Behavioral Marketing Baked into New Toolbar

Market research firm Compete today is expected to unveil a new private-label behavioral marketing platform. Called Voicebox, it uses desktop applications and Web toolbars to help marketers reach customers as they’re on the verge of decision-making.

“Today’s consumers are more informed and more elusive than ever,” said Don McLagan, chairman, president and CEO of Compete. “The battleground for consumer attention has moved to the desktop.”

For marketers, the benefit is access to comprehensive information about their existing customers. Because Voicebox uses desktop applications and Web browser toolbars, the platform is able to keep tabs on customers wherever they go online. The tactic is similar to that used by adware players Claria and WhenU, and it may raise similar privacy concerns.

To entice users to install and keep using the Voicebox-powered application, Compete works with each marketer to determine what it should offer customers in exchange for the ability to gather the data. The benefit to consumers could be a richer customer experience, such as access to special offers; or streamlined service, with persistent access to account information and alerts.

“We want to show marketers that permission-based marketing can be made attractive to users,” McLagan said.

College savings affinity network Upromise is the first to implement Voicebox. Upromise is offering its customers a browser-based toolbar to help them better use its service, which helps members save money for their children’s college education when they shop with a Upromise affiliate.

To make it easier for members to find an affiliate, the toolbar automatically notifies the user when they are on an affiliate’s site, and logs the user into the Upromise system to ensure their account is credited with any shopping transaction. If there’s a problem that could prevent the member’s account from being properly credited, the application will alert the member beforehand so it can be resolved.

“It’s not for conquest, or finding the next customer. It’s for keeping the customers that you already have happy,” McLagan said. “The whole thing works only if the consumer opts in and finds value in it.”

The features go beyond simply keeping customers happy, however. For instance, the behavioral marketing elements let Upromise set up rules that will send a message to members who are shopping around at non-affiliate Web sites, letting them know that similar products are available at certain affiliate sites.

Marketers could also potentially use a Voicebox-powered tool to be alerted when the customer appears ready to make some sort of decision. For instance, when a bank’s customer starts shopping around for home equity loans from other providers, the bank can be alerted to send an email with information on its own loan offerings. Or if a wireless company’s customer has been shopping around for a new phone, the provider could be alerted to text message the customer with an incentive to stay with that provider, instead of migrating to a new one that offers a deal on a new phone.

“The value of Voicebox is in determining when and to whom to send a message. The medium through which the message is sent is flexible,” McLagan said.

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