Demo Vs. Behavior: Who’s the Boss?

I attended a quarterly competitive review for a client on the East Coast last week. These quarterly summits provide an opportunity for all the agencies (this particular client has three different media agencies servicing offline, online, and direct mail) to gather around a table and present the competitive landscape within each medium. The main objective, however, is to collaboratively brainstorm and discuss the coming quarter.

Collectively, all the agencies delivered a somewhat excruciating 100-plus slide PowerPoint document that not only recapped the most recent past performance but detailed the likelihood of the target’s interests and lifestyles and how these affinities map back to the target previously identified by the client’s internal segmentation.

Interestingly enough, what we found is the offline segmentation data doesn’t necessarily align with its online behavioral profiles. During this part of the discussion, the topic of demo versus behavior came up. It spawned a series of “Knights of the Round Table” colloquies in which the agency folks discussed their own opinions on which filter is more relevant for media targeting.

I considered the implications of demo-targeting to online media and inevitably asked myself, “Does demo matter in behavioral targeting?”

Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

Does one’s age imply a certain set of behaviors? Certainly. Demographic information (such as age, gender, etc.) is an inherent consideration when it comes to behaviors, but it’s no guarantee. Demographics are extremely important in providing segmentation guidelines and even more useful in providing comprehensive guidelines to identify a market. Yet peoples’ individual behaviors often don’t match their demographic information. Demographics are only a subset of behavior, not necessarily a prerequisite to a behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. Demographics are important to targeting and the planning process. But they’re no longer media planning absolutes. The Internet empowers consumers to make purchases outside their predefined demographic groups.

Action Speaks Louder Than Words

The homogenization of consumers has somewhat closed the gap between gender, age, and interests. Women have started to purchase more electronic gadgets, while men are paying more attention to grooming and fashion. This means though demographic information provides great insights to potential customers, marketers really need to understand their behaviors to scope out their needs and lifestyles — in real time!

A campaign’s intended target are 25 year olds. A 45 year old who exhibits similar online actions is just as worthy a target. His behaviors suggest potential affinity and interests in a relevant product outside his age group. Behaviors and actions can be quantified and qualified as intent, but demographic information, such as age, is just a proxy.

What Does This Mean for Online Media?

Blurring lines of the multi-everything generation have made media planners’ jobs much more complex. Consumers’ multitasking and empowered accessibility and navigation via the Internet make them everywhere in sight but nowhere in mind — at the same time.

Media must increase focus on the audience and consumer behaviors, as only the perceivable actions represent the true and solid evidence of affinities and interests. Behavioral targeting certainly promises this audience-centric delivery. Though it’s not yet the dominant methodology of media buying, it will eventually make metrics such as usage and household rating appear airy and obsolete. Marketers must define the target audience with more psychographic and behavioral traits rather than with conventional demographics.

As the online industry moves further into accountability and is direct-response driven, campaign success will rely even more heavily on interaction and activation to validate targeting. But before you start chanting, “Down with demo, hail behavior!” remember behaviors don’t necessarily demonstrate intent. Just because that 65-year-old grandpa is interested in checking out football stats on ESPN, he may be just a little too senior to be in the market for a Hummer.

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