Understanding Behavior: Know What You Target

Most psychologists would agree “behavior” is defined as all the physical and mental acts humans perform. Behaviors are learned. Most are learned as functions of events within a specific environment. For example, adaptive behaviors are the result of learning appropriate responses to various stimuli in the environment.

How does this academic exploration relate to behavioral targeting online? Both in no way and in every way.

In no way because it’s not directly related to online. It doesn’t provide a planner with a manual to create a better behaviorally targeted campaign using Tacoda or Revenue Science. Understanding behavioral development and formation won’t guarantee better performance for planned campaigns, and it definitely can’t promise easier planning cycles and processes.

Meanwhile, this works every way, because an in-depth understanding of consumer behavior is instrumental toward identifying the right steps to establish connections with attention-deprived, contemporary consumers.

As behavior becomes increasingly important in marketing segmentation and strategy development, planners must be equipped with a holistic understanding of consumer behavior that embodies the scientific comprehension of human psychology and modern-day technological advancements to deliver communication excellence.

Learning as the Genesis

For many years, the communications industry has been anticipating the collapse of the stimulus-response marketing model (Prof. Don Schultz, legendary author and consultant, first stated this back in 2004). Its modern-day successor, cognitive psychology marketing, is likely to become the dominant, and more effective, method to foster relationships between brand and consumers today.

Cognitive marketing recognizes the changing dynamics of communication and addresses the antiquated method of linear dialogue with bidirectional and interactive conversation. Different from stimulus-response, it understands knowledge is neither fed nor acquired but is synthesized and created. To effectively learn, individuals must interpret the knowledge and create meaning for themselves to make information relevant and personal.

If behavior is learnable, creating an effective process of learning should be a pillar of marketing communications planning. Regardless of a campaign’s objective, whether awareness, branding, or direct response, all campaigns are meant to deliver information (i.e., messaging) to the target audience so individuals are aware of the product/services/brand value the communication is tasked to convey.

Interaction as the Primer

To create a two-way conversation, both parties must react and respond to each other. This effectively means for them to create an effective learning experience, initial and continuously sustained interaction between both parties is absolutely required.

It’s important to point out that from a scientific perspective, there are two fundamental pillars to the human learning process: schema acquisition and automation.

Schemas can be defined as general knowledge structures that encapsulate numerous elements of information into a single element and are organized into a manner that can be widely used. In marketing terms, this can be loosely interpreted as advertising’s “message.”

Automation is the transfer of schematic knowledge from consciously controlled to automatic processing. This automated processing is crucial to the speed of learning, as automation ultimately reduces the effort required to acquire new information.

A successful learning experience, or effective schema acquisition and automation, has less to do with how many learning channels you have (e.g., mobile, online, print, TV, etc.) and more to do with how much the channels interact with one another (e.g., how integrated and connected the online messaging is to offline and others).

What Does This Mean for Online Media?

Behavioral targeting is now a hot topic discussed in nearly every online media conference. It doesn’t take a business intelligence director to know it has reached the tipping point in the industry and its adoption rate (or at least consideration) in planning has increased significantly in the past year.

Yet to truly leverage the insights behavioral targeting can achieve (from both a site-side analytics and a front-end marketing perspective), planners must achieve a holistic understanding of what behaviors are, from both scientific and technological perspectives, to develop sophisticated strategies for clients.

The changing media landscape and changes in media consumption have redefined the art and science of media planning. As consumer behaviors become more complex, the rules of the game will (and have!) constantly change at a rate that’s difficult for marketers to keep up with.

Currently, online is the most interactive medium, but its interactive superiority won’t last forever once other channels also become digital and interactive. This means going beyond the traditional premises of media planning (i.e., reach and frequency within a medium) is no longer a choice. Transitioning into much more target-centric communications planning, with a channel-agnostic approach, is an absolute necessity in driving innovation and positioning.

As marketing becomes closely aligned with the cognitive model, media planning must morph itself into communications planning to effectively create and shape a behavior rather than reacting to it.

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