My Stuff, My Self: You Are What You Own

More than a decade into the behavioral method of targeting audiences rather than content, we still explore new data points and test which previous actions are most predictive of future consumer behaviors. What qualifies a person as "in-market"? For how long? We have been talking about this stuff for years, and it still is as endlessly fascinating because human behavior is itself so intriguing. And it turns out that there is no silver bullet when it comes to data points, no universally accurate predictive behavior across all product categories and audiences. As more aspects of our lives move to digital platforms, more and different kinds of human action get translated into material that can be tracked and used in new ways.

 To wit, what can be done with the data about what people already own, as opposed to the desire for new stuff they express through search, shopping carts and content consumption? OwnerIQ harvests a range of data it uses for targeting, but core to its approach is the information about what people already possess. According to CEO Jay Habegger, "The reason we do that is that the information about people who are 'in market' is a transitory signal and reduces it to the bottom of the funnel activity." He says that by looking at the entire "ownership spectrum," you get a more complete picture of consumers' larger brand affinities and life stages. For instance, if an advertiser is looking to target new families with their range of products, then it turns out that recent buyers of point-and-click digital cameras are highly indicative of the category.  



Interesting affinities can be found at an even higher level. "We find an affinity among some of the high-end audio brands that are indicative of of adults who have a strong propensity to spend a lot of time using woodworking equipment. It is the more sophisticated hobbyists who also tend to buy high end audio," Habegger finds. He says that the technique reverses the usual market research that goes into a manufacturer's product design.  

In a series of interesting interviews Habegger did with manufacturers, they explain how they researched the people who buy their products and what they discovered about the lifestyles of their consumers. The CMO of an audio company discusses how his speaker and amp brand found affinity with extreme sports enthusiasts. "We allow the advertiser to co-opt that market research and use all of that in designing the market to target," Habegger says.

Another video interview with a wireless hardware marketer explores how the company created an entirely new category of home router for later adopters. Strategists used ownership data to discover the features and the marketing plan needed to expand their market of routers into audiences that were daunted by the current product set. The words "Network" and "router" never appear on the line of products, for instance, because the audience of tech laggards retreat from the usual terminology -- even though they often own laptops and Xboxes that might benefit from sharing broadband.

OwnerIQ gets some of this owner data from online service manuals, which people consult almost always to better understand the products they already own. Likewise, OwnerIQ works with manufacturers to tag their site to locate current customers. The company then segments the audiences in over 100 categories and can use its own demand-side platform to plug into real-time bidding systems and find these segments elsewhere. Some of the segments are familiar enough, like gaming enthusiasts, movers or home entertainment shopper. Many of the campaigns that naturally evolve from this kind of high-level affinity data involves finding new customers for a brand.

But having access to manuals and especially customer support data lets Owner IQ target a unique segment: the "duress purchasing funnel." These are the people contacting customer support information because something is breaking and likely needs fixing or replacing. "In duress shopping, everything is abbreviated," says Habegger. When consumers are targetable by their extreme need, "things that trigger buying can be next-day delivery," he says.   

Ultimately, Habegger expects that being able to target such affinities and even granular knowledge of a person's immediate needs will lead to creative that aligns more squarely with the consumer. "The direct-mail industry very carefully tailors packages to segments, but online marketers haven't done that," he argues. "With audience targeting and the ability to tailor messages to reach consumers with different needs profiles, we will see a slow migration of thinking about mass marketing -- but I think it's on its way."

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