A Conversion Professional's Dream: Behavioral Marketing

  |  April 1, 2009   |  Comments

Behavioral advertising offers a wider range of visitor actions to watch, helping to expand the definition of conversion.

We've begun to understand the concepts around behavioral marketing: ad networks, data, and the technology that drives these campaigns. Now it's time to look into implementing our own behavioral campaigns. I was fortunate to speak with Ken Mallon, SVP, digital ad effectiveness consulting, at Dynamic Logic and Richard Frankel, president and founder of Rocket Fuel on what they saw as best practices for behavioral marketers.

The common theme that emerged is their rather different perspectives to conversion. Many of you will not find this particularly surprising. Behavioral data gives us more powerful tools for our conversion strategies than we get with many online strategies. Behavioral technologies provide unprecedented abilities in three components of conversion: targeting your visitor, testing, and measuring results.

Expanding What Conversion Means to You

Conversion is a broad term for a wide variety of online actions. At its core, conversion means that a visitor took some measurable action that is predictive of their becoming a customer. Most commonly, we think of a conversion as a visitor becoming a customer; they buy something. For longer sales-cycle businesses, a conversion may mean that a visitor has signed up online to receive content, becoming a lead.

"Understand what your metrics are," says Richard. In his mind, a business that understands its visitors might consider customer service contacts as conversions, not just leads and sales. He asks the question, "What does it take to activate the visitor to do something with your brand?" If you accept this expanded view of conversion, you then begin to see that there are other predictive behaviors. This may include visiting comparison sites or competitors' sites. While you may not see these as "conversions," you have to admit that our palette of metrics has expanded considerably.

As the tentacles of our online marketing programs reach further and further out onto the Web, we need to look for behaviors that may predict a conversion. Did a visitor watch the video or read the article? This could be a conversion if you know that a piece of content predicts a sale or a lead.

Know Your Target

In any media, knowing your audience is key to increasing conversion rates. The challenge is to turn what you understand about your audience into measurable marketing action. Ken identifies two ways to target prospects: inferred interest, and modeling or profiling.

Search marketing is an example of inferred interest targeting; you infer a surfer's intent based on the keywords they enter.

Modeling or profiling asks that you add more data to the mix. Start with your sales team to get the initial profile, recommends Richard. Include others who might have customer insights in the process. Then, let your behavioral provider do some research to discover patterns that could be predictive. Your partner should be sharing their insights with you, not simply following your guidelines.

Ken recommends segmentation analysis. Start by using techniques such as questionnaires to begin your profiling process. Then divide those into "buckets" that you will target. Your behavioral advertising partner should be able to refine your segments. They may give you two, three, four or more. "Try them all," he says.

Once you have a firm idea of how to measure success and possess a firm grasp on who you are targeting, you need to test your assumptions.

Test Your Way to Domination

When Ken says to try all of the segments you think will work, he didn't mean try them in perpetuity. As we discussed in my column, "Marketing in a Fundamentally Different World," online media's great for testing. You can quickly find out what works and what doesn't.

I asked Ken what he thought was the single most common reason for success in behavioral campaigns. His response was, "Creative, the quality of the ad." The word "quality" is a very subjective term. What is good creative?

Richard offers a way to find out what quality means with what he terms "rapid experimentation." Since you get feedback so fast, you should plan to try a number of things in small tests, discovering what works quickly. Currently, he defines rapid as quarterly tests with humans analyzing results (keep in mind that behavioral targeting technologists are always trying to find ways to automate targeting). "Always be testing," he says. "To stop testing is to stop growing."

Behavioral advertising offers us a wider range of visitor actions to watch, helping us expand our definition of conversion. It offers a significantly larger set of data with which to define our target audiences. It also provides a way to test our assumptions and our creative very efficiently. These are all of the things a business needs to drive conversion rates and success. Richard sums it up best, "The marketers who test and learn and innovate now are the ones going to come out of the recession with the strongest hand."


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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