The Grand Unified Theory (of Marketing)

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."--Albert Einstein

Take dear Albert's quote, and sprinkle liberally with the not-quite-as eloquent phrases "ad-side BT" and "pub-side BT," and you'll have a fairly good diagnosis of today's situation.

Behavioral targeting providers across the spectrum tout the essential rightness of their particular flavor of BT. But in our collective heart of hearts, we know that each of the approaches has merit--and more importantly, that each can benefit from the other. This article will help define the landscape, and more importantly, make a call for some of these providers to actively work together on a joint solution.

Publisher-side

Publisher-side behavioral targeting benefits from having access to a viewer's click-stream history on a specific Web site. The benefit is a clear and consistent taxonomy of that site's content, allowing them to make observations such as: "Four visits to the auto section in a given month equals a car buyer."

The limitation, however, is in identifying what that actually means to the buyer of said segment. Does four visits really mean "in-market?" What if the right number is actually 15 visits at a particular time of the day? Perhaps it only means you're a buyer if you're visiting from home with your spouse, as opposed to a car buff who logs numerous visits.

Network-side

Network models have the benefit of scale in that they can aggregate the behaviors of multiple publishers to understand the gestalt of a user's behavior.

These networks, though, suffer from inherent conflicts in their revenue models. In whose service do they act? They need to drive eCPM for their publishers, as higher prices means more inventory available to sell. At the same time, those networks need to deliver some modicum of advertiser performance, lest those dollars flow elsewhere.

Many externalities come into play:

* If you have a good representative at a network, they can tweak your campaign to raise cpm by a few pennies in order to move into higher-priority media

* If you have a good brand, you may get priority placement despite a lower-than-market rate in exchange for your brand value

* If you seem especially desperate to hit inflated order targets, you may find dollars spent less-than-efficiently in order to improve the yield on the network itself

Advertiser-side

Advertiser-side tools have the benefit of serving a clear master--which means they deliver whatever goals a client identifies, and they provide a "holistic' picture of a campaign across all touchpoints.

"Is this impression going to a customer? A prospect? Someone who has seen 1000 ads on various sites, but only one on this site? What action do I need to take to improve the lifetime value of this customer?"

Ad-side tools can be trusted repositories of data that manage sensitive information about goals and constraints across all media, and reduce the workload of managing multiple data-sharing relationships by hand.

The Future

The challenge for advertiser-side tools is to effectively influence media by themselves. Diversity matters in terms of messages delivered to a given user. One way that marketers can get there is by finding multiple internal uses for a given impression (branding, direct response, remarketing, international or partner resale, etc.).

Another and more powerful way is for advertising-side and publisher-side providers to join together and provide the strengths of both in an environment that protects the sensitive data of the viewer, the advertiser, and the publisher with responsibility and gravity. The nucleus of the solution is out there, and the results will be truly electric!