Simplifying Behavioral Targeting Networks

Paging through an online media, marketing, and advertising trade magazine recently, I was jolted by a thought that hadn’t occurred to me before. In the section where ad networks are ranked by monthly impressions, number of sites, types of targeting, and so on, many networks claim to offer behavioral targeting.

How could I have failed to notice how many of them say they offer behavioral targeting when what they really offer is access to massive amounts of remnant inventory, on undisclosed sites grouped by black-box technologies?

Is that all there is to behavioral targeting?

Scale is and will be a key driver of behavioral targeting’s growth, but not at the price of everything else.

Dave Morgan, CEO and founder of TACODA, puts it this way: “Achieving cost-effective scale for clients will be impossible without massive reach, massive depth of data, and very sophisticated and robust capabilities” in terms of technology.

Confused or Just Well Mixed?

As with advertisers, not all behavioral targeting networks are alike.

There seems to be a good deal of confusion at the moment, but it will likely disappear as advertisers try out the various behavioral targeting options and learn massive reach is only part of the equation.

That’s not to say cookie-based response optimization and frequency capping, which some networks offer as behavioral targeting, are not effective. It’s just that calling them “behavioral targeting” is mixing different things together.

As Morgan says, these targeting options “will not long be confused with the much more powerful and sophisticated applications — targeting consumers according to dynamic, real-time segmentations and optimizing custom segments on the fly.”

Morgan points out, “Simple techniques like retargeting can deliver some impressive results, but usually in the tens or hundreds of thousands of users, not the tens of millions of people that large marketers want to reach.”

Scale Still Drives Growth

The TACODA Audience Network launched in September 2005. Since then, it’s grown to over 3,000 sites. The pace still seems to be accelerating.

In the past 90 days, the number of sites in the network has tripled, the number of monthly unique visitors has jumped from 85 million to 130 million, and the number of monthly ad impressions has moved from about 300 million to above 1 billion.

Each week, TACODA runs an average of nearly 80 campaigns, compared to less than 40 just three months ago. Some of this is due to industry growth and interest in behavioral targeting, but it’s also thanks to increased investment following good outcomes.

Morgan says, “Achieving this critical mass of scale has been very important for us…. Like other data-driven businesses, the more data that you have and the more opportunities that you have to use it, the more effective you can be.”

Scale’s Not the Only Thing to Consider

So though size matters, Morgan counts several other important differentiators that make “behavioral targeting” behavioral targeting, including:

  • Robust, segment-driven ad targeting and reporting technology
  • A library of hundreds of transparent, prebuilt segments
  • The ability to create custom segments on the fly
  • The ability to create post-campaign reports that show delivery and performance characteristics by dozens or hundreds of different segments, whether or not the campaign was actually targeted to them
  • The ability to transparently modify segments on the go to optimize campaigns

Of course, the ability to do all the above at massive scale matters, but size alone doesn’t make the thing work.

Not all networks offering behavioral targeting are the same. Though scale is still very important, good data and technology make a difference.

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