Creative Is the 'Last Mile' in Behavioral Targeting

  |  July 22, 2009   |  Comments

It stands to reason that an industry adept at sorting through data and analyzing Web content in real-time would find a way to optimize online display ad creative.

Marketers call it "the message." Media planners call it "the ad." Agencies call it "the creative." Techies call it "the executional." Tumri CEO Calvin Lui calls it the "last mile between the advertiser and the customer." It is another piece in a behavioral marketing puzzle that includes ad networks, consumer databases, and optimization technologies.

Whatever you call it, it's what a prospect sees once she has been "found" by behavioral strategies. In an industry famous for splitting hairs, I've found broad agreement among behavioral advertising vendors that the quality of your creative is critical to the success of any behavioral campaign. I've also found broad agreement that the reverse is true; your creative will fall flat if it's not delivered to the right prospect in the right "context."

Ted Shergalis of X+1 broadly divides campaign success like this: audience targeting is responsible for 40 percent of the success, offer selection is responsible for 40 percent of the success, and "messaging and creative execution" rounds out the final 20 percent. RocketFuel President Richard Frankel asserts that the effect is not incremental. "When you combine good targeting with good creative, they multiply," he says.

How you measure success will largely determine which creative seems to "win" in the marketplace, so this deserves attention. Collective Media Executive Vice President Jerome FitzGibbons argues that you have to measure more than impressions and clicks. If you want to understand the impact of creative on the marketplace, it is important to measure the "post-impression actions" of prospects who are influenced by an ad, but don't click on it.

I was intrigued by a post-impression strategy laid out by Ted Shergalis. He argues that a prospect who views an ad and doesn't interact with it is likely to seek out the advertiser later by googling or binging them. (Yahoo doesn't yet have a verb for their search engine). Thus, marrying your targeted display ad campaign with an organic or paid search campaign can catch those post-impression searches, increasing returns overall.

Optimizing the Message

Companies in the behavioral targeting industry are adept at sorting through terabytes of behavioral data and analyzing Web content in real-time for the recipes that will increase their client's returns. It stands to reason that the industry would find a way to optimize creative as well.

"Dynamic creative" is the broad term for the practice of delivering targeted messages to different audiences. Dynamic creative strategies use data about a particular prospect to decide which ad would have the greatest effect, and then display that ad for the prospect. These strategies can also be used to rotate through a large number of ads, testing which generates the best response for a given audience. Richard Frankel calls this "correlating creative with data." Note: Richard is likely one of those people who use the term "executional" (see above).

It is common practice for advertisers to define multiple audiences within a targeted campaign, and ad networks can easily deliver a different message to each. Targeting messages becomes more onerous, however, if the advertiser offers many products or has a very wide audience. Broad-line retailers such as Amazon and Wal-Mart must tackle these issues, as do travel retailers who market a variety of products with offers that change daily. The sectors most frequently cited as ideal candidates for dynamic creative strategies are travel, automotive, retail, and consumer packaged goods (CPG). Of course, these are where the most cherished clients are to be found in general.

Advertisers are also fighting market entropy. Winning creative loses its effectiveness over time, so advertisers have to be constantly looking for new winners. Calvin Lui itemized the reasons for me:

  • Changes in site content. News cycles run their course. Colors and designs change. This affects the context in which an ad is displayed.

  • Changes in available inventory. You may not be able to get on the same sites this month that made your ad a winner last month.

  • Ad fatigue. When a prospect sees the same ad over and over, they begin to develop a blindness for it. This is a natural side effect the drive to increase frequency through audience targeting.

Calvin's company, Tumri, is one of several vendors that focus on providing dynamic content solutions. Others include AdaptAd, Dapper, Teracent, and Specific Media. Please use the comments below to help me complete this list. I'll be diving into the specific strategies these companies employ in my next column.

The Upside of Dynamic Creative

While every campaign is different, there seems to be some consensus on the "lift" an advertiser can expect by applying dynamic creative. Adaptive creative can be expected to increase response rates by 20 percent to 100 percent. Lifts of 400 percent don't seem out of the question, and anecdotal evidence points to even greater returns.

On the down-side, dynamic creative won't help you if you haven't properly targeted your audience targeting and chosen the right inventory. Success requires a reasonable volume of impressions and a marketing team with some experience in large-scale display advertising.

Next time, we'll look more closely at the moving parts that drive dynamic or intelligent creative strategies. Thanks to Calvin, Ted, Richard, and Jerome for their contributions.

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Brian Massey

With 15 years of online marketing experience, Brian has designed the digital strategy and marketing infrastructure for a number of businesses, including his own technology consulting company, Conversion Sciences. He built his company to transform the Internet from a giant digital-brochure stand to a place where people find the answers they seek. His clients use online strategies to engage their visitors and grow their businesses. Brian has created a series of Web strategy workshops and authors the Conversion Scientist blog. Brian works from Austin, Texas, a place where life and the Internet are hopelessly intertwined.

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