Time for a Behavioral Network?

I’m rather surprised at the hoopla over our recent findings for a behavioral targeting study for American Airlines and The Wall Street Journal Online released last week. Along with the usual suspects, the mainstream press even picked up the story, including an NPR broadcast.

The journalist actually like the idea of ads that are targeted based on his interests. Wow! I think we have a tipping point, folks. It’s the first time in recent memory I’ve heard something positive about online from a mainstream reporter.

Moving Beyond Questionable Tactics

Behavioral targeting may be the next big thing, but it could just as easily blow up in our faces. Adware companies such as Claria and WhenU are experiencing a negative groundswell. Just last week, another round of lawsuits among major retailers created more confusion about what’s clever marketing and what’s paramount to hijacking brand equity.

I applaud the thinking behind these approach types. But the tactics are causing suspicion among the general public, and that’s the kind of attention we don’t need. Particularly now, when the publishing community continues to progress in the effectiveness developed with behaviorally powered ad programs.

If site-based behavioral targeting is so great, what’s holding us back? For advertisers and agencies, enhanced targeting is great. Currently, it’s not scaleable across all sites in a plan. That’s why we need a behavioral network.

Targeting on the Same Page

Though online ad networks are resurging, we’re not seeing the ability to easily deploy an ad program across multiple sites based on behavioral criteria. (That’s what makes Claria so appealing: Behaviors recorded at the browser level can trigger ad serving across multiple sites.)

What will really propel behavior targeting into the forefront is a scenario something like this:

  1. The two major technology players in the online publishing industry (Tacoda Systems and Revenue Science) work with the Online Publishers Association (OPA) to create a common set of targeting standards. All publishers will then work with the same metrics.

  2. Using this common framework, advertisers and agencies can create requests for proposals (RFPs) and implement campaigns across multiple sites with similar behavioral targeting criteria. They’ll get better results comparisons.
  3. We collectively work to gather results data by industry category. We can then collect benchmark results and best practice measures for future optimization.
  4. Not to ruffle privacy concerns, but we create a way to connect targeting criteria across sites in an anonymous, aggregate manner. Marketers then utilize the collective weight of their campaigns to drive response, rather than just analyze behavioral data on a site-by-site basis.

If we handle this correctly, we could really drive campaign response. I’ve always believed publishers know their audiences best. If I could connect the collective expertise of several sites to best target my ad, then I’ve done a good job.

Is it crazy to think we could efficiently link behavioral targeting across sites? Let me know your perspectives and experiences.