Behavioral Targeting: Beyond Online

As we approach the end of an unprecedented year for online advertising, 2005 seems poised to shatter industry growth records.

Clients are now vigorously planning their 2006 marketing budget allocations. For those of us on the agency side of the business, it’s hard to ignore the heat as we anxiously await next year’s final budget.

In a recent budget planning meeting with a client, I had a long conversation evangelizing (again!) online advertising’s capability and accountability in relation to new-age consumer relationships.

The client asked me to demonstrate and highlight optimization tools available online that can help improve and measure his marketing ROI (define). I launched into my “let me tell you what’s amazing about online advertising” sermon to explain the targeting capabilities. Consequently, I discussed segmenting audiences by behavioral data.

Then it dawned on me: in the process of justifying online targeting’s precision and interactive capabilities, perhaps we neglect (I know I sometimes do!) to address the deeper implications and bigger picture of behavioral targeting to the client; the impact of behavior-based segmentation on overall communication efforts.

More Than an Online POV

Behavioral targeting has been one of the most discussed (and arguably the most controversial) elements of online advertising this year. This is visibly validated by recent conferences (ad:tech, iMedia Summit, etc.) in which the topic played a crucial role. It’s even been making splashes internationally, as it was in one of the most popular sessions at the recent ad:tech London.

Besides providing an alternative to the increasingly competitive, scarce content-adjacent impressions and helping publishers strategically monetize inventory, behavioral targeting really highlights the tectonic shift in the communications paradigm, from demographic-based planning to behavioral-centric ways of segmenting the online audience.

Demographic versus behavioral targeting is something many online professionals have discussed before. But what perhaps hasn’t been clearly highlighted is the fact online growth doesn’t only represent the rise of digital media and interactivity. It also represents a fundamental shift in the communication landscape and ultimately, the way businesses are run and products are made.

These macro-implications rarely make it onto agencies’ online POV of behavioral targeting, as most of these targeting-based POVs are too often restricted to online marketing.

A New Way of Seeing Communications and Business

You receive a media or creative brief, and the client spends half a page describing the target audience profile. It sounds a boring personals ad from the ’80s: Males, 35-43. Well-educated with high disposable income, $75,000 to $150,000 annually. Internet savvy and passionate about blah blah blah. This description tells us everything about the audience — except for the audience. I’m sure many of you have been in this situation more than once.

For online, smart planners must then apply modern profiling techniques to this antiquated brief and, to a certain degree, interpret what the targetable audience is.

One can argue it’s the agency’s job to interpret the brief and translate it into media plans and strategies. We interpret the brief for online purposes and get the job done. Imagine how much more efficiently we could work if the brief were written correctly by the client from the beginning.

Instead of deciphering and translating the brief, we could instead use that time to develop new ideas and strategies to reach the audience. There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between online media and overall business operations. The consumer-centric way of thinking seems well-embraced and adopted by clients only when it comes to online marketing, but not so much when it comes to how they perceive and develop their overall product communications. That impacts their businesses in a fundamental way.

What Does This Mean for Online?

With its unique ability to capture data, online can help companies make data-based decisions and impact business directions beyond mere marketing. The growing trend of media agencies moving toward more consultative, business decision roles is a tectonic power shift in the agency game.

Clients need to know more than media communications has changed; the entire way of business (product development and communication) is undergoing a transformation. Online is just one of many tangible results.

Besides consulting clients with media strategies, agencies must educate clients on behavioral targeting beyond online. Its very nature represents a fundamental way businesses segment customers on the product development and brand experience levels.

Media planners are no longer just human calculators of frequency, reach, and duplication. Planners are the first line of communications contact between brands and consumers. They’re closest to the real-time data of sales, site traffic, and brand experience.

Agencies help clients solve business challenges and problems, not just media equations and how to apply targeting filters. Digital agencies, more than we like to admit, are in a position to help shape clients’ businesses. This can start with educating clients about consumer behaviors beyond the scope of online.

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