Tying the Knot With Behavioral Targeting

My initial experience as a behavioral targeting recipient was in December 2004, while I was preparing for my wedding. For the next several weeks, I must have viewed 700 ads from one particular bridal advertiser. About 75 percent of the ads were for wedding dresses and 25 percent were for veils. To confirm I was being behaviorally targeted, I refreshed my cookies midpoint and repeated the process. Sure enough, there were the same banners, which had become fixtures in my mailbox.

As marketers, it’s easy to disconnect from the consumer experience. So for better or worse, here are my thoughts on behavioral targeting after experiencing it as the consumer.

Match Made in Heaven

Over 2.2 million newly engaged couples enter the U.S. marketplace each year and, as a result, enter the biggest spending period of their lives. For marketers, this is a huge behavioral targeting opportunity. Not only are consumers in-market for various services and products, they’re also using the Internet to research and purchase these services.

Like most soon-to-be brides, I started on well-known bridal sites, such as WeddingChannel.com, The Knot, and Modern Bride. I also visited other sites for products I was now in-market for, including a new car, furniture, and travel. Throughout the process, I maintained regular access to my established list of bookmarked sites for email, news, and weather.

As a result of my behavior, I was the perfect candidate for behavioral targeting. Any savvy advertiser (such as the one who targeted me) would jump on the opportunity for the following reasons:

  • Based on my online behavior, I was in-market.
  • Although I visited bridal-endemic sites, return visits would likely be sporadic. That would limit the opportunity to communicate with me in these environments.
  • By behaviorally targeting me, additional opportunities were created for increased communication in areas I often frequented.

‘Till Death Do Us Part

‘Till death do us part may work in wedding vows, but beware of it as an advertising mantra. One fear about behavioral targeting is advertisers will stalk consumers. Such concerns aren’t completely unwarranted. In my experience, frequency, messaging, and timing are the three main weaknesses.

Frequency overload, particularly for the same message, was an issue. On any given day, I’d see the same ad at least five times. That’s the same ad, day after day, for approximately three months, including one month when I was completely out of market. Frequency caps and reports are critical when employing behavioral targeting.

Message association was also awry. Although I visited a wedding site, I didn’t visit the dress or veil section. Therefore, dress and veil ads didn’t correspond with my behavior. You wouldn’t serve an ad for the Jaguar XJ-Series to someone shopping for a Dodge Neon. Or worse, serve an auto ad to someone searching for a bicycle. If the advertiser is going to make an inference and test an associated message (which isn’t always a bad idea), he needs to be extra mindful of consumer reaction (or lack of it) to the ad.

Consumers aren’t in-market forever. Even if this advertiser had targeted me after I visited the dress section, it should have been mindful that I wouldn’t be shopping indefinitely. One indication would be my lack of response to the ad. Another would have been that I hadn’t visited the dress section in months.

Publishers should keep a behavioral profile of customers that shows their evolution. Most engagements last 14 months and follow a similar purchase path, from bridal dress to honeymoons. Publishers should segment groups and offer those segments to advertisers for behavioral targeting. They should continue to update these segments based on timing and new behavior patterns.

In my consumer and marketer experiences, we throw behavioral targeting out there and hope for the best. We must collectively start compiling best practices by category and applying planning principals and technology around them to garner the best results. This type of collaboration is the only way we’re going to get consumers to say, “I do.”

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