Learning to Behave

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article on AdAge.com about the daunting task of how CMOs demonstrate return on investment (ROI) to CEOs. It also mentioned CMOs tend to use proxies, such as brand awareness and purchase intent, to measure marketing campaign success. CEOs, meanwhile, focus on tangible results, such as sales numbers.

The article spawned a few thoughts relevant to online media:

  • Are media so instant-result driven that any campaign demonstrating no immediate result is automatically deemed ineffective and insufficient?

  • Are brand awareness and purchase intent no longer sufficient to validate media spending?
  • Has brand-response replaced branding as the more sophisticated, accountable model?

The fundamental shift from mass media (e.g., TV) to targeted media (e.g., online) is a tectonic change in the media mix. How does behavioral targeting tie into the points mentioned above?

If you think about it, there’s really no fundamental difference between direct response and branding. Both have the same ultimate goal: driving sales. One just takes longer than the other. As marketing moves toward a lifetime customer value model rather than a single purchase model, we must learn more about every facet of consumers.

And behavioral targeting can help.

Some Are for This, Others for That

We all know many vendors offer behavioral targeting. And, yes, we’re all aware of the lack of industry standardization regarding this platform. Some vendors originally used technology independent of media distribution (e.g., Tacoda and Revenue Science), while others began offering behavioral targeting as a addition to existing ad networks (e.g., 24/7 Real Media and Advertising.com).

Fundamentally, all behavioral targeting vendors promise more targeted reach and in-depth monitoring of consumer online behaviors. Yet their capabilities actually differ.

Many media professionals are under a false impression: “I better carefully select one vendor who can truly deliver the targeting.” They erroneously believe selecting one vendor represents the whole of behavioral targeting.

But maybe the best buying model is to combine multiple vendors and use them for different phases of a media buy for optimal results. Perhaps some vendors, such as Drive PM, are best used for the back-end learning of how consumers interact with clients’ proprietary sites. Others, such as Advertising.com, are best for front-end targeting to refine reach.

The more experiences you have with different vendors, the more you’ll learn about their best capabilities.

It’s About Learning

A learning organization is one that continually learns in a self-perpetuated process. It therefore always improves. Behavioral targeting can be the foundation of a learning media plan, in which multiple vendors are used not only to learn and segment the target on the back end, but also to modify and refine targeting on the front end.

Here’s an example. Drive PM offers a different dimension of behavioral targeting; it cookies users who visited a designated site (the client’s site, in most cases) and tracks their interactions and transactions with that site. Based on the data collected, we can better define what kind of consumers are attracted to the site. We can consequently continuously monitor the target audience’s activity and behaviors.

If we applied these buying parameters to a behavioral targeting buy with 24/7, not only could we deliver the right message to the right audience ubiquitously while they’re in the 24/7 network, we’d also refine the target and targeting with real-time learning.

What Does This Mean for Online Media?

Whether behavioral targeting is best suited for direct response or branding campaigns isn’t really the question. The concern should be how marketers can use behavioral targeting to learn.

Every brand is faced with the challenge of an aging target. What happens when the target is older? All of a sudden, your 18-24-year-old Britney Spears segment is Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.”

Smart marketers should constantly revise and expand their offerings’ scope with tailored propositions for every target group and their purchasing behavior. Behavioral targeting provides a strategic platform from which marketing can grow older with its targets because it can track a customer’s lifetime value and behaviors.

Behavioral targeting isn’t just a targeting tool. It’s marketing’s new standard. It’s a perpetual refinement of marketing techniques and offers. Most important, it fosters a learning environment in which marketers can understand consumers. Let’s not lose sight of what behavioral targeting should really be used for: keeping the focus on the consumers, studying their behaviors by building a database, and truly learning about consumer trends and progressions.

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