The Anthropology of Online Targeting

I’ll be honest. I’m a design kind of guy. I like the process of starting with nothing more than a blank piece of paper and ending up with a brilliant finished ad concept. Of course, I realize the need to set marketing goals within the ad and structure the ad so it best meets those goals. But measuring results? That’s a job for people who love analytics and playing around with data.

Anybody who’s been in online advertising for any time at all is familiar with the metrics of impressions, CTRs, and page views. Rich media advertisers include interaction rates on that list, along with hover times and special events measuring. Although the data can be combined in a number of ways, it’s how those results relate to predefined marketing goals that determine whether the ad is successful. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to determine campaign results before an ad runs. Or is it?

According to Joseph Carrabis, CEO and president of Evolution Corp., predetermining the overall success of an ad campaign should be a standard step in the development process. Carrabis, a cultural anthropologist and mathematician, has in recent years created new ways to target consumers more accurately, using what he calls “consumer anthropological measuring.”

Using mathematical algorithms against a backdrop database of consumer behaviors, Carrabis has developed a system able to preview Web pages, marketing campaigns, and single ads and readily determine who the ads target. This is what all marketers strive for, yet Carrabis says it’s often surprising how far off some campaigns are from reaching the consumers they think they’re reaching.

He claims much of his technology is based on measuring things that are subtle or often imperceptible. When people communicate face to face in addition to dialogue there are streams of feedback, such as body language, pitch and tone of language used, and word selection. Together with conversation, the feedback helps construct a complete communications picture.

Successful salespeople often incorporate body language observation as part of their approach when making a pitch. A prospect folding her arms over her chest displays a protective stance and subconsciously sends a message she isn’t receptive.

Some professional poker players have a general understanding of what cards opponents are holding by looking for subtle behavior signs, such as tapping of feet, playing with or twisting rings on fingers, and fidgeting with hair. These behaviors, which tend to be unconscious, can reveal a great deal.

In online advertising, reading body language isn’t an option for consumer or advertiser. Instead, an ad’s design, messaging, structure, and placement are the only criteria used to judge quality or value in a particular market.

Carrabis believes through analyzing design, structure, and content aspects of a Web site or online ad, his Evolution Technology system can determine factors that may be out of line with marketing expectations.

As an example, he cites an analysis of a client site that wasn’t getting expected traffic or retention rates. When visually comparing this site with competitors’ sites, they seemed on par. All offered similar services and pricing. The analysis revealed the site was subconsciously projecting a “Go away, I don’t have time for you!” message to visitors. An equivalent analysis of competitor sites showed the underlying message to be, “Come shop here.”

Carrabis said the skeptical site designer dismissed the analysis. Yet several hours later he returned and related that when he designed the site, product rollout was five months away. He remembered his concern customers would use the site too soon. He crafted a subconscious message designed to keep customers away. Once realized, the site was easily changed. It started inviting customers to come and do business.

Another element Carrabis says he looks for is how well the target audience matches with the media. A simple example is a design for a Web site selling lingerie to women will differ in graphic approach from that for a site selling heavy construction equipment. In most cases, difference between designs that hit their target and those that don’t can be much harder to discern.

Evolution Technology premeasures online campaigns to determine if they reach the target audience by analyzing how well those ads cater to specific demographic behaviors that can differ between genders, ages groups, cultural groups, and so on. The system helps marketers focus the message being broadcast to better reach the consumers who are the intended customers.

We all want our online marketing to go to the right people. Determining we have the right target before running a campaign may make the difference between a successful campaign and one that reaches the online equivalent of people with their arms folded firmly over their chests.

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