Behavioral Marketing: More Than Just Targeting

Many online marketers think behavioral targeting is an answer to their most fervent online marketing wishes. I agree. Yet some marketers think and act as if it’s “the” answer.


It can be very tempting to rely exclusively on behavioral providers’ targeting capability for campaign performance. Technology now allows us to reach a desired audience based on highly effective parameters we couldn’t use just a couple years ago. However, that technology doesn’t negate the requirement for smart, focused marketing to properly message and time communications or to promote and price product or service offerings.

Suppose you found the perfect audience through a fabulous behavioral targeting program. Are you done? Hardly. The audience is only one part of the equation. Without the right messaging and voice — the right promotion at the right time in the right sequence with the right frequency — your campaign will likely underperform. It could even flat out fail. The targeting approach is an important component of a well thought-out plan, but it doesn’t stand alone.

Only Part of the Media Answer

Behavioral targeting is one of the latest, but clearly not the only, targeting option in online media. In addition to layering the targeting approach with a fully conceived marketing program, an online plan is likely incomplete without some other proven elements in the mix.

Behavioral targeting and marketing programs require access to lots of customers to track and profile behaviors over time. You’ll see diminishing returns, particularly for remarketing programs, from even the best-executed behavioral targeting if you’re not driving reach through other vehicles. Don’t forget the other tactics that feed the pool. Integrate PPC (define) and demo targeted or contextual buys to create a stronger understanding of your consumer’s research and buying patterns and to appropriately scale your behavioral program.

Establish the Right Question

When reporting on an integrated online media campaign, behavioral components will stand out as ROI (define) contributors. They should. This will lead to the inevitable suggestion by someone in the room to shift budget from all your other programs to further boost the behavioral elements. Remind them a one-dimensional program will burn out and take campaign performance down with it.

Unless you’re engaged in a very specific test, the appropriate goal is to improve overall campaign performance with a diversified campaign built for long-term performance. Multiple placements and tactics allow the program to grow within an acceptable, overall ROI. Budget optimizations should be done carefully and incrementally, allowing time for campaign impact to surface.

Use What You Know

Behavioral targeting can segment an audience and provide valuable detail that can be used to tailor contacts. Ads can be sequenced, landing pages created, product mix altered, and promotions or pricing changed to effectively adapt communications so the knowledge you have is (judiciously) used.

Part of the Answer

There’s more than a fair share of early adopters and technology risk takers among those of us in online marketing and advertising. We tend to jump headlong into technology or industry opportunities presented to us. Our internal or external clients rightly drag their feet a little to slow down the process. If some clients are a little slower to adopt this technology, it’s understandable.

Search, both organic and paid, works for many clients, as do other forms of online media or advertising. Behavioral anything in an age of privacy concerns can be a scary concept for clients, no matter how clearly you outline privacy parameters. Waiting to achieve a comfort level with a tactical approach reflects a rational client decision process we should respect and nurture. Sharing examples from successful programs run both in- and outside the client’s industry helps illustrate the possibilities and demystify the approach.

Behavioral targeting’s power is well documented across agencies and clients who have been using it with wonderful results with multiple vendor partners. Those wonderful results are due, in part, to the creative, optimization, media mix, and other variables employed in these campaigns — and not exclusively to the targeting approach. Behavioral targeting is one among many targeting approaches. Targeting is one element of an overall campaign strategy, and media strategy is part of the client’s bigger reality.

So the next time someone proclaims behavioral targeting is the answer, I’ll agree wholeheartedly. Then, I’ll ask him to state the question.

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