Dazed and Confused Targeting

Expert: Someone who brings confusion to simplicity. –Gregory Nunn

Eight years ago, before getting into digital media, I worked as a media negotiator at a New York buying shop. It was my first job out of college and I desperately needed a stable income (my student loans had reared their ugly heads). Like most people entering media, I had no background or understanding of the profession. I spent the first few years buying spot radio and television for markets I’d never heard of, where the general manager was also the disc jockey and billing supervisor. We almost never discussed targeting. When we did, it consisted of targeting certain designated market areas.

When I entered the digital realm, everything was about targeting. Even the basic function of recommending a site had a name: “site targeting” or “targeted reach.” Eventually, instead of listing all the ways we’d target, we’d state we were “precision-targeting” or “advanced-targeting.” Targeting is what set us apart from others in the offline world, where media was purchased across a broad set of metrics. It wasn’t focused. To clients, we promised the Holy Grail of no waste.

Then, confusion set in. Since we were all coming up with our own targeting terms and using them to suit our own purposes, we found didn’t have a universal vocabulary.

A spot buyer isn’t looking at a proposal saying, “What do you think they mean by a ‘gross rating point’?” However, interactive planners do wonder what a seller means by “behavioral targeting.” Often, behavioral targeting is just a fancy way of saying “contextual placement.” I’m guilty. I recently did a Q&A on Reuters’ “smart thinking” and classified it as behavioral targeting, although some may argue that under the traditional definition it wouldn’t be.

Since we rely on speed to create digital campaigns, it’s often difficult for a planner to clarify the details of a “targeting solution.” As a result, it’s either omitted from the plan or included, creating a situation where a planner may misrepresent or misunderstand pertinent details. These days, clients are also more suspicious of targeting and will ask more questions. At the very least, they’re looking for evidence that we understand what we’re recommending. Therefore, it helps if we’re all speak the same language.

Below, the five most popular ways to target online:

  • Contextual targeting: Ads are targeted to related content being viewed by consumers; content usually matches the advertiser’s business. For example, Vanguard may run its ads in the mutual fund section of a personal finance site or Audi would run its ads in the luxury section of an automotive site.

    • Advantages: There’s an implied interest in this content and an assumption that a prospect is in market.

    • Challenges: Content has a premium value and tends to be cluttered with competitive ads. In addition, advertisers rely on a small window to reach prospects.

  • Demographic targeting: Ads are targeted to content that has a high composition of a specific market segment (regardless if there’s a contextual fit). Demographic information may include professions, industry, company size, gender, age, and household income. For example, an advertiser who wants to reach baby boomers may advertise on a site like ThirdAge.
    • Advantages: Demographic targeting provides an opportunity for advertisers to increase their reach and avoid highly competitive and cluttered contextual placements.

    • Challenges: Just because someone fits a market segment, doesn’t mean she’s in market for a product. Demographic targeting is better suited for branding campaigns.

  • Geographic targeting: Ads are targeted to specific geographical areas based on a user’s IP address, Zip Code, or the local content he’s viewing. An automotive dealer in New Jersey can advertise local lease offers on NJ.com or target consumers via their IP addresses on USAToday.com
    • Advantages: Marketers can target consumers with relative, local-interest creative.

    • Challenges: This targeting can be hard to manage since technology can be imperfect. In addition, local-interest creative isn’t always available.

  • Registration targeting: Ads are targeted to consumers based on the information they provided during registration. If OppenheimerFunds wants to reach independent financial advisors on “The Wall Street Journal,” it could exclusively target advisors who registered as such.
    • Advantages: It allows marketers to target hard-to-reach segments without wasting impressions.

    • Challenges: Registration information can be outdated or inaccurate.

  • Behavioral targeting: Ads are targeted to consumers based on previous activity (past content, purchase, or search history). For example, Orbitz can retarget a consumer on Yahoo who just configured a trip but didn’t purchase.
    • Advantages: It provides an opportunity to create a dialogue with consumers and reach them beyond contextual environments.

    • Challenges: If not handled properly, it could have an adverse affect.

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