What Is Behavioral Targeting – And What It Is Not

There’s no question that the behavioral targeting evolution has spawned questions about what it can and cannot do from an advertising perspective. And there’s no question that marketers of all types and sizes are definitely sitting up and taking notice. According to eMarketer, online advertising spending for behavioral targeting will grow by 21.6 percent this year from last, and continue the growth trend with 20 percent plus growth every year until 2014.

With the rise in popularity, there are a lot of questions about behavioral targeting – specifically, its efficacy. Following is a guide that will help you recognize this practice and what it isn’t.

It Isn’t the Same on Every Publisher or Network

While many networks and publishers offer behavioral targeting, not all follow the same methodology. Points of differentiation when comparing networks or publishers include:

  1. How do they collect cookies, and what are the parameters for collecting them regarding technology?
  2. What is the time frame of the cookies used, and how many user actions must be required for defined targeting parameters?
  3. What is their methodology for putting users in segments (i.e., Web sites visited, categories of Web sites visited, content read or clicked on, ad interaction, IP properties, or search behavior)?
  4. What type of segmenting do they use and can they create custom audience segments? Can these be optimized and changed once the campaign launches?
  5. What is their privacy policy for collecting these cookies and compliance terms?

Asking the right questions is only part of the process that can help you determine whether behavioral targeting is appropriate. Testing the platform is also important. As an example, while targeting gardening enthusiasts may not work on one platform, it does not necessarily mean it is not going to work on another platform. A good rule of thumb is to try different types of behavioral targeting on at least three publishers before throwing in the towel.

Additionally, while for some clients it typically does not ever work, I like to revisit behavioral targeting options at least annually as it is continually evolving and changing on different platforms.

It Isn’t the Same as it Once Was

If your attempts at behavioral targeting were previously unsuccessful, there are some changes to standard behavioral targeting you may want to consider when selecting a partner. For example, some behavioral targeting allows you to go beyond online capabilities, and links to offline spending habits through credit companies. American Express offers this through tying online purchasing habits to card members using the online platform, allowing furniture advertisers to target those with high spending habits with home improvement stores.

The Answer to All of Your Targeting Needs

Behavioral targeting is an excellent way to layer relevancy through targeting based on consumer past behaviors, but it is not the only option. Marketers should understand how properties behaviorally target since assumptions can lead to opportunities missed.

Retargeting can create opportunities to identify consumer receptivity on more precise options that can help feed into creating custom segments. For example, search retargeting may help better segment a behaviorally targeted segment into two custom segments if the product or offer is very niche. Additional types of targeting to consider include: geographic, demographic, dynamic, contextual, and retargeting.

A Tool Developed by Agencies

It must be the sheer novice of some marketers within the online space; however, I have personally witnessed a great deal of curiosity when it comes to agencies’ models for behavioral targeting. While agencies have access to additional resources and tools aiding insight into their target and behaviors, it is the publishing platforms and technology holding the power for this.

Custom segments can be developed and brand Web sites can use the technology on their Web sites to harvest additional data; however, those at the forefront of providing this are still the networks and publishers that own the technology.

Overall, behavioral targeting is an online media tactic that many marketers have found successfully meets their metric objectives. With its projected growth, it is important to be aware of the platform behind it, the methodology, how to incorporate it into your media plan, and perhaps most importantly, what it is not.

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