Targeting by Behavioral Modes

I think advertising targeting is in a rut. We all know it certainly is in traditional media, where they don’t have access to the cool targeting toys that we enjoy online. But here on the Internet, we’ve been in a bit of a rut as well.

We sit in front of the vast universe of people with very new ways of reaching them, yet we tend to use the same old tools we employed back in print and TV.

Targeting Types

Our recent online efforts have emulated all the traditional types of targeting. We have demographic targeting, focusing on gross generalizations about our clients’ markets. We’ve done plenty of content-association targeting, getting our advertising merely adjacent to content that is similar to the product being proffered. These targeting efforts compose the vast majority of online advertising out there.

We’ve also tested out all sorts of targeting doohickeys, like profiling, topographical associative targeting (don’t ask), and other types of behavioral targeting. Rather than allowing us to target particular types of people, these technologies allow us to target people who have done particular types of things. It is in this way that the Internet provides unique media opportunities. It is uniquely suited to behavioral targeting precisely because it is so measurable.

Death of Demographics

Back in the 1800s, James Walter Thompson invented demographics out of whole cloth. He surmised that with the recent advent of mass media (at the time, popular publications based on topic rather than region), he needed a shorthand for choosing which types of buys he should make for his clients. He came up with gross generalizations about types of people and the types of products they like. He marketed soap to women and shotguns to men.

Fast-forward 12 decades and we’re pretty much doing the same thing, except we’re marketing Biore face pads to women aged 18 to 34 and golf clubs to men aged 24 to 54. But, even back then, Thompson recognized that the link between the demographic categories and the propensities to buy certain products were very indirect and overgeneralized.

Demographic targeting on the Internet suffers from an even greater degree of indirectness because we have to employ statistical sampling and other methods to even establish a particular demographic on a site or on a section of a site. That means that we are employing an indirect measure of an indirect measure of a propensity to buy our clients’ products. No wonder you see consumer goods companies finding bad returns on investment with demographically purchased online media.

The Birth of Behavioral Modes

I’ve found much better results by purchasing media online that results in getting folks who have exhibited or are exhibiting a particular desired behavior — like buying a product similar to the one my client is selling. You can divvy up the various people out there into different types of behavior — a targeting type called “modes.”

We can generalize the entire Internet universe into a system of modes, for example, buyers, procrastinators, information seekers, interest groupies, etc. Obviously, any one individual may be a member of one mode at one moment and then evolve into a member of another mode the next. Your client should be concerned merely with the temporary group of people in the particular mode that makes them most likely to be swayed by the client’s marketing message.

Profiling does this in its own fashion, provided the company doing the profiling collects the right, relevant data and is able to keep it fresh and instantly accessible.

How to Take Advantage of Behavioral Modes

The easy way out is to exploit a profiling company like Engage or similar technologies being developed at networks like DoubleClick.

You can rough your own modal media buy, however, and you can frequently do it without paying exorbitant CPMs or employing extra targeting options, which would be the case if you were working with a major network.

Frequently, site reps will work with you to determine the particular types of desired behavior you require for your client and to figure out ways of packaging their media to fit. If you’re purchasing media for an online commerce company, like a bookstore, you might want to put an ad on the “thank you for your purchase” page of another e-commerce site. I think Barnes & Noble does this quite nicely. By doing so, it reaches folks who are shopping, who already have their credit cards out, and who presumably have confidence in online security, etc.

First, determine the behavioral modes that might be relevant to your client. For each client, a different segmentation might be appropriate. Then, figure out the right combination of your existing marketing messages (or have new ones created) with these new modal targets. You will be wrong the first time or two, but after you’ve got a few campaigns under your belt, your client’s brand will begin to fit into the data picture with greater clarity.

When employing modal methods of targeting, be sure to set your client’s expectations as to how long it may take to strike upon the right modes and the right media opportunities.

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