Engaging Engagement: BT Gets Passionate

Engagement is the concept du jour for brand advertisers and online marketers of all stripes. In a post-mass market every brand wants and needs not merely to reach customers with its message, but to engage them. Yet most behavioral targeting to date has been oblivious to even acknowledging -- much less exploring -- the relationship between behavior, or what consumers do online, and engagement, or how their behavior uniquely expresses their personal interests and passions, as Bill Gossman, CEO of Revenue Science, explains below.

Behavioral Insider: You've said that brand advertising needs to evolve from targeting by individual behavior to targeting by passion. Can you explain the relationship between the two concepts?

Bill Gossman:
The way we look at it, every data point is related to a user's passions. If you understand how users are engaged you can connect the pattern of their engagement to their primary passion points. What you search for, where you browse, even what you buy are not isolated behaviors. They form a unique pattern.

BI: How does a focus on passions change or extend the methodology of behavioral targeting?

We take an unstructured view based on experience. The first instinct of data crunchers is to find a formula, which conventionally means trying to force behavior into some kind of pre-defined category. If you visit site X it means you belong to behavioral profile Y, so everything you do gets pinned to that category. We are moving more towards an audience discovery approach. The method we use is that we store maximum data on every kind of behavior we can and index that in a way that's totally unstructured in terms of not assigning a fixed category to it.

The difference is to try to be more like a Starbucks of targeting, where you don't just have your five or 10 basic types of segments, but rather can customize segments for each advertiser. Say you have someone, a female, who's in the market for a car. So she visits AOL Cars and comes back to several auto-related content sites. Then she searches for Consumer Reports ratings on fuel efficiency and safety. Concurrently she is visiting the Sierra Club site and reading news stories on the environment. We've begun to build in that case a profile that's going to go far beyond the 'auto buyer' category. The profile encompasses that the consumer is in-market for a car but also ecology-minded and safety-conscious. If there are also behaviors that show a pattern of engagement with family- and children-related content, you've evolved a more customized profile for them, as safety-minded, environmentally conscious shoppers in market for a family car. So the goal is to have open-ended segmentation.

BI: How does or should this shift change how advertisers and agencies approach behavioral campaigns?

In terms of working with an advertiser or agency, the method is to start with their conception of what an ideal consumer for their product or brand would be, and then to locate the audience whose patterns of behavior and passions (as identified by their patterns of engagement) most clearly connect to that model. We call it 'audience discovery.'

If you think about it, in traditional [advertising] media reach or distribution was everything. In digital media attention is the coin of the realm. There's often a tremendous gap, a chasm even, between the two. So Yahoo, for instance, has been measured as having a 75% reach on the Internet (which approximates the reach of network television) but only 15% engagement. The promise of audience discovery is that you can take an understanding of each user's passions and follow them to affiliates and connect content relevant to those passions. It used to be that you could thrive on quality or scale, now you need quality and scale. Quality is engagement.

BI: How do you see the explosion of social media changing the game as far as behavioral targeting?

The notion of what behavior encompasses is elastic and ever-changing and growing. In the era of social media you have people who can freely express their opinions and interests as well as talk about themselves. All of that is expressive of passions.



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