Before launching a marketing campaign, B2B companies have a choice of targeting an audience, based on data, or a context, based on platforms related to your brand.


Audience-based marketing uses insights from behavioral data to drive and optimize campaigns, while contextual marketing is launched on publications your audience reads.


For B2B marketers, deciding which method to use depends on the data you have at your disposal and the maturity of your brand.


What is Audience-Based Targeting?

With audience-based targeting, a brand develops a marketing campaign based on data of their audience. Buyer personas, user behavior, social media interactions, and search engine analytics all include data to fuel campaigns.


Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and buyer intent data are also tools for audience-based targeting since they extract data on a current audience and provide insights to further target it.


Examples of audience-based targeting include:

Lookalike audiences

With data on your current audience, platforms such as Google or Facebook target new users with similar characteristics or profiles, which can be demographic or behavioral.

Remarketing campaigns

These use behavioral data about your audience to re-engage it with ads, content, or promotional offers.

Lead nurturing

Build a relationship with leads by providing them with relevant content on problems they face, as well as explaining the value of your product or service.


The Benefits of Audience-Based Targeting

Because it is data-driven, audience-based targeting is precise. It can provide for:

Highly specific marketing

Target a broad or niche audience, filtering the spread according to keywords, demographics, purchasing power, and location. Hyper-focus on niche audiences with long-tail keywords.

Optimize ROI

By running PPC campaigns, marketers have a precise cost-per-engagement and can optimize underperforming creatives.

Reach users that demonstrate interest

Target users that have searched for brand-related keywords, downloaded content, or engaged with social media posts. Leverage buyer intent data to target users precisely when they show interest in your brand, or even in that of a rival!


What is Contextual Targeting?

With contextual targeting, marketing campaigns are launched on platforms that are closely linked to your target audience. An example would be paying for an ad on a blog your audience reads.


While audience-based targeting is driven by data, contextual targeting is driven by the medium. In other words, where you launch your campaign matters the most.


To understand the importance of “where”, consider remarketing campaigns. With audience-based targeting, the ad appears to users no matter the web page. But with contextual marketing, ads appear only on pages that cover a brand-related topic or share the same audience profile.


Examples of contextual targeting include:

Blog post ads

Marketers can launch a display ad on a blog of interest to their target audience. Another option is running the ads through Google while restricting them to display only on websites of a specific topic.

Event sponsorship

Generate awareness and leads with experiential marketing, pop-up displays, stalls or shops, and speeches at an event of interest to your audience.

Branded content

Publish an interview, feature, or product review in a reputable publication you know your audience reads.


The Benefits of Contextual Targeting

For new brands, contextual targeting does not require behavioral data and brings results without specialized knowledge on analytics and privacy laws.


Benefits of using contextual targeting include:

Reach new users

Promising leads might not always exhibit the behavior of your current audience. With contextual targeting, businesses can reach audiences they might not have even considered profitable, with sales teams surprised that leads which are not represented by a buyer persona or behavioral data progress down the funnel to a positive action. 

Simpler to run

Some campaigns are as simple as designing the creative and paying a fee. For brands that are short-staffed or do not have the know-how to analyze data, contextual targeting is easier to pull off.

Privacy law compliant

With the onset of privacy laws in Europe (GDPR) and California (CCPA), contextual advertising is 100% compliant because it does not collect user data. However, an informed marketer can run compliant audience-based targeting without any risk.


Which Type of Audience Marketing Should My Brand Use?

Brands with data benefit most from audience-based targeting, while new companies can kick-start their marketing campaigns off better with contextual targeting.


Audience-based Marketing

Any brand can harvest data from their website, social media, and Google Ads platform for audience-based marketing. However, campaigns will be more effective if you have buyer intent data and access to a database of 138+ million decision-makers.


Audience-based marketing needs data to be effective and the more you have, the better.


Contextual Marketing

This method generates brand awareness for companies that are just starting off. Running an ad in a reputable blog, magazine, or an influencer’s social media page reaches new target audiences.


And with the leads generated from contextual marketing, businesses have data to drive more audience-based marketing. In the end, both strategies complement each other.


How to Create a Target Audience Marketing Plan

By following these five steps for each method, businesses can lay the groundwork for a thorough B2B marketing campaign:


The Audience-Based Marketing Plan

  1. Collect behavioral data on your audience from your website, social media, and search engine analytics platforms. If you do not have access to data, then hire a B2B demand generation service.
  2. Look for patterns in the data and segment your audience into different buyer personas.
  3. Launch a campaign for each buyer persona and monitor the results.
  4. Tweak campaigns while they are running to optimize lead generation and ROI.
  5. Analyze your database frequently to see what behavioral patterns have changed and adjust marketing campaigns accordingly.


The Contextual Marketing Plan

  1. Research which publications are of most interest to your target audience. Ask for media kits to confirm if it is worth your investment.
  2. Launch ads on the selected publications.
  3. Monitor the number of clicks or leads and discontinue ads on underperforming mediums.
  4. Collect data on leads with forms and build a database to optimize future marketing campaigns.
  5. Continue running ads on publishers that provide the best ROI.



Audience-based targeting is the norm for digital marketing since cookies and social media analytics became tools for analyzing user behavior. This data provides insights to marketers on the interests, keyword searches, and actions their audience performs online.


With a rich database on their audience at their disposal, marketers can launch campaigns and track results in real-time, making adjustments when needed for efficiency.


Meanwhile, contextual marketing is a privacy-compliant method to reach new audiences and promote brand awareness, and one which requires less technical expertise to use.


Brands can benefit from both methods, but only audience-based targeting has data to drive campaigns that can be tweaked at a moment’s notice to secure the best ROI.

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