Monday, 14 May 2007

Behavioral Targeting & Jean Cocteau

What on earth does Jean Cocteau have to do with behavioral targeting? Read on.

As the founder of my company, Lester Wunderman says – the beauty of the Internet is that it connects advertisers with customers directly – evolving targeting techniques are making this more of a reality day by day. I spent a few days recently at ad:tech in San Francisco. In all, I attended 8 or nine panel discussions on various topics around marketing in the online world. The one theme that kept coming back to the surface was that of behavioral targeting. As defined by Wikipedia:

Behavioral Targeting is a technique used by online publishers and advertisers to increase the effectiveness of their campaigns. The idea is to observe a user’s online behavior anonymously and then serve the most relevant advertisement based on their behavior. Theoretically, this helps advertisers deliver their online advertisement to the users who are most likely to be influenced by them.

To underline this, consider the difference between behavioral and contextual targeting - Behavioral considers how someone acts not just once but over an extended period of time and, as such requires a collection of data and the construction of a progressive profile based on that activity. Contextual targeting on the other hand involves showing someone an ad that is relevant to what that person is doing at that point in time. This is the way Google’s Adsense product works – it displays an ad relevant to the page on which you find yourself with no regard to where you came from. In a straight comparison to search data – and what John Battelle famously called “the database of intentions”, behavioral targeting by its very nature creates a database of attentions…which we can interrogate to help us uncover our prospective customers’ mindset and motivations and therefore engage with them in a relevant and meaningful way.
Within behavioral targeting itself there are two possible approaches; extended content targeting - an advertiser will be targeting a prospect who has looked at a particular type of content (i.e. a review of the latest Ford crossover vehicle) by presenting an ad to that person when she on a different type of content (i.e. a banner for the Ford Edge on the New York Times site). The second type, purchase intent targeting, - more truly behavioral, used when an advertiser identifies somebody within a purchase cycle. They are looking for someone who is actually researching a product or talking about buying. Think of this as climbing the sales funnel to identify prospects as they approach the point of purchase. This is an interesting way to take advantage of a much broader reach, because sites like automotive are quickly out of inventory.

Understandably, there are privacy concerns around doing this type of targeting. The industry is trying to minimize such concerns through education, advocacy & product constraints to keep all data collected non-personally identifiable.
Furthermore, overlaying behavioral targeting with other types of segmentation could be problematic – if you have a specific demographic or geo that you want to focus on, then you could seriously limit your exposure. Another possible weakness is around working out what content should be targeted - Because I read an article about driving in the Swiss Alps, is that an indicator of my desire to visit Switzerland or to buy a car? And how should similar content on different websites be categorized? Does it mean the same thing if I read an article about crossover vehicles on as it does when I read a similar article on the New York Times site?

All of this brings me back to the second part of the title – Jean Cocteau the French poet and sometime Boxing manager once said:
“Les miroirs devraient réfléchir plus longtemps avant de renvoyer les images “
(Mirrors should reflect longer before returning our images). The quote seems perfectly appropriate for the future of behavioral targeting as a discipline and the way advertisers should approach using it…..


Trevor Attridge said...

People will surrender relevant and valuable information about themselves so long as there is a benefit involved in this and future engagements – they also have to trust it will not be passed to third parties, it moves us towards profile based marketing – with us the buyer , storing a central profile containing such items as phone contracts, home and car insurance – items which have a regular renewal cycle. These then are triggered into the correct buying aggregators / bid systems to automatically each year , at the right time , go and seek offers on my behalf.

We have two offers here, the maximisation of the here and now web browser, through Behavioural Taregting we as marketers can ensure relevance and context to the more present interest of people, gaining and improved response and user satisfaction, combined with offered information from the buyers ensuring each web engagement is a profitable one ( hopefully leaving more time for the higher value items to be investigated )

A classic example of how not to go about this task would be the recent incident involving AOL , which not only directly impacted the companies reputation and carriers of senior people within the group, but the inference of Google’s business practises came into question.

Google example taken from Guardian :

Gmail is indexed, your searches are indexed, if you have blog – again this is tied back and indexed to you – Google talk and also the ability to show people what music you are playing – therefore activities which are not directly linked to your interactions within the Google realm. This combined with behavioural information from your previous current web engagements makes for an extremely compelling profiling analysis to take place which is completely natural and unbiased in its results.

If users are asked a subset of questions in a structured manner, most will lie in some fashion , or fit the answers to how they think they should be answered – the old adage of actions speak louder than words relay comes into play here.

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