Just Ask For Directions

Online media buying can be lot like the stereotype of men driving. Advertisers like to use a map, spreadsheets, analytics, just about any technology to get to their destination, but often they are loathe to stop and ask a real live human being for directions. Among the first sites to implement behavioral targeting technologies in the early 2000s, is as experienced in the BT field as any publisher. But while it leverages some of the most advanced technologies for advertisers, the site is by its very nature a people place, driven mainly by hundreds of human "Guides" who host precisely targeted verticals throughout the site. Senior Vice President of Sales Sheryl Goldstein recently deployed a new and very human way of monitoring user behavior online -- simply ask the Guides what their peeps are doing. Just put down the GPS for a second and ask for directions.

Behavioral Insider: How did you come to use your About Guides' expertise in the ad product mix?



Sheryl Goldstein: I got here six months ago after six years at AOL. I realized very quickly that we didn't have a very compelling go-to-market story..We were basically selling our reach. It was very much around, we reach more moms than iVillage., more men than ESPN. A buyer would be hard-pressed to be convinced that if I am trying to reach men that About is a better choice for me than ESPN.

What was really missing was what was unique to About that would have some meaning to advertisers. We have these guides and they create all this content and they are vetted experts. People love to come chat with them. These guides know which search terms they are using, what these people are seeking because they are on the digital front line. They are like a human component of the digital interface. These guys do nothing but focus on this one topic. They have keen insight into what these people are looking for and why they are coming to talk to a vetted expert in the first place.

BI: How do you convert that into an ad product, though?

Goldstein: I started thinking, why would P&G or Verizon care about this. My experience of working with advertisers for years is I know that what they really seek from their partners are insights around [their] audience. What they don't know is why people are coming here. Behavioral targeting can tell you what people are doing, but if you don't know why, then how do you market to that? If you don't know why, then you don't know how to do the right messaging or reshape your campaign to appeal to more people.

I found that our guides are filled with knowledge and insight about the people coming to our site. I can ask them by simple surveys or emails. I can say, Unilever really wants to understand why 40+ women spend so much time online engaging with games? So we tap into our 40 or 50 guides that talk to moms everyday [about] parenting, food, homes, and ask for their take. And boom, we got back a slew of quotes from our guides telling us what they hear and see. We can put a quick survey on a site and use the guide as a way to start a dialogue going. It is like an insight engine that we have innately built into About.

BI: But what shape does it take for the media buyer?

Goldstein: The programs we are developing for advertisers are inspired by the users coming to our site vetted through the guide. For a program reaching teens going back to school, we talk to guides who are talking to teens and also moms. What kind of twist could we put on a back-to-school program for this client?

The guide tells us what is most important for teens is feeling self-confident in what they are wearing and [that] they get their fashion sense from celebrities. If they can feel like they are getting the look of Hannah Montana or the Jonas Brothers then they look good and feel more confident about the first day at school. What mom cares about is making sure they can afford it and it's an acceptable look. So we came up with these ideas like a celebrity look-alike configurator. Which celebrity are you most like? Do a simple quiz that tells them they are most like Miley Cyrus. Now get the look at store X and then email it to Mom.

BI: How are media buyers responding to this idea thus far?

Goldstein: We are calling it User-Inspired Solutions and the Customer Dialogue Loop, which is the dialogue our guides have with your customers. We have sent quotes from our guides that have led to better media strategy. Some of our food guides have told us that traffic on their site peaks 12 to 2 Thursday and Fridays, when people are doing weekend meal planning. And they really want simple -- no more than three steps or five-ingredient recipes. We put it in a media plan as 100% site ownership for some of our food sites Thursday and Friday 12 to 2. If you want to do a custom thing, offer up simple weekend recipes. We have sent out proposals with that stuff in it, and we get back phone calls asking for a brainstorm session with guides to find out other things. We have had clients and agencies call us up for new business pitches to help them think about an effective media strategy for client X. We have just begun to figure out all the different ways we can leverage the knowledge of our guides.

BI: Have you layered any of these insights onto more familiar BT campaigns?

Goldstein: It is one of the things I am working on now and would love to explore in meetings with Revenue Science and Tacoda. BT tells us what people are doing, and our guides can help us understand why.

I want to start taking a closer look at the BT clusters and understand what sites are falling within what cluster. Then we can really tap into the guides who manage those sites and say this is a pattern we see here, that people who go here then go there, there, and there. Any insight on why that is? Is there a commonality of going from your site to this person's site? So I do want to try to marry the two.

I feel that is a super home run. I think the pros and cons of BT are that it tells me what activity people are engaging in, but it doesn't tell me why. That is a huge hole from a marketing perspective. People don't just want to reach an audience but reach them with the right message. BT is not perfect science.

My feeling is that a good media plan has three components. You start with your core endemic. I want to be in an environment that is most relevant to my brand where it is most top of mind to the people coming there. Next out is to extend that reach a little bit into more BT, so I can lower my cost. Now I am getting people who expressed an interest or been to those pages and they fit into my demo profile. It is a good shot that I am not wasting money by following those people around. And then lastly, how do I factor in some kind of lifestyle thing or just extend my reach so I am a bit more relevant demographically and have an even broader reach. And you package it together and you hopefully have an effective CPM that works and get a little bit of each of those rings.

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