Letting Consumers Do The Targeting

It took the human race millennia to realize the earth wasn't the center of the universe. In its own small way, advertising has until recently been mired in an intellectual fallacy of its own -- namely, the idea that advertisers and their creative message were the center of advertising. Belatedly the industry is thinking its way outside that particular box and acknowledging that it's the consumer processing the ad who is, or should be, the center of the advertising universe. David Sidman, CEO of Linkstorm, explains below how that insight might be integrated into the creation of ad units themselves.

Behavioral Insider: How does what Linkstorm's developing with menu-driven ads relate in your opinion with what you've seen with behavioral targeting?

David Sidman: What we're trying to do is turn behavioral targeting around. Instead of trying to figure out who the user might be and taking a rifle shot that may hit or miss, we're coming at it from the other side by making ads more usable to the consumer. Menu-driven ads enable consumers to self-select, if you will, what content messages and information will be most important to them. Say you're a Wal-Mart, just as an example, or any large retailer. If you're employing behavioral targeting, you'll hopefully serve an ad to someone who's browsed the store for toys. But you're not going to know that the viewer in fact is an uncle with an eight-year-old niece who's looking to buy a swing set for her birthday, and has exactly $300 in his budget to spend. The most brilliant behavioral targeting systems and algorithm in the world will not be able to tell you that.



But if that same customer is served an ad which they can browse ahead of time to select what offers they want to learn about based on what they're most interested in by product, by budget, by taste, or whatever other criteria, then what you're doing is letting the customer do their own self-targeting.

BI: Do you see it obviating the need for deploying behaviorally derived placements?
The way we conceptualize it is to say we're an alternative to behavioral targeting in one sense, and also a complement to it. Say you use behavioral targeting to place an ad that will reach someone who is more or less the right kind of prospect for your product according to their profile. That's all to the good. But unless the ad actually conveys the right message, geared exactly to their needs right now, you're not going to get them across the goal line.

So, to use a football analogy, behavioral targeting will get you into the red zone -- but no farther. We don't do our own ad placement. However, if a customer already using BT has the data to know you are a certain profile, we can take that data and further customize the way menus are structured. If you know from their browsing that a customer, let's say, is a bargain hunter, then you can organize your different offers by price range.
BI: What kinds of results are you seeing?
Overall we are seeing big differentials between click-through using menus versus standard banners, with many major clients improving response by 300%-500%. A further and in some ways even more important difference is in the measurement capabilities and flexibility we can provide. We measure not only click-throughs in aggregate, but break clicks out by menu item. So an advertiser can see what products are most popular with specific consumers, and can then fine-tune the way their menus are organized --which can be done on the fly, without having to recreate and re-traffic the ad itself.
BI: Where does video fit into your approach?

Sidman: We think this solves the challenge with video, which is to have ads that are neither obnoxious like pre-roll, nor irrelevant like post-roll. The unit we've been evolving allows consumers to just watch the video clips they're interested in and, at their discretion while the video is running, roll over sponsorships, browse the ad contents and decide what might be of interest. From there they can decide to click through at their convenience.
BI: Do you see menu-driven ads as having relevance to, say, monetizing social media?
Another area where customized ad menus have enormous potential for impact is in social media. We've developed a product underwritten by a major worldwide brand to engage Facebook users to create and virally distribute their own menus of their favorite products, content, causes and interests
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