Behavioral Insider: It's been a little over a year since we spoke last. How has your view of the role of behavioral targeting in your network changed?
Jarvis Coffin: Behavioral has gone beyond the buzz and novelty stage. Video and mobile are now where all the speculation is. Everyone's talking and asking about them, but nobody's doing anything to scale yet. A year ago behavioral targeting was in every RFP. But back then it was a question of 'Can you do it?' Since then it's moved to 'How do you do it?'
BI: Brands have been relatively late to the use of behavioral targeting. Why is that, and do you see things changing?
Coffin: Behavioral is becoming extremely important to brands because it's extremely important [for them] to reach a very specific audience segment. To the extent you're selective about your demographic reach (and most brands are extremely so), you've been traditionally limited to a small handful of premium content venues where you can aggregate that audience -- inevitably the very same ones all of your brand competitors will be crowding to as well. The big promise of behavioral for brands is to open up the playing field, to make it possible to target a desirable audience segment without relying on the same content sites as everyone else.
BI: How specifically are brands looking at it?
Coffin: There are two areas where I see behavioral targeting establishing itself as a crucial component in any serious brand campaign mix. First, it enables brand advertisers to tie their focus selectively to customers rather than particular content sites. Second, it's an antidote to clutter. The way we refer to this is breaking the logo syndrome.
BI: Logo syndrome?
Coffin: By the logo syndrome, I mean the identification of the product or brand with specific content venues exclusively. This was an approach that dominated print and broadcast. You thought of X Beer brand and the local baseball team's games or a tire brand and pro football games. That of course can still work in a sponsorship kind of model.
The goal of brand advertisers was to find that cozy sweet spot in content that associated them closely with their preferred consumer demographic segment and to stay there, to claim that exclusive real estate. But the clutter factor is becoming much more acute. Of course it's always been a factor, but now it's beyond a problem -- it's a full-blown crisis for brands. There's overwhelming evidence that Internet users flat-out will abandon Web pages that have more than two or three ads on them. So the ironic, counterintuitive, fact is that the most popular pages become the least effective from a brand point of view. The real estate as it's becoming more competitively cluttered gets both more expensive and less valuable.
BI: What innovations has Burst Media brought to this area?
Coffin: A good example of what we've focused on precisely to avoid that is the case of a major tire manufacturer. They wanted to build on the strong association their brand had always had in advertising to sports fans -- most notably, of course, being televised sports. So what we did was create a customized segment of network visitors strongly interested in sports and in automobiles. But we ran the ads elsewhere, in places where consumers with those interests also went online in great numbers. We've found consistently that ads aimed at retargeting this segment when they went to science, technology and games sites performed dramatically better than just running ads strictly on sports or auto sites in isolation.
BI: One rap against behavioral targeting among brands has been the lack of control of site placement in relation to brand association.
Coffin: Right. For most advertisers, behavioral so far has just meant taking everyone who saw your ad -- at a sports site, say -- and re-serving to them off-category, essentially at random.
What we're finding is that the more finely you segment customers, the more effective retargeting will be. So for the tire manufacturer it's the sports fans who may be the starting point -- but from there, you may look at specific interests within sports that correlate to your brand and then interest in auto-related content, which can be further elaborated by types of auto content level of interest and engagement and other factors. Once you've done that work, optimizing the match between those disparate areas becomes feasible.
BI: What are your big goals over the next six to 12 months?
Coffin: One still very undeveloped area of behavioral marketing is analyzing the relative strengths and weaknesses of campaign components. Specifically, not enough deep analysis has been done yet on how to gauge the relationship between segmentation and placement. If your campaign worked ahead of expectations, was it because you defined the segment you were looking to retarget just right -- or was it that you weren't able to optimize forecasting of inventory placements. Even more importantly, if it didn't quite work well enough, was it due to your segmentation scheme being weak, and what can you do about it? Those are the two big areas of work over the next six to 12 months -- better understanding how audience segments can be identified and classified, and better forecasting inventory opportunities to retarget them in scale.