, that the impact of microtargeting is very difficult, if at all, to measure.