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Behavioral Targeting 101

Russell Shaw
Behavioral Targeting 101 Russell Shaw

"It were a journey like the path to heaven, to help you find them," the great English poet John Milton wrote in 1634.

Now, in 2004, a number of behavioral targeting infrastructure and software companies are on a journey to help advertisers find "them" -- potential customers whose Web-surfing patterns and behavior indicate a willingness to be receptive to customized offerings for their products and services.

"You have to think about where all this starts. It is about giving the consumer as much relevant advertising as you can, via addressable mediums," says Dave Hills, president of media solutions for 24/7 Real Media.

"In behavioral targeting, the most important issue is starting with the right data," says Dave Morgan, CEO of Tacoda Systems. "There is a hypothesis of what are the 10 to 15 available data points you can use that can significantly impact the value of an audience member. It is not about data mining, or amassing data, but on focusing a collection of high-value data points."

The key, then, is finding these high-value data points. The overriding and proven assumption here is that what pages Web site visitors click on and where they go from those pages indicates at least a presumptive interest in buying products related to the topics that they click on. For example, repeat visits to a Web page with reviews of sport utility vehicles, coupled with a cruise to the automotive section of classified ads on a site, clearly indicate at least a curiosity about SUVs.

Now, let us suppose that same visitor is also going to pages where she clicks through to an online book seller to a book about how to help your child adjust to kindergarten. Behavioral targeting specialists may look at this data and start to conclude that the site visitor is looking for an SUV to fit the transportation needs of her growing brood.

Often, this information is not just gleaned from one visit, but repeat visits over time. Perhaps on the first few visits to a newspaper site, most clicks are to articles about SUVs. On the second visit, or maybe the third, the articles are revisited, but the customer also clicks on the automotive ads. It does not take a degree in rocket science (or in marketing, for that matter) to recognize the likelihood the customer is on a likely trajectory from "investigate" to "purchase."

"We have learned there's no question that quantifying the quality and acceleration of surfing habits can be a significant indicator of purchasing intent," says Morgan.

A Dallas Mitsubishi car dealer used contextual advertising within the automotive section of DallasNews.com to deliver targeted banners to consumers. The newspaper served the same ads, which appeared in the summer of 2003, when visitors returned to DallasNews.com even if they were outside the automotive area. The dealer used Tacoda's Systems' Audience Management System targeting capabilities to reach visitors whose prior actions suggested a keen interest in the advertiser's message.

Belo Interactive, which oversees DallasNews.com, reported that the response rate among the target audience was 7.7 percent as compared to the national average of 0.33 percent. These ads played a part in doubling the number of credit applications the dealership received, and increased the number of online searches by 17 percent. The DallasNews.com campaign generated 44 percent of the total phone calls into the dealership, at a time when several other automotive promotions were running in other media.

The world of online news is fertile ground for behavioral targeting solution providers. Tacoda, for example, works with USAToday.com, Tribune Interactive, Advance Internet and Weather.com.

It has a lot to do with the nature of dead-tree newspapers and their online counterparts as gatherers of timely information meant to serve readers with a collective trove of interests, concerns and hobbies. Plus, the nature of the news is that it frequently changes, a dynamic process in which new pages of at least presumptive interest get posted all the time.

"A lot of inventory is available for newspaper online publishers," says Brian Handly, CEO of Accipter Solutions, Inc., based in Raleigh, NC. Also the broad scope of categories -- sports, business finance, even the classified section -- and the ways in which the user goes to the local level, shows that they are interested in finding these people."

Tomorrow: What differentiates companies in this space.

You have no agenda

People -- especially people in this godforsaken business -- are busy. We all have a mountain of work to do, and meetings take us away from doing that work. That being the case, those meetings had better be worthwhile because their very existence makes the rest of our day harder.

If you plan a meeting and it's not worthwhile, the people in it will hate you. And if you don't have an agenda, you're running the risk of running a worthless meeting.

Agendas don't have to be complex. You should have an objective, and you should have a plan. Sure, nicely formatted agendas in the company template that list all of the attendees and have to-the-minute time allocations delineated for each bullet item are nice to have. But what really matters is that you know what you want to achieve and that you have some sort of plan for how you'll achieve it.

