Behavioral Targeting As A Value Proposition: A Publisher Perspective

Behavioral targeting technology is often and rightly viewed for its "disruptive" potential to transform the way advertisers strategically use ads. But, as multimedia entrepreneur Mark Elderkin, founder of and PlanetOut Partners, two of the largest and most successful media ventures aimed at the LGBT community, explains below, the true value proposition of behavioral for the niche publication is as a means of enhancing the experience of its users.

Behavioral Insider: Behavioral targeting has been discussed for many years, but only recently has it seemed to gain major traction with advertisers and publishers. Do you think the timing of adoption is a question of the technology catching up with the needs of online advertisers, or the knowledge and online savvy of advertisers starting to catch up with the technology?

Elderkin: The technology has been around for a while. Of course it's continually improving. But what's really been changing are several things. I'd say first, the amount of targetable content that's available, which has increased enormously; second, the competition among advertisers to stand out from the pack with a message that gets to the right person at the right time; third, the desire--or more than that, the demand--of consumers that advertisers deliver relevant information and not waste their time online. All of which adds up, from a publisher point of view, to the imperative to segment our large audience in the most precise and relevant ways possible.



BI: What key benefits do you see BT having versus contextual or demographic ads?

Elderkin: Behavioral targeting for a publisher is not a standalone thing. It grows out of our whole premise as a publisher, which is to provide the richest possible experience online for our readers, and to customize content to their needs as much as possible.

At and, for instance, we had, first of all, a huge network of content sites and channels with several million regular users. From the start we were at the forefront in offering content of interest to the community we serve. We also offered advertisers a unique venue to reach some prime younger, affluent demographics. That's the starting part of creating a value proposition as a targeted niche marketer. So behavioral targeting was just an extension of that, having a lot of continuity with what we always did.

But the fact is that within the much broader concept of a demographic, let's just say gay males 24 to 35, who make $80k plus per year, there are innumerable subsegments based on what that person is interested in, what they look for online. Traditional tools just weren't set up to deal with that level of individuality. But again it's just an enhancement. The big step forward for us was to make it possible to identify and serve microsegments more flexibly and more responsively. That actually helps us, not only as a marketer but as a publisher, as well, by being more attuned to what our consumers want out of the online experience. Which is a fundamental requirement of any publisher.

BI: How do you deploy the technology?

Elderkin: We've partnered with major behavioral technology developers and used their tools to create comprehensive profiles of site visitors that can be grouped into audience segments of interest to particular advertisers. The tools combine demographic data and user behavior to define audience segments in a multiplicity of ways based on what the specific targeting needs of marketers are at the time.

BI: There's a growing public distrust of cookies and other potential intrusions on privacy. Do you expect that consumers will turn against them en masse? What implications would that have for BT? How are you addressing those concerns?

Elderkin For us it hasn't been an issue. But the reason for that is that we've made it a priority over many years--not just online, but as a print publisher and broadcaster--to earn the trust of our readers by being very selective and careful about the advertisers we let advertise. So it's wider than just a question of being transparent about specifically behavioral things, use of cookies and so forth, although it is that. For us the issue of trust comes out of the way we look at content targeting and demographic targeting as well. It concerns the role any advertisement will play in the wider context of the user experience at the network.

BI: Looking ahead, what kinds of next-generation targeting features do you look forward to as a publisher?

Elderkind: As publishing enterprises move further in the direction of being truly multiplatform, multichannel media companies involved in a wide gamut of areas from print, to online media, to mobile, e-commerce, e-mail, newsletter, RSS, the goal is to more fully extend and integrate the kinds of customized segmentation behavioral affords. But always within the wider parameters of fundamental publishing goals and values.

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