Since working to learn about the behavioral marketing industry, I find myself floating on a sea of ambiguity, still looking for islands of meaning. Over the past five months, I've had the pleasure of interviewing a number of industry luminaries. I've heard the panels at a major online marketing conference. I subscribe to the industry newsletters. Yet, I find myself without a favorite technique, a "wow" vendor or technology I just have to try. Like most marketers, I can't devote my full attention to exploring behavioral marketing.
There appears to be some amazing solutions on the market, but I don't know enough yet to organize my explorations. Whenever I find myself struggling at something, I go back to basics. It's time to start parsing the language of the behavioral marketing world and find out once and for all what it all really means.
In this column and the next, I will use the Web sites of a number of behavioral advertising vendors in an attempt to clear the fog that surrounds this marketplace.
I can already hear the groans.
Yes, the behavioral marketers' children have no shoes, to borrow from a famous euphemism. The Web sites of the behavioral marketing world aren't necessarily the best examples of advanced marketing techniques. But I am not interested in casting stones at individual sites. I'm on a search for meaning and truth.
Here are some general observations about why it is so difficult for marketers to narrow the list of behavioral marketing vendors based on their Web sites.
Everyone's a Leader
As ClickZ author Tessa Wegert points out in her survey of ad networks, there are a lot of "leaders" in the market. In fact, most of them call themselves the "leading provider" of something. We'll see if we can find clues to what each vendor is a leader in.
Shooting at the "Other Guys"
Behavioral vendors spend a lot of time describing what they are not. They're dealing with an industry that has exploded over the past several years, a market with few barriers to entry. As a result, aggressive vendors have entered the market creating privacy issues and abusing their customers' brands in an effort to get "reach" at any price.
More reputable vendors go out of their way to differentiate themselves from these "pray and spray" approaches, writing about "premium ad networks" and "comprehensive technologies." For those of us who don't know the history, this language sounds like bravado and manipulation.
Everyone Does Everything
From their Web sites, it's very difficult to tell what these vendors do and don't do. In general, the claims to fall into these categories:
All of the vendors provide some combination of these services, but they all do them differently. Most are also courting publishers, which I am ignoring for this series. Their Web sites have a complex message to deliver, making it difficult for any vendor to differentiate themselves. They should try harder.
Valueless Value Propositions
Anyone who subscribes to the "eight-second rule," a rule that says you have only eight seconds to engage a Web visitor, is in for a communication challenge. Behavioral marketing vendors adhere to this rule, trying to fit everything they do into a sentence or short paragraph. The result is that their value propositions sound remarkably similar.
In contrast, the "self-serve" sites get to the meat quickly. "Hundreds of millions of impressions a day on hundreds of thousands of sites. Click here to get started." Now, that's works in eight seconds.
Playing It Safe
The majority of the sites I'm reviewing would be called "brochure sites." The main goal of a brochure site is to look professional and successful. However, this encourages a vendor to be very careful with the content it places on the site. This is certainly the case for the behavioral marketing industry.
Roy H. Williams says, "You're not communicating effectively if you're not pissing someone off." I'd like to acknowledge those vendors who take a chance in the interest of communicating more clearly.
Next month, we'll start to parse the language of the industry in a "When they say/They mean" format. I'll also feature more awards for the Web content that communicates with clarity and daring. Submit your nominations here.
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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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