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When Buying Biggest & Best Media Isn’t Best: Don’t be Fooled.

November 25, 2020

There are 210 designated market areas (DMAs) in the U.S., nearly 42,000 ZIP Codes and one big question for advertisers: Where should I put dollars to reach my target customers most effectively? To figure this out, you need to drill down to the sub-DMA level and customize outreach efforts to match the markets where you are competing for business. A thoughtful and thorough approach to DMA buying can help guide the most effective media mix.

What’s the deal with National vs. DMA-level buys?

Some advertising agencies will tell you that if you’re going to target several of the largest DMAs, you might as well buy a national campaign. This may be true mathematically from a cost perspective, but it doesn’t help increase effectiveness. Agencies may actually be pushing national buys because they’ve already bought space on networks and need to fill those slots. There’s a clear disconnect between what brands need and how some agencies are incentivized. To know how your media mix is working (or not working) in individual markets, brands and their agencies must understand and pay attention to the significance of very localized marketing.

When are DMAs not enough?

When planning a DMA-focused buy, some media planners shortcut things by buying the top 10 DMAs. But in every DMA, there are multiple TV stations, radio stations, newspapers, etc. So, a “buy the best, forget the rest” approach can still leave significant gaps in reaching your target audience. For example, in twin DMAs like Minneapolis-St. Paul or Dallas-Fort Worth, it’s easy to buy the bigger of the two and assume the plan will speak to all, when in fact the right buy might include both.

Likewise, a particular radio station may have the #1 morning show in the DMA, but if that show only attracts listeners 35 and older, and your brand caters to a younger demographic, you’d be making a mistake to advertise on that station. There is a difference between buying the “biggest and best” within a particular channel and buying the right one for a target audience. So, you need to understand the particular lower-level distinctions within a given market in order to truly optimize your media mix.

Working hard for the money

Some media planners will push national buys or DMA-level buys and say you can only get so granular with your planning. But you can go deeper, it just takes more work. Instead of blanketing DMAs across channels, develop different media plans for every DMA. You will need the right technology and the right partners to make this scalable, but it will ultimately be more effective and save you resources in the long run.

For retailers, grocers and other brick and mortar advertisers, sub-DMA planning needs to take place at the store level to make sure you cover each store’s trade area appropriately. This is particularly important for print circulars. Start at the store level and be sure to analyze loyalty program data, then add everything up across a particular DMA to figure out what you should be buying. In the long term, test your channel strategy boldly to further refine your approach.

For all brands across all channels, keep the focus of your sub-DMA level research and testing on:

  • Geographic, demographic and media idiosyncrasies of the DMA
  • Considerations of what is happening within that specific market
  • Consumption behaviors (media consumption and purchasing behaviors) within those different markets

By sticking to the granular level and conducting a thorough analysis of your data, sub-DMA media buying can help you better optimize your media mix as a whole.