Marketing in a Fundamentally Different World

  |  March 4, 2009   |  Comments

A consumer revolution has begun, and online behavioral marketing is clearly a way for your brand to avoid getting overthrown.

Whether you're a big brand or a local business, your decisions about how you go to market must take into account a fundamental, long-term shift in our culture. It feels like this is just temporary because changes have come so quickly, but it's not. "The next consumer revolution has begun," states Clara Hendon, VP, business development, at Sterling Brands. This is one of the trends she presented to attendees of the Destination Design Management conference last month in Huntington Beach, CA.

How will these trends affect your decision to use behavioral marketing techniques? Let's take a look.

Consumers Are Reevaluating

In the column, "Four Guidelines for Behavioral Marketing Newbies," I discuss how behavioral targeting helps you reach higher into the funnel where prospects are considering solutions. You can no longer focus on the bottom of the funnel. Discounting won't work as it has in the past, and unabashed discounting could hurt your brand. Times have changed, and consumers are fundamentally rethinking their relationship with your brand. Spending is giving way to simplicity. Shopping is no longer a way to relax.

Does your brand and business fit this new mood? If not, you should look seriously at behavioral marketing. Broadcast-style marketing may actually create negative impressions of your company and brand. For example, there are people who want to buy General Motor's Hummer brand, but there are also many who see it as the poster child for excessive consumerism. Hummer advertisements that are broadly distributed could cast a negative shadow on the GM in the marketplace. Behavioral targeting techniques, however, would be able to place ads much more selectively. In general, targeting can reduce the exposure luxury brands may have to consumer backlash in a time of frugality.

Skepticism on Steroids

Hendon doesn't hedge in her analysis of consumer skepticism. You must be transparent and open as this trend matures. Bold claims, posing, and hyperbole will be increasingly ineffective at moving prospects to buy. Your customers are going to research even small purchases. They will rely less on what you say and more on what others say. The bottom line: you may need an entirely new approach to your market.

The good news is that online ads are very measurable, making them a great way for a business of any size to test new messages and strategies. Use the behavioral targeting infrastructure of ad networks to open up your company or brand. You'll be able to test your way to the message and creative that resonates in this skeptical new world.

Consumers Are Incubating

Buyers are staying at home. They're cooking instead of going out. They're watching DVDs instead of going to shows. Game night is replacing happy hour. This may make advertising in public forums less effective. The myriad of signs and billboards we see will get fewer eyeballs. Radio spots will have fewer ears. We'll shop online, learn online, and connect online. If your clients are doing more online, you need to be marketing online. Digital online advertising will be especially effective if your product has a role in the consumer's home lifestyle.

Frugal Is the New Frivolous

Our consumer reward system is changing. The charge consumers once got from shopping will be replaced by satisfying "habits of need," according to Hendon. Spontaneity is no longer rewarding to us; saving is. Don't confuse this with discounting. For 30 years, buyers asked, "How much money will I save on the purchase?" Now they're asking, "How will the purchase save money?"

Expect your business to be measured by this same standard. The perceived efficiency of your marketing will be important. Each direct mail letter and tradeshow tchotchke is more likely to be seen as frivolous and wasteful.

Efficient, timely, and targeted advertising is the promise of behavioral marketing and, increasingly, the call of the marketplace.

Local Connections Are Important

Geographically based businesses and local brands will benefit from the coming trends. Buyers are looking for local resources that support their community for cultural, economic, and environmental reasons. It's time to keep precious dollars in the community. It's time to reduce travel costs. And it's time to reduce our carbon footprint. "Made in America" will take on new importance, not as a sign of patriotism, but as a sign of conservation.

Geographical targeting could be an important strategy in this new environment. Ad networks can, with some accuracy, find out where visitors are sitting when they visit a Web site. With this knowledge, brands and businesses can efficiently advertise their local affiliations to the people who can make use of them.

Time Is More Important Than Things

You've probably heard about the experience economy, that consumers want an experience more than they want things. Digital media give you a much broader palette with which to deliver experience. For example, Flash banners use motion to draw the eye. Why not use Flash banners to deliver the first step in an engaging brand experience? This is fertile ground for creativity.


The next consumer revolution has indeed begun, and online behavioral marketing is clearly a way for your brand to avoid getting overthrown. Digital behavioral marketing is efficient, it allows new approaches to be tested, it will find more targeted prospects, it can emphasize community, and it can deliver an experience right to the browser.

Hendon agreed to let me share her slide deck with you.

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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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