Behavioral Insider: Have you been seeing any significant shifts in how marketers are thinking strategically about behavioral targeting? How have the targeting challenges of marketers and advertisers changed in an environment of economic downturn and pressured budgets?
Chris Hansen: As the economy has turned sharply downward, the thing we're seeing clearly is that people want more and more accountability with their budgets. That's made behavioral targeting a more immediately relevant option -- but I wouldn't say it's changed how we look at behavioral data. We've always looked at behavioral targeting from the mindset that it's a very efficient and measurable way to run display ad campaigns. But I think it's true that in this climate behavioral may be even more appreciated than in boom times. Any channel that can target at a user level at the right price is going to minimize waste and be able to accurately identify purchase intent using data-driven analytics should be perceived as a very efficient marketing channel.
BI: What in your experience are the most misunderstood things about behavioral targeting by publishers and advertisers just beginning to develop behavioral targeting features?
Hansen: The misconception which continues, despite all the attention behavioral targeting has gotten, is that behavioral targeting is one size fits all. The reality is that the variety of behavioral targeting methods and options becomes wider all the time. The challenge is to align the right behavioral approaches to particular marketing goals.
For instance, when you're launching direct response campaigns, it's important to go deeper than just identifying consumers by interests. Many 'behavioral' networks rely on this type of data. So you want to find a network that has the richest data related to purchase intent. There's a world of difference between knowing someone is casually interested in something (for instance that they've visited two travel sites) and knowing someone is truly in-market for something NOW.
BI: How have the capabilities of behavioral targeting platforms changed or evolved in the past year or so, both in terms of ad targeting off-site and on-site optimization ?
Hansen: An understanding of the variety of behavioral tactics enables marketers to figure out what kinds of campaign makes the most sense to a particular consumer based on their in-market status. For instance, speaking in the context of on-site rather than behavioral 'ad network' targeting, if someone is interested in a particular model of car and has revisited an auto site many times and even researched quotes, that's a situation where a more hard sell is entirely appropriate.
But, when you see a consumer who's clearly interested in autos but less well defined in the funnel, a softer sell will be more appropriate. So from a direct response point of view, the challenge is to identify in a more and more precise fashion not only whether a consumer is in-market but where they are in terms of their level of seriousness about purchase decisions.
On the other hand, marketers who have a more branding or brand-awareness-building focus will be less interested in in-market status but more interested in classifying interests of consumers according to a segmentation scheme that suits their marketing strategy.
We've also seen significant innovations in getting more granular about purchase intent. A case in point is re-targeting. When it was first introduced, re-targeting was based on the very simple notion that if someone was just on your site, you could later serve them an ad through the ad networks. It was a very binary approach. Newer approaches to re-targeting go beyond that by looking not only at the fact that someone was just on your site, but at what they've done on your site. In addition, marketers are learning a lot more about catering the specific creative messages they serve when re-targeting a prospect by taking data and translating it into dynamic creative. Understanding user behavior helps to both target a user with future advertising, as well as craft the right message to that user once they reach a marketer's site (on-site behavioral).
BI: I know you've become very focused on on-site optimization. Could you speak specifically about what you're doing and seeing there?
Hansen: There's been so much effort focused on optimizing advertising placement to drive traffic to sites -- only to drop the ball by not offering the right content, offers and experience to people once they get on site. It would seem like a no-brainer to apply behavioral principles to increasing conversions on site, but it's taken a long time for marketers to really understand that there are actionable ways of using behavioral data to do that.
BI: What are the most important innovations and challenges you see on the horizon beyond this holiday season for 2009?
Hansen: Looking ahead, we expect that the learning curve will intensify in both re-targeting and on-site optimization. A recessionary economy if anything will compel marketers to focus tighter resources on these increased efficiencies. But it will also make them scrutinize different behavioral targeting platforms much more closely.
The other area I think will see a new prominence in 2009 will be social network behavioral data. Marketers are still largely at a loss about how to leverage the rich data social networks generate and make it meaningful to targeting. The area remains nascent. but there's enormous interest and some very interesting companies working on breakthroughs in that space. I think 2009 may be a year when targeting social network data really comes of age.