Behavioral on a Shoestring?

  |  August 22, 2007   |  Comments

Behavioral targeting is all the rage. But can you do it on a shoestring?

It had to happen. Once the world's attention moved from the search juggernaut to the emerging behavioral targeting phenomenon, marketers without the budget or corporate backing to engage agencies have started to look for ways to join the party on their own. This is intended as a cautionary tale for all who assume they can order up a behavioral campaign like a BLT on rye, and get the results they hear about at industry conferences or read about in case studies on publisher and agency sites.

Budget Required

Both agency and publisher models require a certain degree of scale in their programs to effectively service and deliver on behavioral campaigns. Scale means budget. Good programs also require the support of other tactics and channels, including other media targeting in cooperation with the behavioral programs. Supporting programs mean budget.

Experience Required

If you have a smallish behavioral budget, you're probably not spreading that budget around to multiple behavioral providers. Even smaller providers have some minimum spend levels below which they just can't afford to service an account. Finding the right partner is critical and best suited to those consultants or agencies with lots of experience across providers. If all your eggs are in one basket, be very sure you chose the right basket. If that basket is one of the smaller ones on the shelf, you may not have the best technology, site list, or feature set.

First-time behavioral programs require careful reading. Optimization nuances are subtle in behavioral campaigns but can make all the difference in results. This isn't the time to let the intern take the reins or trust your vendors to value and service your $5,000 program in the same attentive way they may manage a six- or seven-figure campaign.

With new behavioral providers, there's more competition for the growing business, more new, hungry providers willing to take the smaller, perhaps experimental, programs. That doesn't mean they always succeed with them. This isn't a trivial decision. The wrong choice can kill a program. Solid advice is money well spent.

Behavioral Is Not Paid Search

Many smaller-budget marketers have been playing in the self-service PPC (define) markets for a couple years now. If they've been reading the trades or watching their results, they know that to grow their search campaigns they must create awareness and demand in targeted populations through media expenditures with an integrated approach. So they've advocated for a budget, at least a little, and they're itching to try the behavioral approach. On their own. recently released its product to address this self-service marketer.

My agency offers both search and media services within our digital suite, so I'm confident if the trends for self-service behavioral campaigns follow those of self-service paid search offerings, results will be mixed. A small percentage of savvy but budget-challenged marketers with sophisticated experience and analytical capabilities will take advantage of all the available opportunities. Their campaigns may succeed. If they do, and the advertiser is making rational budget decisions, then the budgets should grow, at which point the programs may become too large and complex to be handled by the same in-house resources that previously succeeded.

Most marketers who dabble in self-service behavioral will likely have poor to lukewarm results. They'll likely follow the "set it and forget it" mode of traditional media and fail to use the medium's full capabilities. Without the overhead of agency fees, on a case-by-case basis they may still obtain an acceptable ROI (define), but the missed opportunities will be palpable. Of course, much depends on the niche audience targeted, the available placements that reach that audience, and other factors that affect the importance of budget. The smart approach wins, but it needs to be funded appropriately.

I'm Stuck With a Limited Budget. Now What?

If your C suite isn't free with the marketing budget, you'll have to show results to change their minds. Nothing works better than demonstrable results, but there are also increasing educational resources available online that lay out the approach and theory to help internal sell-in. Most of these were developed in service of privacy education but might be dual purposed.

Behavioral suppliers are also committed to growing the market. Sales reps will be happy to meet with you and your team and walk you through the process if they believe a small budget may grow with success.

While behavioral targeting isn't a turnkey solution, it remains a strong tool for marketers. If your budget's limited, consider the following:

  • Don't bet the farm. If you have a limited budget, spend most of it on known winners. Consider any new effort a test budget. Set internal expectations carefully.

  • Do your homework. Ensure goals are well defined, analytics are in place, and the site supports those goals.

  • Limit behavioral placements; don't spread your money too thin.

  • Limit your time period. Make sure you get timely results to act on and enough data to be meaningful.

  • Factor in the number of creative executions you'll need.

  • Lean on your vendors for projections and as much help as they can provide.

  • Pay close attention to contracts. Negotiate reasonable "out" clauses, so if things aren't working you still have options.

  • Solicit expert guidance if you can afford it, even if it's just in the planning.

    Robin Neifield

    Robin is the CEO and cofounder of NetPlus Marketing Inc., a top 50 interactive agency established in 1996 to focus exclusively on online marketing and advertising best practices. Robin brings innovative strategy and a depth and breadth of marketing experience to the agency's practice and management. As one of the industry's pioneers, she is a driving force behind NetPlus Marketing's ongoing success with a diverse and discerning client base that considers online results critical to their business success.

    Robin is a frequent speaker at national industry events, including ClickZ,, OMMA, Ad:Tech, SES, Online Marketing Summit, and Thunder Lizard conferences and is a sought-after resource for industry and business publications for her insight and advice on such topics as digital strategy, social media marketing, and behavioral targeting.

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