Negotiating any media program starts with the same fundamentals. Understand your audience and objectives. Do your homework on competitive programs. Know your creative options and limitations. Make sure the site is ready for company and supports the objectives with customer-focused content and direct response landing pages. Do your forecasting so you know in advance what metrics you need to hit to call this particular effort a success. Create a timetable and budget all parties can live with, and analyze historical programs for any insights. However, if this is your first time planning a behavioral targeting program you'll need to do a little further research before you pick up a phone or fire off an RFP.
Do You Know Your Audience?
Behavioral targeting is all about understanding your audience, so emphasis is on that particular fundamental. In preparation for planning, you should compile as much information as you can about desirable customer characteristics and any known behaviors you can document. If you have site survey data or customer profiles, offer as much demographic and psychographic detail as you have. Delve into your Web site analytics to ascertain where visitors come from, which pages they visit and return to, and what distinguishes eventual customers from visitors. Look for patterns in past programs, including search and other areas that may contain clues to your customers' mindset and behaviors. Draw a picture of your customers' path from awareness to interest to consideration to purchase and note all possible touch points along that path.
Once you're ready with a picture of your audience, you're ready to consider where a behavioral program fits within the bigger picture. Note your site traffic drivers and ask yourself if you can afford incremental budget to do a media program, or would you have to take budget from another program? In exploring a behaviorally targeted campaign, one of the first questions a publisher partner might ask you is for the level of site traffic. If you turn off the faucet on running programs to spend those dollars in behavioral, you may create a vacuum behavioral isn't meant to fill.
Ask For Help
Most publisher and media reps are solid citizens who understand their job isn't to sell you any program, but to help create a program that succeeds on all levels, from budget to results. For the most part, your goals should be aligned. The best reps are only too happy to play a consultative role in designing the best program. Remember that they, as well as agencies, have a depth of experience across time and all their clients to bring to the table. Consider getting an NDA in place, then share the data you've collected with potential partners so they can do the best job possible on your behalf.
Any exploration or negotiation must assume there's an alternative. In this case, it may be other kinds of audience targeting you're considering. Do a little research to chart the expected cost and rates of return on your alternatives so you have a reference yardstick. Consider a broad range of behavioral options from individual sites to portals to networks, unless you have experience that tells you success lies in one specific direction.
What to Ask?
Prior to receiving proposals, you'll likely have a dialogue with many potential partners. It's a good idea to have a score card with 'gotta haves' and 'nice to haves' laid out in advance. Our 'gotta haves' for potential behavioral targeting partners look like this:
The above are just the starting point of the discussion, of course. A behavioral targeting program is most often a cluster of different things. Ask about the proposed distribution of contextual, retargeting, and behavioral targeting. Ask for detailed placement options, why we would choose them, what is the strength of their network and/or technology, top performing placements that would deliver on the objectives, sponsorships, creative proposals, and packages.
Spend sufficient time exploring their optimization process and technologies. We expect a constant dialogue during a campaign. We're pulling numbers, and we expect them to be pulling numbers and to be an active partner in the program optimization.
Reviewing proposals often comes down to history; have we had success with this partner or approach in the past? Pricing and forecasting are the other important elements. Pricing can be CPA or CPM, with added value or not, so make sure you're comparing apples to apples. All inventory is not equal, so impression levels in and of themselves aren't the best indicator. You need to truly understand what you're buying to forecast probable response.
The review process invariably leads to questions and back-and-forth. Be wary of language. Not all vendors use a common dialect. When in doubt, ask them to define exactly what they mean. Lay out all your options and eliminate programs that don't meet your needs so you can concentrate on those that may. Once you've narrowed the field, talk to potential partners and let them know where they stand. Ask about the team that will service your account and meet with them, even if by phone, to get to know them.
The actual negotiation shouldn't be painful. Vendors have their own stressors and may have limited inventory availability or flexibility in pricing. Fourth quarter programs can be a particular challenge. The negotiation end point will vary by site and opportunity – the goal isn't to get everyone to a predetermined CPM or CPA but to get the right price for the aggregate program and for the audience, reach and degree of targeting.
It Never Really Ends
Once the program has launched, you'd think the negotiation was over. Not so. An online program is a living thing. There should be regular, ongoing analysis of results and ongoing communication surrounding program changes and makegoods. History and experience will teach you which partners are truly vested in your success.
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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, internet.com, 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.