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Think you’re ready for behavioral targeting? Think again. First consider these five important questions.

Posted by Mort Greenberg on March 26, 2008


Published: March 26 2008
The essential targeting starter kit
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The industry is abuzz with behavioral targeting, as even the most mainstream business publications begin exploring what it means for marketers. According to its supporters, BT is all about targeting the right advertising to the right user at the right time — and voila! Everyone’s online marketing problems are solved.

Anatoly Roytman is vice president of marketing strategy at Sapient Interactive.

Not so fast. Before we all rush headlong into this trend, we need to step back and define what behavioral targeting really means (hint: there’s more to it than just search marketing and display ads.) True BT is about delivering holistic, targeted experiences based on a person’s behavior. And therein lies the opportunity and challenge.

To many of us, this all feels a little familiar. Remember what happened with CRM? Companies dove into major initiatives designed to deliver the right offer to the right customer through the right channel. But somehow, CRM never lived up to its potential and left quite a few angry companies in its wake.

How can we make sure behavioral targeting actually succeeds? By taking the time to understand what’s really involved and what’s needed to deliver the kind of targeted experience that engages customers and drives the conversion cycle to improve revenue and market share.

So before you take the behavioral targeting plunge, take a moment to think through five essential questions. Your answers will help you make it a practical, strategic advantage for your organization — not just another hollow buzzword.

Author notes: Paige Mantel is vice president of product marketing at Interwoven. Read full bio. Anatoly Roytman is vice president of marketing strategy at Sapient Interactive. Read full bio.

The essence of behavioral targeting is seeing things from the customer’s perspective. What are they hoping to achieve online? What are they looking for? Which information and offers will be most useful to them? To get these questions right, make sure your customer has a seat at the table. Appoint a customer advocate tasked with evaluating every aspect of the experience you deliver through the customer’s eyes, and give the person the authority to demand better when you’re falling short.

When each channel, agency, and sales and marketing team operates independently, you end up with a customer experience that’s less than the sum of its parts: individually targeted elements that add up to a disjointed mess. Targeted ads lead to generic website content. Clickstream data and account history records remain in separate silos.

Take the example of one large financial services firm. The company’s marketing campaigns have won accolades for their design and execution. Closer inspection, though, reveals that customers are constantly bombarded with mail and email from the firm’s marketing, sales, services and operations business units — anywhere from 20 to 100 communications in a short time period, including both regulated mandatory messaging and marketing. Sure, each message was beautifully (and expensively) designed, but most of the marketing pieces were not particularly relevant to the recipient, and the overall volume made for the kind of annoying, overwhelming customer experience we’re all too familiar with (“not you again!”).

Now put a customer advocate on the case. The advocate analyzes the firm’s communications from the perspective of a specific customer segment, assesses the relevancy of the marketing messages being considered and recommends that regulatory communications be bundled wherever possible. The firm lowers communication costs (fewer pieces, fewer mailings), improves marketing (better targeting) and fundamentally and continuously improves customer experience.

When users see that a brand is tailoring information to meet their needs, an expectation is set. They think: “If you’re offering me relevant content here in this display ad, I assume you’ll continue to do so once I get to your website.” Customers think and feel in terms of experiences — not fleeting impressions — and you should, too. Think about the promise of the brand; should your customers’ experience stop after they’ve seen your advertisement?

Let’s say you’ve invested in targeted, rich media advertising on Facebook to attract twentysomething males. They click on your ad — and land on the same all-purpose landing page as your ads targeting “tween” girls and middle-aged parents. That initial “hmm” quickly turns into an “eh,” and the young men you worked so hard to attract are long gone. 

Once again, it comes back to focusing on the customer’s perspective. Approach each ad as the beginning of a conversation, and think through everything that follows — the landing page the ad leads potential customers to, the content and offers they’ll reach from that page, the design context in which it all takes place — to make sure every aspect of the experience leads them one step closer to a sale.

Once you’ve designed the experience you want to provide, you’ll need three things to deliver it:

  • Accurate customer data — not just a few user clicks on your site but information from the site or ad that refers to the customers, keywords they searched, geographic locations or other “implicit” information. Better yet, if a visitor is already your customer, cross-reference the “explicit” information you have about him. The more you know about the people you’re trying to engage in a conversation, the more effectively you can segment your traffic.
  • Business rules to define each customer segment based on the available data and to determine how each should be treated and “spoken to.”
  • Offers, information and other creative materials targeted to each of these segments, applied consistently through every customer touchpoint.

A third of these elements are all too often neglected, whether due to out-of-sync business analysts and creatives, lack of coordination between advertising and web agencies or a simple lack of foresight.

The experience of Celebrity Cruises illustrates the value of having actionable offers ready to go for every audience segment. To better target its marketing, the cruise line defined relevant offers for each of its key customer segments.

Content from existing marketing materials was broken down into granular components, allowing marketers to quickly assemble communications to match the specific needs of each customer coordinated across direct mail, email and the website. The outcome: improved customer satisfaction, increased cross-selling and up-selling and reduced communications costs.

With markets and trends moving faster every day, speed is of the essence for interactive marketers. All the strategic insight, customer data and creative brilliance in the world can’t help you if your marketing organization is hobbled by reliance on snail’s-pace IT processes. If you can’t generate and deploy the targeted content you need, when you need it, and apply it consistently across all of your marketing channels, all your best intentions for behavioral targeting won’t save your customers from the mediocrity of a confusing, overwhelming and one-size-fits-all experience.

To get fresh, targeted content ready for each audience segment in your BT program, your marketing team needs tools to put it in direct control of every part of the content creation and deployment process. It’s not enough to plan ahead. To keep your offers timely, you’ve got to be able to act on new trends and insights as they emerge, and make changes to your web properties quickly, without having to negotiate tight deadlines with already overburdened IT people.

Behavioral targeting isn’t a project, it’s an ongoing process. Creating targeted experiences for discrete audience segments is only the beginning. The opportunity to improve comes when the campaign is live and your customers start reacting to the experiences you’re providing — and give instant feedback in the form of clicks on your sites. Their responses are more valuable for your business than any industry forecast, focus group or conference room brainstorm. Don’t let this vital information go to waste.

Pay attention. Track their behavior and use website testing and optimization software to learn exactly what’s driving the best business results. Test your assumptions, replace gut instincts with real-world data and then optimize your content to put every bit of new intelligence to work. Which customers prefer casual clothing to business attire? How much detailed product information does each segment need before getting the call-to-action? What colors and layouts work best for different audiences or geographies?

Then do it again. Each time, your offers and your content get more relevant and specific. And each time, your customers move more surely and efficiently through the conversion funnel to drive the sales that make it all worthwhile.

Citibank Direct used BT for an interactive marketing campaign promoting savings accounts. Copy, offers, creative and targeting were all optimized weekly or daily based on a continuously refined set of customer data.

In only nine months, Citibank became one of the premiere players in the U.S. high-yield savings market, attracting billions of dollars in deposits — far exceeding its goals and expectations.

The ideas behind behavioral targeting aren’t necessarily new. But now the interactive industry is finally in a position to put them into practice. The processes and technologies are now readily available to deliver a complete, targeted experience for all customers — one that extends all the way from the ad that attracts them to the site content that engages and converts them. It’s about time.


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