The Language of Behavioral Marketing, Part 2

  |  June 24, 2009   |  Comments

Translating what behavioral marketing vendors say and what they really mean.

Where do more and more of us turn when we are confused what to buy? It's the Internet, of course. In my search to better understand the offerings of behavioral advertising firms, I did the same thing. In "The Language of Behavioral Marketing, Part 1," I expressed concerns that vendor Web sites weren't giving information we need to distinguish one from another. For this column, I take a shot at translating what I find on behavioral marketing Web sites.

I'm focused here on the advertiser-side of the industry. I welcome corrections, additions, and elucidation from vendors and advertisers. Leave them in the comments and continue the conversation.

What I Think They Mean

When they say: "Our network."

They mean: "We have a network of publishers on which you can advertise." Some vendors provide targeting technology. Some vendors provide inventory. Some vendors provide both. This statement means that they have created relationships with publishers on whose sites they will place ads. They typically collect data from these publishers as well.

When they say: "Segmentation data" or "data network" or "anonymous data" or "taxonomy" or "key insights" or "target audiences."

They mean: "We've got data on surfers and have organized that data so you can target them." Behavioral vendors both collect data and gather data from publishers to learn more about prospects. From this data, vendors can organize site visitors, allowing you to you to target groups of them with your ads.

Anonymous data doesn't mean, "We don't know where the data comes from." It means that they don't know what individual the data applies to. The privacy issues surrounding what some see as surreptitious "spying" are one of the biggest issues in behavioral marketing. This phrase is most likely written for suspicious legislators who suspect that purchase behavior data will be abused by spammers and scammers.

When they say: "Premium network" or "advertise online with complete brand control."

They mean: "We're not just aggregators." Many ad networks can put your ad just about anywhere. However, this may mean that your brand may appear alongside some unsavory content. Premium networks attempt to eliminate any undesirable sites. Furthermore, many vendors can give you some level of direct control over where your branded advertising appears.

When they say: "Transparency."

They mean: "You get to see which sites your ads appear on." Ad networks aggregate thousands of Web sites representing tens of millions of impressions each month. This reach is important because the more you target audiences, the smaller the available audience becomes. So, how does an advertiser really know that their brand is being advertised in the right places? The vendor has to make this information available, and this is what transparency means.

When they say: "Our targeting technologies."

They mean: "We've got some secret sauce." One thing has become very clear as I've spoken with behavioral marketing vendors: they each have a different way of doing things. They each have a "better" way of targeting, promising more response to your ads at a lower cost. Few of the sites I've seen give much detail about their process, however.

When they say: "Predictive technology" or "in-market buyers."

They mean: "We can tell which surfers are ready to buy." These statements seem to separate vendors that do contextual targeting from those doing behavioral targeting. In short, they have some way to predict which surfers are most likely to purchase in reaction to your ads.

When they say: "Campaign optimization" or "intelligence" or "pre- and post-campaign audience reporting."

They mean: "We have good reporting." Most of the sites talk about the reports they deliver before and after your campaign. Others may have more interactive offerings, such as dashboards. I've stated in a previous column, "A Conversion Professional's Dream" that you want an interactive relationship with your vendor to glean important insights, so make sure that you're not just getting reports.

When they say: "Lookalikes."

They mean: "In-market is as in-market does." Vendors can look at the behavior of people who buy a particular product, and deduce that others who exhibit those behaviors are "in market" for that product. If a number people buy a pickup truck after visiting a country music site and a hunting gear site, it can be reasonably deduced that anyone who visits a country music site and a hunting gear site are in market for a pickup truck. This is, of course, an oversimplified example.

When they say: "Dynamic ads" or "customized ads."

They mean: "We can pick the best ad content for each prospect." In addition to deciding who you are putting your messages in front of, behavioral vendors can decide which messages certain prospects see. The ad displayed is different for different audiences.

When they say: "Discover your ideal audience" or "we automatically test your creative/offers."

They mean: "We'll find out where your messages work." They'll post some of your creative and watch to see who clicks or buys. Then they'll examine the pattern of those prospects' behavior, telling you where your creative will have the best effect. This means you can develop your campaign with your most effective "executional," or creative.

When they say: "Manage your own behavioral targeting" or "sign up now."

They mean: "This is a self-service offering." In general, behavioral advertising vendors make a great case for letting them help you define your audience. In the contextual marketing arena, you can serve up your own ads by choosing the sites or keywords you believe your prospects are looking for.


Behavioral marketing vendors are not alone in the struggle to communicate effectively via the Web. One area crucial to success is the human dimension. This is the thing missing from these sites. They don't answer the human questions:

  • Who will I deal with?
  • What is the process of starting, implementing, and reviewing my campaigns?
  • How often will I interact with the team? What will they tell me?
  • How much hand-holding can I expect?
  • Can I trust your team? Why?

When I say: "Transparency"

I mean: "Tell me about how you communicate with me, and I'll fret less about the technology."

I invite vendors to tell me what you mean in the comments.

ClickZ Live New York Want to learn more?
Attend ClickZ Live New York March 30 - April 1. With over 15 years' experience delivering industry-leading events, ClickZ Live brings together over 60 expert speakers to offer an action-packed, educationally-focused agenda covering all aspects of digital marketing. Register today!


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.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!




Featured White Papers

A Buyer's Guide to Affiliate Management Software

A Buyer's Guide to Affiliate Management Software
Manage your performance marketing with the right solution. Choose a platform that will mutually empower advertisers and media partners!

Google My Business Listings Demystified

Google My Business Listings Demystified
To help brands control how they appear online, Google has developed a new offering: Google My Business Locations. This whitepaper helps marketers understand how to use this powerful new tool.


    • Website Optimizer - SEO, CRO, Analytics
      Website Optimizer - SEO, CRO, Analytics (Marcel Digital) - ChicagoMarcel Digital, an award winning interactive marketing agency established in 2003...
    • Director of Marketing
      Director of Marketing (Patron Technology) - New YorkDirector of Marketing We are seeking a Director of Marketing to manage and build our marketing...
    • Senior Interactive Producer
      Senior Interactive Producer (Ready Set Rocket) - New YorkWhat You'll Do As a member of our team, the Senior Producer reports directly to our...