Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

When eBay acquired for $620 million last month, I'm sure more than a few people had flashbacks to the pre-bubble Internet glory days. I, however, had a slightly different reaction. I think that eBay and other stalwart Internet companies are in line with the old adage that if you solve people's problems then you have a good chance of success. In fact, I think that the solution is instructive for the behavioral targeting industry as we confront many of those same challenges.

Modern consumers are facing an incredibly diverse and growing number of choices for the products and services they utilize on a daily basis - from the various types of products available to the wide range of providers and brand within each segment. The choice can truly be debilitating.

Consider, for example, the telecommunications industry. Over the last 10 to 20 years, consumer options have increased from three long distance providers and a single provider of local service to a myriad of local, long distance, wireless, high-speed Internet access, and cable television providers. In fact, a quick search for "phone services" on will return results or sponsored ads that include Cingular for wireless, SBC for DLS, Vonage for VoIP service, and TimeWarner for digital phone service (didn't they used to be a cable company?)... not to mention a handful of lesser known brands such as Lingo. It's hard to argue with the need for a service like in the face of so many choices.



Online marketers face a similar situation to consumers. Consider again the telecommunications example, only this time from the marketer's vantage point. The number of products and services a telecommunications marketing manager has to evaluate has increased dramatically. Many former single-line providers have begun offering a full suite of telecommunication and cable services either direct to consumer or through a more complicated to decipher joint venture. Even the few one-category companies, like T-Mobile in wireless or Vonage in VoIP, have rolled out segmented product or service plans to meet the specific needs of businesses, families, travelers, gadget-heads, and others.

At the same time that the product set is expanding, marketers must deal with consumers at many different stages in their buying lifecycle - from education to research through purchase or feature addition and on to eventual contract renewal. Obviously, consumers will be more receptive to different products or messages at each of these points.

Thankfully there is an answer. Behavioral targeting is our very own version of It has tremendous potential to help marketers improve their programs' ROI by identifying and delivering the right message to the right segments at the right time. Two basic possibilities or examples come to mind:

Targeting a service such as VoIP to someone who has recently demonstrated a level of technical sophistication and indicated they may be in a buying mode because of a visit to a technology information site Targeting a small business plan to a prospect who has previously clicked, but not converted for a small business e-mail device

Unfortunately for marketers, most people do not always fall into such easily defined segments or profiles. Oftentimes we are faced with distinct prospect audiences but with complex behavioral profiles, including seeing and interacting with a wide variety of sites and marketing messages within mixed time frames.

For example, what's the best marketing strategy for:

1. Prospect A who has visited a technology site three times in the last month, a parenting site once in the last week, and clicked on one of the advertiser's music tones ads but never finished the registration process.

- versus -

2. Prospect B who has visited a small business site twice in the last week, a travel site three times in the last month, and is currently on a low bandwidth connection.

A little tougher scenario, isn't it? In fact, one of our recent client campaigns marketed 18 different products or services and utilized more than 10 behavioral variables - each with many different categories. Overall, the campaign contained more than 7 billion product targeting options... a number that doesn't even include all of the various creative options for each product.

Old marketing methodologies such as A/B testing would have taken tens (if not hundreds) of years to make heads or tails out of the data. With behavioral targeting tools, it can happen instantaneously.

Behavioral targeting is forecasted to make up more than 20 percent of online banner media in 2006 (iMedia/Ponemon study). It is apparent that many online marketers have certainly realized the potential to significantly increase both the efficiency and scale of their online marketing efforts. They will also soon realize the need to put those filters in place to fully achieve that potential.

Fortunately, tools such as audience-based decision engines can parse this tremendous amount of data and combinations in real time. Going one step further than and its consumer solution, these tools not only evaluate which audiences to target, but they identify which targeting strategy will actually accomplish a marketer's goal. It's like having your very own expert personal marketing assistant.

By utilizing technology to fully enable our vision of behavioral targeting, maybe we online marketers can take a summer vacation this year and still beat our goals.

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