Behavioral Targeting In Context

One of the major achievements of behavioral marketing has been to allow advertisers to expand from an excessively singular focus on WHERE ads run to an emphasis on the more important question of HOW to get the right message to the right people, regardless of where they are online. Just because behavioral marketers can reach a prospect literally anywhere, David Cooperstein, of Burst Media explains below, doesn't mean that choice of context for placement has become unimportant or irrelevant.

Behavioral Insider: We've seen a lot of activity by several different networks aiming to leverage auto buyer funnel behavior. What distinguishes Burst's approach?

David Cooperstein: What we've focused on more as a priority is customizing our services by vertical and by audience. We spent an extensive amount of time with auto advertiser clients and asked them what they wanted out of a behavioral platform and what they felt they weren't able to find in current platforms. So we were looking for where the perceived gaps and limits were for this particular vertical.

What we heard pretty consistently was that clients wanted to have the option of managing behavioral campaigns that intersect more closely with the content of the site. The point we heard was that it's one thing to identify a consumer who's in-market for an auto and serve ads widely to them across the network. Then there are many occasions when that more run-of-network use of behavioral data doesn't offer the requisite relevance and precision.

BI: How does the intender's network integrate behavioral data with vertical content targeting?

Cooperstein: The Burst Auto Intenders Network also offers content targeting on quality Web sites in addition to broad behavioral targeting. So once you know someone shops for autos, you can then start slicing those users into those who visit premium auto specific content sites that provide auto consumers information on the makes and models they are most interested in. These can be auto enthusiasts sites for fanatics of cars in general, and on specific makes and models or sites that include mid- and long-tail Web sites for audiences that are seeking general automotive, auto travel, car care and maintenance information.

Beyond that and most importantly, you can extend the campaign to advertise on lifestyle sites according to segments such as moms, greens, affluents, or 'macho' drivers. An example would be, say Ford was doing a promotion for the launch of Focus. They know that they want to identify people who are in-market for autos but they also want to target a more specific slice of that universe with a unique message that appeals to people with the right demographic and the right congruent interests. So in the case of the Ford Focus they may run ads on auto enthusiast sites but also want to locate premium venues for recent college graduates.

BI: How is the perception and value proposition of behavioral marketing changing for marketers -- and consumers?

Cooperstein: Behavioral spans so many different approaches now. The way most marketers think of it, and many networks still practice it, is limited to pure intent-based targeting, meaning there's no analysis beyond knowing someone is looking at auto sites. So we see that behavioral targeting is now a much more multifaceted thing than it was two years ago, or even a year ago. There are different levels of precision you can target by integrating behavior with context more closely within verticals. As you do so you'll have less scale but greater efficiency.

What that means is there's more choice for a savvy advertiser. You can go for reach across 75% of the net with relatively little selectivity about context and pay low CPMs. But there's also the option of behaviorally targeting in-market auto shoppers against more focused lifestyle or other content venues, if you are willing to pay the CPM to reach that in-context audience.

Closer integration of behavior and context is also important in maintaining the right comfort level for consumers. It's one thing to try to identify someone as a car shopper at an auto site and serve them an auto ad at a site that's contextually congruent. It's quite another -- and all too common -- to serve up behaviorally generated ads everywhere that person goes online. That kind of incongruity adds to what you might call the 'creepiness factor' of behavioral targeting, the feeling that a consumer is being 'stalked' whenever and wherever they go online. In making behavioral approaches really efficient context is crucial.

BI: How is the economic downturn affecting the way behavioral is viewed?

Cooperstein: In general with behavioral we've seen tangible lifts in ROI. We've seen that targeted ads pull between five times and upwards of 50  times better than untargeted. So the data is compelling for buyers who are trying to be more efficient. What we're seeing is that economic pressure puts a premium on efficiency. So if you've got only X amount to spend and your budgets are tightening you need to think about maximum efficiency for the dollar.

Looking forward we anticipate that a major focus of 2009 will be toward pushing the efficiency of behavior channels. We all understand that when you've got a recession going on there just won't be quite as many buyers that you can locate who are in-market. So the broad-brushed approach will become less valuable. What will become more valuable is the ability to optimize not only the frequency but the sequence of ads based on where the consumer is in the market funnel.

The other concept that I think will come into its own is dynamically testing and optimizing the creative message within ads. So the trend is to provide technology that enables marketers to dig far more deeply into optimization. Behavioral innovation started with -- but doesn't need to end with -- the simple identification that someone is in-market.

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