What Parents Know About Behavioral Targeting

As I dropped two kids off at college recently, it occurred to me parents should be natural, intuitive behavioral marketers. If you boil the process down to watching behaviors, predicting and responding to behaviors, and anticipating needs, I have almost 20 years experience. Pre-Internet, pre-technology, hey, for some of us even pre-personal computers — we parents have this process down pat.

I turned to renowned child-rearing expert Dr. Spock to see what guidance he might provide for those of us brushing up on our behavioral marketing skills. The key messages I got from my quick refresher course in child rearing can readily be applied to most of life’s challenges, but they’re particularly adaptable to the strategic planning of behavioral marketing programs. I took just a few of Dr. Spock’s gems of wisdom and considered how they might be applied in our behavioral marketing context, and I learned a few things.

Trust Yourself and Your Children
You know more than you think you do

There are no clear-cut rules in life — or in marketing. Using a healthy dose of common sense, most of us raise our children by responding to their responses. You learn as you go along that little Johnny loves applesauce but tends to throw the kind with strawberries in it. You have established preferences by watching and learning. If you’re smart and prefer a clean kitchen, you adjust your offerings to match your audience’s tastes. I’m sure it was a shock the first time Johnny rejected the applesauce with strawberries. You thought he might like it because he likes both applesauce and strawberries, a logical test that yielded actionable information.

Interestingly, Dr. Spock points out children learn from both what parents do and don’t do. If you don’t pick up a baby every time she cries, she learns to soothe herself. If you don’t supply your customers with the relevant information or products they crave, they’ll go elsewhere.

Learning from successes and mistakes is how people grow and how marketing programs are optimized. In business we’re often rewarded for innovative thinking. Most often, the desired outcome is the result of constant incremental improvements — baby steps, if you will. You wouldn’t expect a baby to move successfully from a crawl to a four-minute mile in one giant leap.

Likewise, we would be well advised to use time wisely to monitor program performance and track results that trend positively. Building on that knowledge, you can challenge your behavioral targeting partners to continue to innovate and create strategies that drive performance.

Raising Children in a Changing World
The key to success is flexibility

We humans are amazingly adaptable creatures. If programs aren’t as adaptable as the audience they seek to service, they’re doomed to failure.

Customer needs change along with a myriad of dimensions, including year, season, competitive set, technology advances, disposable income, and influence of the popular press or an acquaintance. There are a thousand things we can’t hope to know or incorporate into our programming. What we can do is respond to needs we can observe without irrationally clinging to old information.

Sue used to prefer sweet little dresses to wear to school every day. You may have a closet full of them. Some may even still fit, but she’s outgrown them and now prefers the latest velour sweat suits that allow her to make a fashion statement on the playground. If you continue to bring home frilly dresses, she’ll continue to reject them and wonder why you’re so dense.

A healthy respect for historical data and its uses is positive, however the lifespan of valuable data as it relates to customers is very short. Clinging to old information and not challenging the status quo hurts a program. Even if the program is performing within ROI (define) goals, there’s an opportunity cost to complacency. How much better could it do if actively managed?

It’s critical to maintain tight control of programs and make regular, in-campaign adjustments. The environment isn’t static, so campaigns and budgets require fluidity as well. Luckily, available technology allows us to consistently test elements of a campaign with a small portion of the budget to get a quick read on positive changes we can make.

Customers Are Not Children

None of this is meant to suggest you should treat your customers like children. However, if you use common sense and heighten your attention to customers’ responses, you’ll have a stronger connection with them. Hey, they might even come home for the holidays.

For those looking for further guidance, here’s the source: “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care.”

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