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Don't Make these BT Mistakes

Behavioral targeting (BT) can be a powerful marketing tool, but according to two industry leaders, it's not always used wisely or well. Fortunately, they not only shared the biggest mistakes marketers make in using BT, but suggested ways to fix them.

Mistake #1: Starting with potential rather than results.
The point of behavioral targeting is to determine your most likely responders. Many marketers assume they can do this by extrapolating from past behavior. As [x+1] president and founder Joe Zawadzki points out, though, a prospective buyer's behavior is only predictive if it correlates to the behavior of someone who's already done what you're targeting.

If you're a car maker, for example, it's easy to buy a list of people who have recently visited the New York Times automotive section and the Kelley Blue Book site. That may pinpoint people who are shopping for a new car -- but, he says, "That doesn't say anything about whether they're a prospective buyer of your car."

Fix it:
Figure out who your target audience is, then use BT to determine how to reach it through their other online activities. If you can get your media providers to sell you custom segments and custom behavior groups, Zawadzki says, data mining and analysis will reveal the needles in the haystack -- the people in your audience who have already done what you want your audience to do, such as buying a specific car. Then you can use their other behaviors to predict where other people likely to buy that car are spending their online time.

Mistake #2: Treating BT as a niche.
Many marketers believe BT is only about direct response, and they use it only with one creative, says Larry Allen, senior VP of marketing and business development for TACODA. As a result, they make it only a limited subset of their ad buy, and they don't infuse what they've learned about customer behavior into the rest of the campaign.

Fix it:
Leverage multiple creatives to elicit an audience reaction by matching message to audience, Allen says: "For the first time, it's possible to match the two, giving marketers a reach vehicle with audience targeting driving awareness and response simultaneously."

For example, these practices can spread BT across your online campaign:

  • Serve ads to repeat visitors to your site that acknowledge their previous visits.

  • Approach past customers with a special offer to lure them back.

  • Give current customers added value, like online check-in for a hotel or free shipping for a frequent buyer.

  • Lure visitors who have failed to respond to repeated ads by serving them an especially strong exclusive offer, like a significant discount.

  • Create ads to reflect the other interests of specific subsets of your audience. If a significant percentage of your site traffic also visits music sites, for example, serve them music-themed ads.

Mistake #3: Overpaying for BT.
Of course, it's possible to spend only a 10th (or less) of your budget on BT because you underestimate BT's usefulness. However, it's also possible that you're still not getting your money's worth.

Fix it:
Though it may seem obvious, it bears repeating: metrics, metrics, metrics. Create them, use them rigorously, and pay attention to the results to make sure the cost of targeting is less than the value it drives.

"Sometimes the notion that a campaign is behaviorally targeted is presented as a silver bullet worth a higher price," Zawadzki says. "If it's going to cost you five times as much, you had better get five times the return."

Fawn Fitter is a freelance writer. .

A full-time freelancer since 1990, Fawn co-authored the first book about depression in the workplace and has written hundreds of articles for a broad range of media. Her work has appeared in women's magazines including American Baby, Marie Claire,...

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