Advertisers that set out to attract their target audiences is hardly a new idea in any media.

If anything, it’s a common practice, and one that continues to evolve and refine today.


How Did We Reach Target Markets before the Internet?

In newspapers, it’s pretty uncommon to find an ad for women’s apparel or florists in the sports section, and, on the flipside, a half page ad for the region’s auto parts chain is usually not found in the style section. The boob tube has had their own practices for years: Beer ads during ballgames has itself become a pastime, and you’re likely to find more than one zombie/apocalypse-themed commercial during breaks on “The Walking Dead” as well as spots for their video games.


As soon as businesses big and small realized the Internet wasn’t a fad and there was an advantage to having an online presence, they – slowly but surely, it can be argued – set up sites of their own and, in many cases, placed ads on likeminded sites. A banner for the current Foot Locker mega-sale is best found on sports and fitness-themed sites big and small, while a link to downloading the just-released Arcade Fire album was commonplace on rock and pop pages.


In the last two examples above, note that the ads described were based around events – the Foot Locker banner on the sports/fitness sites is timed to the sale, and the Arcade Fire ad is timed to the release of the band’s new album.


As of late, though, smart digital advertising is paying significantly more attention to the fitness buff or rock fan rather than the sale and new album release. Due to the individualized experiences web browsers, platforms and applications provide, advertisers have been able to follow the trails that users leave behind when they browse or interact online to paint a picture of their personalities and create a customizable ad experience.


Advertising to Custom Audiences
In mid-2012, Facebook rolled out FBX, which allowed advertisers to purchase ad space on their website with the ad catering to the web user’s browsing history as well as user data such as age and location.


Not only does FBX follow the users’ past searches. If you were recently online looking at, say, kitchen appliances, an ad for an appliance store would come up when you logged onto your Facebook page. Two years later, Facebook improved upon that with Website Custom Audiences. Advertisers could then choose their audiences based on their interests, location, gender, age and more. Never before had marketers been able to define and target their audiences so specifically.

A few months after that, Google got into the game with their Custom Affinity and In-Market Audiences programs. This gives advertisers the opportunity to get their business seen on their site’s display network. They, too, base their ads on users’ previous searches, and advertisers going the Custom Affinity route can target their audiences using Google’s AdWords.


The Benefits of Reaching Niche Markets
I like to think that this is a significant step up for all parties – especially the companies throwing their hat into the retargeting ring – when it comes to both online presence and the opportunity to reach potential clients and customers. Using these custom audience features to target niche markets can be especially beneficial to small businesses and startups that need to target more specific markets to get their foot in the door and get a leg up on the competition.

Targeting custom audiences isn’t only beneficial to business, the users themselves have already shown interest in the subject/business/industry in which the ad is targeting. An intelligently crafted ad campaign – and this is where we come in, by the way, and work our magic – can be nothing but beneficial to those businesses who are willing to jump into this growing and evolving marketing style and to those users who are looking for a product that fits their lifestyles or personalities.

When Social Media Hits Home

Usually, I use the space here at “The Real Deal” to offer my two cents about matters of the digital marketing strata, be they new trends, business strategies, or experiences I’ve had navigating the waters of this industry both prior to and here at Leverage marketing.


Right now, though, I’m going to reach out to my dear readers as Bob Kehoe, family guy and neighbor.


Like a lot of husbands and fathers, I got caught up in my own crap one night last week. Heck: I can’t recall exactly what I was doing at the time, but I would venture, given the time of day and day of the week, it was either checking and responding to e-mails and reading ESPN on my phone or checking and responding to e-mails and reading ESPN on my computer.


Either way, my wife told me not to take our dogs out but, given the attention I was paying at the time, I let both pups outside, and Norman, our Schnauzer/Labrador, made his way out the open fence and into the great suburban outdoors.


Pretty much any one can imagine, if not recall, the melee that followed: the yelling. The yelling at me. Me running down the street. More yelling at me. Family members scattering throughout the block while yelling at me. Me yelling at me.


FYI: Sarah MacLachlan’s pals at the ASPCA offer loads of pet care tips on their website and there’s even a page dedicated to dogs escaping from the yard. Yet there’s nothing there that offers a course of action to take when seeking he or she out.


While this, as to be expected, threw the Kehoe household into a state of chaos – and a state, given the circumstance, where time seems to crawl at a snail’s pace – Norman was slowly making his way through the subdivision.


Fortunately, our neighbor caught Norman in his travels and, even more fortunate for us, snapped a picture of our dog and posted it on Facebook. Our neighbor also made note of Norman’s whereabouts on her Twitter account.


