It's Not You, It's Me

  |  August 13, 2008   |  Comments

How behavioral targeting has failed at the information game.

One of the greatest misconceptions of behavioral targeting is that a plethora of information is being collected on consumers' behaviors while marketers plot ways to sell them stuff based on this information (in the form of a pop-up, of course). Our friends are convinced that we personally -- as insiders -- know personal information about them that we plan to divulge in a roast some day. If only they knew the truth.

Yes, information is collected and, often, this information is even provided by consumers (a.k.a. hand raisers) in surveys and opt-in data lists. However, as a marketing community we have done a lousy job of using this data in a meaningful way. I have actually stopped recommending lead-generation strategies and tactics to clients who I know couldn't use the data quickly or effectively. It's like finally getting that girl's or boy's number -- the one you've had a crush on for a long, long time -- and then never calling because you couldn't figure out what to say or, worse, how to use the phone.

Let's admit it; we don't always do things efficiently or even smartly. Not because we don't have the smarts to do so, but because we are hard pressed to get things done quickly, under tight deadlines, and with fluctuating budgets. The budget that miraculously became available the second week of December (of course to be used before the month's end) isn't going to deliver on its full potential.

Or, what about the survey intercepts that we slavishly collect for three months that include information ranging from a consumer's favorite color to when they are back in market for a certain product? We toss them away when the budget suddenly disappears or the information is set aside for use "later." However, "later" never comes or becomes a lot later, which means new people in charge ("has anyone ever done a survey?") or even a new product (and outdated survey information).

Planning campaigns -- behavioral targeting or otherwise -- where information is being collected is like planning for the wedding, but not the marriage. For the most part, we've become pretty efficient at getting what we want, but poor stewards of handling it once we get there. Unfortunately, the result is a neglected consumer experience. The consumer partook in the promotion (actually provided personal information), opted in to be contacted again (please e-mail me!) and then never heard from the company again (radio silence).

The place for us to start is back at the beginning. Before we begin our next campaign, lead generation program or site redesign, we must explore our old data. Reconnect with past customers and prospects and like a 10-step program, make amends. We may even pleasantly find that not a lot has changed and what was old, is new again.

Also, what lurks in this old data may be gold. We've become so accustomed to defending ourselves in the privacy conversation that we neglect the vast amount of information that subscribers have provided to us independently. Not only are subscribers not worried about privacy, they are actually expecting a personal exchange -- "Here I am! What do you have for me?"

We should also be using subscriber (e-mail) lists to learn more about customers and prospects and attract new ones. Segmenting our best customers and using them as a model in which to build our Web sites and campaigns is critical.

Customers want to have a good experience and are open to legal ways for us to get that to them. How do we know this? Well, we're customers too. Just think about your last negative and positive experience online or offline. As a new parent, who delivered early, I was pretty frustrated to be receiving pregnancy updates a month after I had delivered, when pregnancy was a distant memory, and all-day feedings were my new reality. And I sure could have used the newborn coupons when I actually needed them.

We've come a long way in data collection, but now it's time to deliver on it. Let's make customers feel acknowledged and wanting to give us more. Let's start with dusting off our old files and black books and reconnect with our old friends.

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Anna Papadopoulos

Based in New York, Anna Papadopoulos has held several digital media positions and has worked across many sectors including automotive, financial, pharmaceutical, and CPG.

An advocate for creative media thinking and an early digital pioneer, Anna has been a part of several industry firsts, including the first fully integrated campaign and podcast for Volvo and has been a ClickZ contributor since 2005. She began her career as a media negotiator for TBS Media Management, where she bought for media clients such as CVS and RadioShack. Anna earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from St. John's University in New York.

Follow her on Twitter @annapapadopoulo and on LinkedIn.

Anna's ideas and columns represent only her own opinion and not her company's.

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