Commentary

Focus: Double Bull's-Eye

Real targeting is coming

So far, targeting online has been a big tease. The promise of being able to recognize an online user, know something relevant about them, and deliver some tailored message, has tantalized us for years. We have seen hints of what is possible in Web-crm applications for registration-based Web sites. We recognize the power of the
blunt targeting of remarketing. The limited capabilities of the current ad exchanges show us a glimmer of what could be.

Now, a plethora of data companies such as BlueKai, eXelate, Lucid, TARGUSinfo and many more are giving us an even clearer window into the near future. These companies are competing with old-line data companies such as Experian and Acxiom to provide targeting data for online media. In most cases their coverage is very limited, the business models are only half-formed, and the data is imprecise, yet they represent real progress toward a targetable and addressable online world.

Online targeting data can be organized into five buckets:
- Contextual data analyzes the content of a Web page, and targets the user by making assumptions about his interests or mind-set, based on that content. For many categories, contextual targeting is powerful, but provides limited scale. Example companies: Lucid Media and Peer39. 

- Intender data refers to a form of behavioral targeting in which consumers who are in the process of researching a transaction are identified, and their cookies are marked for targeting. Again, this data is powerful, but limited in scale. Intender data is further complicated by the fact that it typically has a short shelf life. In other words, the window of opportunity to influence the consumer can be very small, and once his transaction is completed, the data is no longer useful. BlueKai and Acerno are representative companies. 

- Social data maps the interactions between individuals online. This "social map" data allows the targeting of social influencers and people who are assumed to be similar to each other based on their connections. This data tends to scale well, but is not very portable outside the environments of the social sites that generate it. Example companies are Media6Degrees and Xgraph. 

- Offline profile data carries classic direct-marketing data online. Data available to profile consumers in the offline world is vast, ranging from household demographics to credit scores to auto and real estate ownership, and whether someone is in the market for a mortgage. In addition, a variety of psychographic segmentations are available. Beside the breadth of data available, this data is valuable because it scales well and does not expire quickly. The problem has been matching these offline data points to anonymous online users without violating privacy policies. Companies bringing this data online include Experian, Acxiom, Equifax, TARGUS and IXI. 

- Finally, client-owned customer data can be extremely useful, if it can be brought online. This begs the
question: How can offline data be brought online, whether it is from a third party or your own customers?
Offline data must be "match-keyed" to something targetable online. Most often this is a cookie, which can be accomplished by placing a pixel tag on a page or a banner where a previously identified user will be exposed. But there are other possibilities. Data can be matched to ip address using a similar method, or it can be matched to ZIP code, which does not require online syncing at all. Finally, data can be accessed through a "real-time lookup" that pings a data server for information at the time the user is encountered.

Even with these options, online data is not yet very portable, but many data companies are making fast progress. It is only a matter of months - not years - before all manner of data will be readily available to marketers. At that point, the challenge will shift from getting data to getting the right data ... and finally, to using that data effectively to drive better offers and creative. 

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