“I wonder how many media planners use Google as the main tool to plan their campaign?” wondered a planner on my team the other day. Startled by the question at first, I quickly answered, “I hope quite a few do already!”
Though the question may have sounded like blasphemy even just a few years ago (especially to any old-school textbook media directors who still preach reach and frequency as media planning’s two main pillars), in the ever-changing online consumer experience Google has certainly become an important part of online media planning, even if it doesn’t formally acknowledge that capability.
If the world’s largest search engine has changed and reshaped the way we experience the Web, why shouldn’t it become a media planning tool? I’ve often wondered what would happen if Google developed a business-to-business (B2B) planning tool specifically catering to the media agencies to help planners develop strategies.
Thinking back, the era of using comScore, NetRatings, and other quantitative media research as planning bibles certainly provided media planners with a safety net. So long as one sourced the data from one of the big media research companies, media recommendations were credible and clients bought into them without really questioning statistical validity.
Though we can say in general that technological advancements and broadband penetration have been major forces in driving such a drastic shift in the communication paradigm, there are two fundamental Internet elements that moved planning toward a more behavior-based approach: tools and social computing.
Tools That Changed Everything
Tools are often taken for granted and underestimated for the value they bring. People use tools to get the job done, but they rarely think about the fact that tools aren’t just something to make a task easier. Tools can change the user’s way of thinking, how he approaches a task, and, ultimately, the nature of the task itself.
To illustrate tools’ behavioral influence, Adam N. Joinson, renowned media psychologist, offered the example of how a shopping list changes the task of shopping in his book “Understanding the Psychology of Internet Behaviour.”
A task (e.g. to remember the shopping) is fundamentally different if we use a tool (e.g. a shopping list) or use our own memory. In the former, the task becomes “match the shopping in your basket to that on the list (and remember to use the list)”. In the latter, the task is to remember the shopping you need to buy. The development of tools, right from the earliest alphabetic and numbering systems, has radically transformed not only the task, but also human capabilities.
When communication is technologically mediated (in the psychological sense of “mediation”), tools allow for the extension of human capabilities (and, thus, behaviors) and consequently change the actual task that must be performed.
A more concrete example is recruiting. Remember the days when head hunters got in touch with candidates using the old line, “Your name was referred to me by…”? Nowadays, with LinkedIn (a technology-based tool), they simply invite you to join their networks. Not only does this offer a certain level of confidentiality for potential candidates, but recruiters are also reciprocally tapped into candidates’ networks of contacts, establishing a virtual talent pool that can exponentially expand to twice or 10 times its original size.
The Rise of Social Computing
Coined by Forrester Research, social computing is defined as “a social structure in which technology puts power in communities, not institutions.” In other words, the power of change (including brand positioning, innovation, etc.) now rests in the hands of the collective network rather than on individual entities.
Although this concept may sound similar to brand democratization and perhaps even community marketing, it’s important to point out the rise of this network-based communication has fundamentally changed consumer behavior.
Not only is the modern population more price-sensitive, value-driven, and less brand loyal, it’s also less trusting of mass media sources (in favor of peer-to-peer information), more independent, less reliant on so-called experts, and self-expressive through customization and personalization.
Consider e-mail, chat rooms, instant messengers, file sharing software and platforms, asynchronous discussion groups, multi-user dimensions (such as role playing games), and video/voice communication. All these tools changed consumers’ online actions and behaviors and fundamentally redefined communication and societal interactions in the real world.
With information at all Internet users’ fingertips, demographic segmentation and profiling are quickly becoming insufficient, verging on obsolescence. Planners must understand modern consumers are driven by passion and interests and no longer restricted by natural age limitations.
What Does This Mean for Online Media?
When we see Yahoo, MSN, and Google (arguably the three largest media entities on the Web) embrace behavioral targeting, it’s a firm validation of the importance of behavioral-based data and analyses in the communications business.
With the beta introduction of Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets, Google has joined Microsoft in a race to provide the next generation of social computing software. Google has begun to apply some behavioral analyses to the sponsored links above natural search results. It’s not true ad targeting yet, but it does begin to integrate what Google knows about an individual to increase the likelihood that person will click. Multiple patents were filed in behavioral-based analytical tools in late 2005, so you can be certain an integrated behavioral targeting solution is already in development to compete with Microsoft’s adCenter and Yahoo’s behavioral targeting 2.0.
As technology pushes network power to the edge, connective software will continue to create (and accelerate) new social changes that redefine the typical behaviors associated with gender, age, and other demographic-based assumptions.
Today, a Google search for “behavioral targeting” yields nearly 3.5 million natural results. That’s quite a robust gain from the days when behavioral targeting was first considered to be a revival of a dot-com fad. The importance of behaviors in today’s planning world has increased in more ways than the industry is ready to admit.
Rather than focus on behavioral targeting, perhaps we should develop behavioral planning.
A behavioral targeting 2.0 panel hosted by Esther Dyson back in March talked a lot about targeting moving toward a consumer-centric, permission-based model. But it didn’t address one critical force of change that needed to happen to facilitate this: so-called behavioral targeting 2.0 must start with a fundamental transformation of the way the industry views and plans media.
Welcome to 21st-century media planning.