Sound like a chore? Sound like something you don't have time for? Well, you can spend a few minutes of your time preparing an agenda, or you can waste an hour of theirs. That's your choice. And when you look at it that way, they should hate you if you don't show up prepared.

You talk at them (not with them)

It's very good of you to be prepared. It's very professional of you.

But be careful you don't prepare so much that you turn yourself into a robot delivering a script.

Too often, people come into my office to give a presentation. They have their slides. They know the words that they're supposed to say on each one. And they hurl them at me. Like rocks.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

I'm a person. Talk with me, not at me. Look at my eyes. Am I engaged? Am I interested? Is what you're saying even relevant to me?

The first step in communicating is listening. Make sure that you bring your ears to the conversation. Nobody enjoys a monologue.

You barrage them with data

People in this business love statistics. They also love to show they did their homework.

The result is an industry-wide pandemic of PowerPoint slides crammed from top to bottom with numbers, percentages, facts, figures, and stats -- and communicating nothing.

I know you work hard on your slides. Don't you want people to remember them? The way to do that is to communicate one idea on each slide. You want to support it with multiple data points? Great. Use three.

But realize that as soon as you start putting a laundry list in front of a people, they don't see your lovely blouse; they don't see your cool new jeans. All they see is a pile of dirty laundry.

You're overly familiar

All good salespeople know that relationships are priceless. They are worth investing in. They are critical to success.

It's not what you know; it's who you know.

So, I appreciate that you want to have a relationship by the end of this meeting. But don't confuse that with us already having one.

It's just icky. It turns people off, and if you cross that line too early, there's no turning back.

That is not to say that love at first sight does not happen in business. Just last week, I had a meeting with a potential new client. Right away, we knew we were cut of the same cloth. I instinctively knew that not only could I be myself, but that I could be the myself I am with my buddies. Within 10 minutes, I was dropping f-bombs all over the place.

But that's rare. If you are wondering if you're crossing boundaries, ask yourself if this is something that's been happening a lot lately.

If the answer is yes, tone it down.

You look at your phone, not at them

Really?!?! You're looking at your phone? I'm sitting here. I'm talking.

Do I bore you?

Am I an insignificant speck on your radar of self-imposed magnificence?

Can you simply not control yourself?

Of course I hate being in this meeting with you.

You talk over people

I have to admit -- I have been so guilty of this one so many times.

There's an irony to business. If you're to succeed, you want to find smart, creative, passionate people.

The problem with many smart, creative, passionate people, however, is that they just can't wait to share their brilliant ideas with everyone else in the room. They have an answer to every question. They have a hammer for every nail.

Sadly, that's often at the expense of everyone else in the room.

But this is a meeting. People -- multiple people -- have come here to meet.

Sometimes, the question isn't yours to answer -- even if you have a terrific response in your head. Sometimes, the other guy's contribution to the brainstorm needs to be considered before you toss another iron into the fire. Sometimes, you don't have complete information, but you would if you'd just shut up for a second.

Let other people talk. Or don't be surprised that they hate sitting across from you.

You talk just to show that you have value (even when you don't)

There is a word for people who do this. It's called being a blowhard. I think it comes from the notion that one constantly feels the need to try really hard to blow some proof of the value of his existence out of his mouth.

The problem with blowhards is that they often prove the exact opposite.

There's a fine line. When you speak not to add value, but to show you add value, you're probably not adding value.

What's more, what you're doing is transparent -- whether the others in the room call you on it or not. And they're irritated as hell.

Adam Kleinberg is CEO of Traction.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"Angry business man" image via Shutterstock.


to leave comments.

Commenter: neal lasta

2010, May 25

Hi! You made a very nice point about the nature of dead tree newspapers and how, with respect to advertising, they are inferior to behavioral targeting employed by online advertising.

May I add that another reason why behavioral targeting is superior is because it is aimed at finding potential customers and presenting your product instead of waiting for them to stumble upon you. This just reminds me of the article http://behavioraltargeting.biz/target-marketing/