Lessons in Behavioral Targeting From a Dog

  |  September 23, 2009   |  Comments

What behavioral cues should you look for in order to meet future needs of your prospects and customers?

My dog, Kira, is able to predict my future behavior.

We noticed several years ago that this particular dog was going to be trouble when we had to start spelling words out in front of her to keep her from getting overly excited. But apart from her ability to understand spoken English, she also seems to be able to perceive minor to almost insignificant behavioral cues that indicate what we plan to do next.

For example, grabbing your coat and putting on your hat and mittens during the wintertime is a pretty obvious sign that you intend to leave the house. Without a doubt, Kira immediately recognizes this as an opportunity to start petitioning for a ride in the car. However, when this type of preparation is unnecessary during warmer weather, she still can identify when we're about to leave the house, often long before we make any action to do so.

Kira has nailed the art of looking for cues. She has observed us long enough to understand a correlation between what we're doing right now and what will follow in the near future.

She inherently understands that if we take the recyclables out of their bins and put them in bags, the next step is a trip to the dump. She understands that when she hears a school bus stop in front of the house, she is only minutes away from a play date with our sons.

She also understands cause-and-effect models. Years of growing up with children has taught her that the best place to be during meal times (usually over my protestations) is fairly close to my younger son's place under the table. At least once during each meal she can be guaranteed something will hit the floor close to her nose.

She also understands that if she's been home alone and my car pulls in the driveway, it's a good time to get off my bed (from which she's been strictly forbidden) and move over to her bed to pretend she's been there all along.

Obviously the ability to predict future behaviors isn't limited to my dog. As marketers, we can now take advantage of a wide range of behavioral cues that online consumers leave behind in order to reach target audiences every day.

Segment targeting allows us to identify a range of behaviors that serve as indicators for current and future behaviors. For example, as any veteran parent can tell you, the birth of a child creates a fairly significant paradigm shift in your life. While a new parent may not fully understand it at the time, the moment you bring home your little bundle of joy you set in the motion a cascade of future behaviors you might not even be aware of -- but marketers are.

For starters, a new mother will suddenly start buying things she's never purchased before -- like diapers, baby clothes, baby food, and all sorts of baby-related swag. The changes don't stop there. New parents must take into consideration their future transportation needs, educational needs, housing needs, and entertainment needs.

In short, the single event of having a child sets in motion a huge number of different possibilities and probabilities for future intention.

What are cues that your company can use to identify the needs and future intentions of your prospects and customers? What existing behaviors will inherently lead to future behaviors? What do marketers need to look for and where should they look for it in order to be prepared to reach these consumers with marketing content that will help them to make their future buying decisions?

Without a doubt, somebody could write an entire book on the topic of intention targeting. However, every marketer caters to a slightly different group of consumer needs. While the low-hanging fruit of cluster targeting (people intending to travel, people intending to buy a new car, people intending to have a child) will work for some campaigns, many other marketers will need to be able to create customized ways of measuring consumer intention by looking for specific cues (consumer is left-handed, consumer wears corrective lenses, consumer is interested in bodybuilding, consumer is an avid hiker, consumer is an online gamer, etc.) to help better position their offers.

In short, what behavioral cues should you look for in order to meet the future needs of your prospects and customers?

As for Kira, once I figure out her innate ability to predict upcoming events, I'll take online marketing to the next level. And there just might be a dog biscuit or two in it for her.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rob Graham

Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.

A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.

When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.

He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.

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