Behavioral Targeting and Competitive Intelligence

The core mission of behavioral marketing is to deepen marketers' knowledge of who consumers are and what they want. In practice, however, most marketers so far have used behavioral platforms primarily for placing their own brand and product promotions. In so doing, Hal Wurster, managing director, Automotive, at Compete, explains below, they are closing themselves off from critical behavioral intelligence about how consumers see their brand and product in comparison to rivals.

BI: Compete doesn't describe itself strictly in terms of being behavioral targeting, but rather an analytics firm devoted to competitive intelligence. What role does behavioral data play in that?

Wurster: We have a sampling of over two million consumers. They've opted into allow us to analyze their web behavior, meaning the sites they visit, searches and things they purchase, and to survey them occasionally on buying or shopping preferences. Our goal is to challenge assumptions about how both demographic and behavioral data are used. Demographics is one thing. But behavior is really intent. Automakers, for instance, to use a vertical we recently launched initiatives in, used to only be able to infer customers likely to be interested in their car based on demographic profiles. Those inferences were educated certainly by lots of research, but they were guesses.



BI: To focus a little on automotive you also mention you're challenging traditional understandings of the sales funnel in that vertical. How does your approach to behavioral do that?

Wurster: As far as the funnel, the consumer has much more information available today than in the past. The traditional time bound purchase funnel is becoming a more of an on demand or information just in time model. The consumer has a lot of information at their fingertips today compared to years gone by when the dealer had all the cards and the process took much longer for a consumer trying to get an understanding of all the models, features and benefits - let alone gain a feel for the positioning or word of mouth that has been so vital in the past. Today reviews are literally seconds away and word of mouth is instant on blogs and social networks. Companies have to have campaigns targeting all funnel stages on all the time as a result now.

BI: What kind of learning curve is involved as clients begin thinking about behavioral targeting beyond just ad placement and as a competitive intelligence tool?

Wurster: Clients engage us to drive more eyeballs, to focus those eyeballs, and finally to position their band and products versus rivals. In all those areas behavioral is key. The first step, driving eyeballs, involves providing data identifying in-market auto shoppers on third party sites. That's the level that most behaviorally based campaigns begin and end with.

BI: What do you mean by focusing eyeballs?

Wurster: In the focusing cycle we apply behavioral in a highly differentiated way. I can tell if consumers who are researching your "F series" vehicle are also looking at other vehicles from rivals and what sort of patterns and/or pattern changes may be emerging in comparative search and site behavior. We can identify overlap and also indicate if interest in information about your vehicle is being driven by a rival's ad campaign, or vice versa.

BI: What other kinds of applications does behavioral data have related to offline marketing data?

Wurster: Now we also compare the offline marketing data to what people are actually doing. Sure you think of the Mercedes brand and the working marketing assumptions are that Mercedes' appeal was to high-net worth individuals in search of luxury. But in fact a closer look at people who actually shop and research Mercedes identified that a surprisingly large number of prospective shoppers were actually drawn to the brand on the basis of economic value. They were actually high-end bargain shoppers. This kind of counter-intuitive but demonstrable fact is something only online behavior can elicit.

BI: You've mentioned that behavioral targeting is under utilized and in fact may be more or at least just as important in studying negative behaviors or what people didn't do. Could you explain that further?

Wurster: Another application that's opening up is identifying gaps in marketing. It's important to know which shoppers are interested in your car and why, of course. But behavioral analysis is also important in identifying why they didn't. So, for instance, you know someone's shopping for your car but also learn they've shopped for eight other models. Perhaps they buy one or the other. That's a critical moment to survey them and find out what caused them NOT to buy your car. Some of the benefits of behaviorally based post-activity surveys are in rejector studies - where we can see they "shopped" for a vehicle and we find out they didn't purchase it. We can ask what would have tipped the consumer's choice to purchase. It's vital to understand what would benefit the consumer most in terms of gaining their attention and converting that attention into action or to simply make the messaging relevant to their needs.

BI: In an online vertical where you don't generally see actual conversions, what metrics are most relevant?

Wurster: In Auto, behavioral campaigns would lead to more "engagement" to be successful. We've found that auto purchasers were twice as likely to utilize a shopping tool (i.e. offers or request a quote tools). Therefore, the "engagement" of shopping tools is the metric by which we can judge a behavioral campaign either from a search result or from a visit to an OEM or automotive third party site.

BI: What kind of road map are you looking at for competitive behavioral intelligence over the next year or so?

Wurster: Over the next twelve to twenty-four months we see a big trend toward customers employing new tools to use their own internal databases and CRM to better survey customers on particular choices and behaviors. The key is that everything you do related to consumers has to be geared to enhancing customer experience.
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