In our scramble, my daughter had the foresight to check her social pages and, lo and behold, there was Norman. Alerted to this, we hightailed it forthwith to the neighbors and Norman was back in our care safe and sound.


Cue the Lilith lady’s “Angel” here.


The span between Norman’s dash from the yard to back home from the neighbors was an hour, albeit one of the longest hours of my life.


While social media plays a role in my life both professionally and personally, I am still in awe of the role it can play in our daily lives. In this case, it has proven to be a vital component. 


My family and I are beyond grateful to our friends down the street for posting the pics and if it wasn’t for her who knows what would’ve happened. Kudos must also go to my daughter, who continues to amaze me with her smarts for having the sense to head up what proved a successful online search.


This did, though, put me in the doghouse with the fam for a little bit. In the end, though, that’s an insignificant price for this husband and dad to pay.

So, how can we tie all this back into marketing? For one thing the speed at which the search commenced and our dog was returned to us sure beats the old-fashioned cat or dog posters you see stapled to posts or trees. In less than an hour, the neighborhood knew our dog was missing and helped us locate him. Secondly, people refer to their social accounts throughout the day, and they discovered our dog was missing much quicker than it would have taken for them to see a poster or get word through another form of communication. This experience has shown me firsthand that social media is the way to go when it comes to delivering a specific message to the right audience in a very short time period.

How to Network Amidst the Chaos of SXSW

South by Southwest is one part music and film festival, one part tech conference, and ten parts crazy carnival. Austin’s biggest annual event gives artists, entrepreneurs, and innovators opportunities to attend panels by industry leaders, head to tightly packed bars to see buzz bands, and race to networking events that promise free BBQ (often all in the course of a single day).

SXSW, which lasts for a week and a half, can be overwhelming, distracting, and exhausting—so how do people who are serious about networking get the most out of this large-scale conference? I spoke with six professionals who will be at SXSW this year in order to get their take.

Have a Game Plan

Because SXSW is so large and has events spread out all over the city, it’s almost impossible to go into it cold. David. J. Neff, a professional speaker, author, and founder of Lights, Camera, Help, recognizes the importance of finding order in the chaos. He notes that everyone attending is “trying to learn, network, pitch their crazy startup ideas, meet up with the one person in the world who’s into exactly what they’re into… [so] the best thing you can do ahead of time is sit down and plan.”

Josh Miles, Motion Director for the Seattle-based Killer Infographics, will be attending SXSW for the first time this year and has put a lot of thought into the sessions and events he’s going to attend. He says that he and KIG’s co-founder Amy Balliet are “booked solid” and that they’ve made a plan to split up to cover more ground, “focusing on different sessions so that [they] can bring back as much new knowledge as possible to share with [their] office.”

Leave Room for Spontaneity

A certain amount of planning is key, but it can also be valuable to leave time for chance meetings—after all, you never know who you might run into at SXSW. Luke Wallace, Market Research Associate at the software review company, Software Advice, says that he tries not to overschedule himself during the conference. He recommends that attendees “go to the meet-ups in addition to talks and be open to impromptu conversations with unlikely people in unlikely places.”

While Josh and Amy from Killer Infographics are attending a lot of sessions, they also plan to spend time at some of the SXSW lounges, such as the Mashable House and the Miller Lite Lounge, where they’ll likely encounter plenty of other conference-goers recovering from more structured events.

Don’t Get Distracted

For veteran SX-goer David Neff, avoiding unnecessary distractions is crucial. “Don’t get distracted by the 7,000 people giving out free keychains on the street,” he warns first-time attendees. While there are hundreds of official and unofficial events and giveaways that pop up during SXSW, he recommends that attendees focus on attending the events they’re truly interested in. That way, they’ll meet like-minded individuals who could become valuable professional connections.

Look for One-on-One Opportunities

Huge crowds are a common sight at SXSW, but almost everyone I spoke to attested to the value of having more personal, one-on-one conversations with the people you really want to talk to. Luke recommends reaching out to the people you want to talk to ahead of time over email. “You’re more likely to present yourself well if you (and they) aren’t caught off guard,” he says. “And they’re more likely to recognize you if you share, pre-event, your hopes to meet them.”

Matt Forcey, Senior Account Executive at Marin Software, takes a similar approach. He recommends scheduling meetings in advance, and adds, “Be patient and remember that those with whom you’d like to connect likely have competing priorities.”

If you aren’t able to have as in-depth a conversation as you like during SXSW, don’t let that dissuade you. David points out that it can be challenging to get time alone with people during SXSW, so it’s worth getting in touch after the conference and scheduling a follow-up meeting.

