Behavioral targeting has widely succeeded in changing the rhetoric and terminology of marketers. Rare indeed is the self-respecting behavioral advertiser who doesn't speak in terms of having a one-to-one dialogue with customers. Yet, as Ryan Okum, president of StreetWise Concepts and Culture, explains below, moving beyond the habits of the older impressions-based marketing paradigm requires more than talk. It demands the cultivation of a new skill set.
Behavioral Insider: How do you see what you do as relating to behavioral targeting?
Ryan Okum: Our focus is on online conversations and community building. We're working with clients who are moving away from, or at least re-thinking, the ideas that behavioral targeting is strictly about serving advertising. Today's young consumer is Internet-savvy and has learned to ignore the blinking banner ads or 1/3 overlays -- they are desensitized to this type of advertising. They want authentic interaction. They want to be in-the know and involved early in the brand-building process. Above all else, they care about what their peers are thinking and saying, and are influenced by trends all over the globe. In this way, StreetWise enables brands to be the proprietors of trends and buzz through their own social networking and word-of-mouth campaigns, and therefore help create youth behavior rather than react to it.
The goal is to build a two-way environment where consumers actually go to participate. They receive incentives and are eligible to receive materials (discounts, for instance) in exchange for their active involvement in a community. Members tell about their interests and passions, and what we try to do is provide them opportunities for involving themselves in things that interest them. We also empower our community members with a ‘Use it or Lose it' voting system which allows them to vote on the brands they want to work with. This system is employed before any new business is accepted. This sense of ownership and empowerment is key to getting our members excited and truly invested in the process. It also tells us right off the bat what the group perceptions are of the brand in question, which can help us tailor our campaigns and communities accordingly.
BI: How is what you're talking about different from monitoring blogs or chat rooms?
Okum: The difference between our behavioral approach and more conventional approaches is, there's a much more transparent execution in what we do. It's not, as behaviorally targeting impressions is, a ‘two-way mirror' where the marketer just looks in and eavesdrops on where consumers go online. We use analytics tools, yes, but to focus in on not just where they go, but what they do.
BI: StreetWise says that it specializes in the youth culture; what methods/tactics do you use to truly understand youth behavior online and predict what they will respond to?
Okum: We look at the user navigation path and see what individuals like to do. Do they have a preference for taking surveys, or are they more interested in actually developing user-generated content for marketers?
The majority demographic in our case is 14- to 24-year-olds. So we have had a particularly strong relationship with entertainment and films and music, which is a big part of DNA. Music is the universal idiom of youth culture, and it's something we live and breathe. But it extends beyond that core.
BI: Who are some of the brands you've worked with, and what are their motivations in developing branded communities?
Okum: We're working with Nokia, for instance, around Web properties it's developing that want to build strong relationships with youth culture. Coca-Cola uses communities to target youth events. We're seeing a significant increase in interest now, however, from retail, consumer packaged goods and autos.
BI: How does this participation and brand engagement translate into monitorable behavior?
Okum: What marketers are shifting toward is that promotion is fundamentally more about creating conversations than reaching impressions. Obviously both components need to be part of the strategic vision of a brand. Impressions are or can still be important, but more and more marketers are seeing that to reach younger demographics in particular -- but not only them -- initiating and developing conversations is the key. Our function in the mix is to open the door between brands and consumers to facilitate interaction.
BI: What should modern marketers know about the digital channel, and how should they use it?
Okum: It takes [a] philosophical as well as tactical shift. There's a huge difference between accepting and living inside the paradigm where audiences and consumers are passive impressions to be reached with your message, and the new, conversational paradigm. The new philosophy is, you listen to the target market and give them what they want rather than making guesses about their interests and serving them up impression-based ads.