One of the most talked-about trends in online advertising today is how agencies should embrace behavioral targeting in the media buy. However, the truth is that most advertisers are just getting started with the practice; there remains a lot of skepticism about how accurately different networks' platforms perform. You can choose to continue to bicker about who is doing what right, or you can run a few trials yourself to see.
So, if you're one of those marketers who wants to jump on the bandwagon (and I encourage you to do so), then there are a few places to begin. For the purposes of this article, I am starting with the basics.
Be clear about your campaign goals
This seems like it should go without saying, but you have to decide early on if you want to create awareness for a product or drive immediate sales. Behavioral targeting can be used for both, but by first understanding the difference between the aforementioned, your strategy will greatly change. Your creative will also differ depending on which objective you have.
For example, to introduce a new product within a new, unproven product category (aka create awareness), you may focus on a broad range of people who have spent a significant amount of time doing research within a similar category. Or, you might choose people whom you deem fit well on a demographic level. You may show ads in a sequence to the same person to help him or her see how this product might fit into his or her life. But if you are selling a follow-on product and taking a direct marketing approach, such as an accessory to a mobile phone, you can have a tighter focus on people who have likely made a phone purchase within the last few days; your creative can also be straight to the point.
One of the most underused assets is a company's own customer data. Either the company thinks it is too difficult to access and crunch, or if it is available, it is on the marketing department's back-burner -- to be dealt with later. This information is one of the best places to start when making decisions about how you're going to jump into any new advertising initiatives, not to mention behavioral targeting. This is the place where, beyond the demographics, you can gather purchase history, time-to-purchase, hopefully how/where they purchased and more. If you're not spending much time with your customer data, this is where you need to start.
Know the decision-making window for your product
Different products require different levels of research by the consumer. You're going to want to know how much time to allow between a consumer doing a particular behavior that indicates interest and the time where he or she has likely made a purchase. Again, this window is dependent on your campaign goals, but you should be prepared with some information (and you should test).
Get to know search, both internal and external
What terms are people searching to get to your site? What do they do after they arrive? And, what terms are driving traffic to your competitors' sites? What are their traffic patterns like? Knowing the answers to these questions will likely change your ad messaging; it will also help you discover opportunities that you may not have previously considered.
Don't limit a conversion to a purchase
Get to know the value of different activities on your site and the long-term impact those behaviors have on your customers. For example, there is still value to people who don't buy online, but who perform a location search to find an offline retailer where they can purchase your product. It may be a reduced value, but you still have someone who is an interested consumer. Get to know the path that those people have taken and consider reaching out to them using the appropriate creative to meet their needs, but recognize that you may not be willing to spend as much to reach them.
Narrow too much and you lose reach
From past experience, I know one tempting mistake to make is identifying the sweetest possible profile for a target and then only serving ads designed for them. When those of us in the agency world write our creative briefs, we try to be as descriptive as we can about our target -- narrowing the target down to a living, breathing person. The trouble with this approach is the description is of a bulls-eye target; it doesn't recognize the desired behaviors of all the potential audience. The target doesn't actually exist, or at least not in the numbers necessary to produce a sizeable enough media-buy (or to hit our sales numbers, to look at it from another perspective).
If you pare things back too much, you both miss out on opportunities with the target you want to hit, and you don't hit the numbers you need in order to be successful.
There is so much for all of us to learn within this concept of behavioral targeting. The buzz has probably hit the crescendo and now agencies and advertisers will truly vet the providers out there. If you jump into the game as best prepared as you can be, by understanding your customers' behaviors beyond the creative brief, you stand a good chance of being successful right out of the gate.
Reid Carr is president, Red Door Interactive.