Behavioral Targeting: Eyes on the Road Ahead in 2006

I’m not really a fan of New Year’s predictions.

Predictions should be made every day, not saved for the end of the year so we have something to look forward to when the clock hits midnight on December 31. I like to believe predictions are a forecast of the near-future reality that inspires, drives, and guides innovation; and the best time for innovation is all the time.

This has been a watershed year for online advertising. Behavioral targeting has benefited from the growing sophistication and importance of targeting in this channel. Both domestically and internationally, behavioral targeting as a topic has been raised and discussed in just about all major interactive media conferences this year.

But let’s be brutally honest.

Rather than just discuss what behavioral targeting is (and no one wants to hear about the dot-com genesis of behavioral targeting and its serendipitous rebirth in 2004 and 2005 anymore), we must focus more on new applications of this technology. How can it help marketers reach our target audiences in the increasingly nebulous landscape of device-proliferation and multimedia consumption?

Rather than contribute a list of self-fulfilling “let’s see if I’m right” prophecies about behavioral targeting in 2006, I want to take a different approach and simply call out three areas (for personal client relevance) behavioral vendors and publishers must address as they move into next year. These areas represent significant growth opportunities for all involved in the media equation.

Advergaming Behaviors

No question, gaming is growing more important as it becomes part of the modern consumer’s lifestyle as well as social entertainment. Advergaming solutions are experiencing significant demand growth and are increasingly a key consideration in media plans.

Advertising networks such as Massive are considered the pioneers in the advergaming space, serving virtual billboard ads to a expanding generation of gamers who spend hours immersed in online games. With the continual increase of the casual-gaming audience, the definition of “gamer” has expanded to include more targeting opportunities and a diversifying game portfolio.

As the convergence of gaming consoles and ISP accessibility accelerates, marketers should apply behavioral targeting technology within advergaming networks to target these new, in-game online behaviors.

Viral Behavior

Online viral execution is perhaps one of interactive marketing’s the fastest-growing elements. A successful campaign engages the audience and results in significant advertising return on investment (low investment, high reach). It also provides priceless PR coverage, within the industry and beyond.

Many clients increasingly demand viral inclusion, yet besides the standard tracking of interaction duration, pass-along rate, and basic parameters of online media (CTR (define), open rate, etc.), it remains one of the least targeting-enabled online elements. Not unlike advergaming, there are opportunities to behaviorally target ad placements in viral executions.

Can marketers effectively create viral ads in which the content or messaging can dynamically change based on the users’ recent behaviors, interests, and online page views?

Mobile Behavior

Mobile penetration and usage continue to mesmerize (and confuse) advertisers. With a proliferation of handsets with ever-advancing Web-browsing capabilities, increasingly more people will use mobile devices as a preferred channel for accessing information online.

Though complete mobile-online interactivity is still in its infancy, our neighbors in the Far East have long championed mobile usage. What if we could behaviorally target segments in a mobile environment? Considering the increasing adoption and penetration of GPS, can we leverage the online targeting technology and further apply the behavioral/affinity information captured to truly achieve an audience-based form of marketing?

As we move away from a device-based model of marketing to a more person-based one, we require a targeting bridge between mobile and online access.

What Does This Mean for Online Media?

Advertising.com reported an 80 percent year-to-year rise in revenue from its behavioral programs in the first quarter. Interestingly, Revenue Science has made significant expansion conversion in the U.K. market. Tacoda also estimated its client base and revenue increased four- to fivefold in 2005.

By now, smarter, more leading-edge media thinkers are fully aware of and comprehend the context and capabilities of behavioral targeting (if you still don’t know what behavioral targeting is, you should seriously read ClickZ more often!).

Besides its obvious interactivity, one main reason online is such an effective marketing channel is its reflexive technological adaptability; its ability to improve and innovate based on changing consumer media habits and usage behaviors. Although the three elements mentioned above are primarily cited because of personal client relevance, they represent current needs and areas of media consumption. Consequently, they’re behavioral targeting growth opportunities.

We all know the Utopian state of behavioral targeting is cross-media, integrating all consumer data to create the ultimate source for targeting behaviors. Until fiction draws closer to reality, let’s keep our eyes on the near-future road in 2006 and find ways to refine targeting to meet the current media trends.

As hip-hop artist Common says, “The resolution cannot catch up with the revolution.”

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