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4 Ways to Make BT Better

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Let's start with the two following contradictory statements:



  • Behavioral Targeting is the future of online media

  • Behavioral Targeting is a load of hype

Behavioral Targeting (BT) is a load of hype. Like so many internet businesses, BT has been horribly over-promised and chronically under-delivered.


On the other hand, without question BT is the future of online media. We know that consumers like relevant ads:






































Would you be more inclined to click on a banner ad if the product/service was more relevant to your area of interests or needs? Freq Pct %
Absolutely yes 132 12%
Most likely yes 425 40%
Unsure 210 20%
Most likely no 167 16%
Absolutely no 136 13%
Total 1070 100%
Source: “Understanding America’s Perception of Internet Advertising and Consumer Privacy,” conducted by Revenue Science, Chapell & Associates, and the Ponemon Institute (2004).


The trick is to provide more of them.


From Bob Garfield’s Jetsonian world of the future, to Lorraine Ross of USA Today’s program for dynamically serving web pages, marketers increasingly recognize BT as a terrific way to reach that elusive customer at the right place and the right time.


For consumers, it's all about privacy. On the advertising side, it's all about scale.


What needs to happen for BT to take off as promised? Keep reading to find out

We need to make sure that our houses are in order. Is yours? Ask yourself these questions:



  • Do you always know exactly where your ads are being served?

  • Are your publishers accurately conveying the privacy practices on their websites?

  • Are you vetting, monitoring and auditing the intermediaries between you and those publishers?

  • Is your privacy policy accurate?

You must have the right answers to these questions-- just look at the recent lawsuits coming out of the New York Attorney General's office and the H.R. 29 legislation and you'll see why.


It's not just what YOUR company is doing
Legally speaking, the "agency theory" of liability is catching on.


Having your own dirty house can invite government regulation, but so can a failure to adequately vet, control and audit your business partners.


So it’s not just a question of what your company is doing, it’s about what your company and your partners up and down the chain are doing. You've got to:



  • Know how your partner represents your company

  • Review your partners' privacy policies

  • Know what's going on behind the scenes with your partners-- what, for example, do they do with cookies?

Who really cares about this?
Lots of people, including consumer watchdog groups, anti-Spyware companies and the Walt Mossbergs of the world.


We need a clear and effective way to provide consumers with notice. Your privacy policy (in tiny print, in an obscure corner of your website) isn't enough.


Why not?



  • Most consumers aren’t reading privacy policies

  • This means that we aren’t really providing consumers with effective notice

  • Cookies don't have any mechanism for providing notice

  • Consumer advocates don't accept the privacy policy as sufficient notice

Why is this a problem?
For BT to grow and scale, marketers are going to need even more information about consumers, but we can’t get this information without letting consumers know.


Who is doing it right? Believe it or not...
Adware. Despite past transgressions, right now the companies in the downloadable software space are in the best position to provide consumers with the necessary level of notice-- you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.

After notice, we need to give consumers control. Right now, only one company is doing this well-- mSpoke, out of Pittsburgh, PA, and they may be onto something.


Let's say a consumer visits websites in these categories:



  • Electronics

  • Automotive

  • Travel

As users click around, mSpoke allows them to view and edit their content and ad preferences, and this builds consumer control and engagement.


mSpoke calls these preferences "memes,” and -- just as with Richard Dawkins’ original idea of memes as socially adaptable traits -- what helps the user sticks around, and what doesn’t is removed.


Take a look at this diagram of how consumer control works:



It's a great concept. But the real question is...


Does this even matter to consumers? Yes.
Why? Because simply offering this type of control does a lot to take the wind out of the sails of those who compare cookies to Spyware.

While launching a BT campaign has gotten simpler, some of the questions addressed in this piece may only serve to make BT more challenging.


And there will be other difficulties to surmount as we look to the future, including:



  • How many different versions of each creative are needed for each campaign?

  • How can advertisers compare different audience segments from different BT companies?

  • What happens as BT is increasingly combined with contextual targeting?

  • Can we add the social networking sites to the BT mix?

Quite simply, BT needs to get a lot easier for advertisers if it's going to grow


As advertisers look at the complete ROI for BT, they need to factor in the time and energy needed to get these campaigns off the ground.

Nothing in this article should suggest that BT doesn't deliver value-- it clearly does. As things stand, however, we are barely scratching the surface of that value.


The only way for BT to truly begin to deliver on its promise is to scale. Some companies in this space are expanding into new markets, but BT needs vertical instead of horizontal scale to really move the needle in terms of relevance.


One way to acquire more data is through third-party data sharing relationships. This is fairly commonplace in the offline DM world, but hasn’t gained a ton of traction in online circles-- yet. But for data sharing to work, we need to see some changes to the way online publishers view their inventory.

Nanette is iMedia Communications' executive editor.   In addition to her roles at iMedia, Nanette has served as a specialist in content marketing, editorial content, public relations and social media for various clients. She's contributed to...

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