Start Conversations

Even if you’re not someone who would normally strike up a conversation with a stranger, SXSW is a time to get out of your comfort zone. “Don’t be a wallflower at networking events,” Matt Forcey reminds us. “Everyone is there to meet people.”

Leverage Marketing’s Director of Client Services, Thy Ta Hooks, emphasizes starting real conversations with people and not just focusing on the hard sell for your products or services. She says that if you start out asking typical questions, like ‘What do you do?’ and ‘Are you visiting from out of town?, you’ll be able to have a much better conversation than you would if you open with a business pitch. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to avoid your elevator pitch altogether. Thy recommends practicing your positioning statement so that you don’t stumble when someone asks what you do.

Move Around

Ideally, you’ll be able to have more than one or two conversations over the course of an event. Natalie Parra Novosad, Leverage’s Director of Content Strategy, says that sometimes when you’ve been talking to one person for a long time, it’s best to “think of a polite excuse to move on”. That way, you and the person you’ve been talking to with both have the opportunity to meet more people who share your interests.

If there’s a conversation that you’d really like to continue, you can always exchange business cards and make plans to follow up at a later date. “Bring your favorite networking apps (or paper and pencil),” Luke from Software Advice says, “to make sure that you are able to stay in contact with anyone you meet.”

Have Fun

The best networking often happens naturally, not in a stilted conference room environment, so take advantage of all that SXSW has to offer and enjoy yourself. “SXSW is an opportunity to deepen business relationships through a unique shared experience,” Matt Forcey points out. “Make sure you’re creating some stories to share throughout the rest of the year.”

Are you attending SXSW this year? Feel free to reach out to us in the comments—or come up and say hello if you see anyone from Leverage at a SXSW event!


Describing Leverage Marketing – and digital marketing as a whole – has proven to be met with mixed responses over time.


A few weeks back, for example, my wife and I were at a school function for one of my daughters when we were introduced to a fellow classmate’s mother through a mutual friend. After some small talk (our kids, sports, weather, smelly gymnasium), the mother inquired to my profession.

 “Internet marketing? Is that where you sell ad space on the Internet?” she inquired.

 “No,” I replied. “What we do is…”

 “Are you the guys that put ads on Facebook?”

 “Well,” I started, “We …”

 “Do you know what I don’t like?” she interrupted, looking at my wife. “When I go on Facebook and I see ads there. I don’t go on Facebook to look for ads.”



It’ll be probably to the chagrin of our mutual acquaintance, but promoted Facebook posts and other forms of native advertising are shaping up to be popular and valuable forms of digital advertising.

Sponsored post on Linkedin


This year, it is expected that the spend on native advertising will increase by more than a third compared to last year, according to an article on, with big names such as General Electric, Ford Motor Co. and Hewlitt Packard expected to be major players in this form of advertising that is expected to surpass $4.3 billion in spend this calendar year. By 2018, that figure is projected to double.


For those uninitiated, native advertising is a form of digital advertising whose design matches that of the natural content of the web page. Another way of putting it is sponsored content. Native advertising can be utilized in the form of articles, videos, music and other media to match the type of content the consumer might be browsing at the moment.


Social Media sites aren’t the only ones jumping onto the native advertising wagon. Click onto CNN, still a go-to for up-to-the-minute news for many online, or Rollingstone, once the great arbiter of all things musically hip, and it won’t take long to find an ad in between the headlines.


Native advertising on CNN

While this is proving to be a hit with many companies and websites, there are some out there, like our mutual acquaintance, that are taking issue with native advertising.


Last summer, comedian John Oliver, on his HBO series “Last Week Tonight,” lambasted native advertising in regard to its growing appearance on news sites in a lengthy segment.


“Ads are baked into content like chocolate chips into a cookie. Except, it’s actually more like raisins into a cookie—because nobody … wants them there,” was one of his more memorable quotes. “I like to think of news and advertising as the separation of guacamole and Twizzlers. Separately they’re good. But if you mix them together, somehow you make both of them really gross” is another.


I, though, like to think all parties – the companies buying the ads, the sites providing the space, and the readers on the web pages – are much smarter than Oliver and other native advertising critics will lead you to believe.


Despite their blending in with the sites design, it only takes a small modicum of common sense for readers to distinguish between what is news/content and what is an advertisement. Like the many choices of content/articles that are a click away on a news site’s page, readers can click on the ad if they want more information or simply leave it be. Additionally, content that is paid to be circulated by a company is often just as valuable to the reader as any other content on the page, when it’s done right. Paid content is researched and developed with the intent of informing its audience. Whether or not that audience wants to go on to browse products or make a purchase is entirely up to them.


Describing Internet marketing in a sentence or two may be confounding to some, but dealing with native ads is quite simple, if you ask me.