How to take behavioral targeting to the next level

Behavioral advertising has been an extremely effective, if slightly problematic tool for online marketers. Marketers want to understand users’ intents and desires while they browse online so they can serve them relevant advertising that will entice them to click and buy. As new technologies are introduced and gain market share, new opportunities abound. Behavioral advertising can grow and improve, expanding beyond the screen, considering location, device, time of day, social graph, and other elements of the user’s world.


Where is behavioral headed?


Much of what has been done with behavioral advertising to date has focused on modeling and understanding the user actions on web interactions (clicks, searches, views, etc.), but little time and effort has been dedicated to understanding the combination of context and user. I’m referring to contextual awareness — understanding where the user is physically, as well as where he or she is contextually on a web page or part of a web page as it relates to an ad. The world of context has primarily been limited to content/search, and the world of behavioral has been limited to user profiling. The next big, powerful step will involve combining the two. It will also require an understanding that the same user interests in different contexts have very different meanings and a very different ability to influence and be relevant to the user.


Not many companies are doing this yet, but companies like QualComm have been talking a lot about contextual awareness in general, in the context of mobile. They’re exploring the ability to tell whether a user is in a car based on the motion or if they’ve just parked and what commercial context they are in. Some retargeting players are looking very carefully at exactly when to show an ad to a consumer based on time of day, workplace context, and other factors. But at this point, nobody is doing it at scale and nobody yet is fusing the external, physical factors with the online elements. This is not surprising, as no one yet is fusing just the online context aspects that are available.


New data dimensions for a new generation of behavioral


To take behavioral targeting to the next level of maturity, there are several dimensions we should explore. One of these is the ability to age the interest. For example, in the case of a consumer shopping for a digital camera, they may research online, consuming a great deal of content for two to four days. After that point, they’ve likely made a purchase, so their interest goes negative and becomes counter-correlated with their profile. This represents a more sophisticated method of managing and aging user profiles and the models of what the users do.


Another exciting dimension involves a more thorough understanding of the audience. We can leverage data to explore life-events marketing. This can lead to an understanding of what an audience’s passions are, what their capabilities are, and more of an understanding of where they are in the cycle, where they are in their ability to make luxury purchases, etc. Some companies are doing this well, particularly those that have a deeper interaction with high net worth audiences. Consider a simple example: A person who rented an apartment and has just purchased a home. Not only do we know of the physical geo move, but the concerns, shopping patterns, and shopping interests are changed fundamentally. While some companies focus on the move event, few if any utilize the long-term life-change that has occurred.


One final dimension to exploit is social media. So much data is generated and readily available to marketers via social media and the social graph. From the data, how much can you glean about people from the social graph, from their connections, and what their friends like and dislike? While we see some companies focusing on social marketing, very few are combining this knowledge with other information on context, user profile, etc.


By combining all these dimensions, marketers will have access to a wealth of information that can reveal to them a great deal about the consumer in the moment. Leveraging the data now available to us with these tried-and-true marketing strategies can take behavioral to the next level and deliver incredibly relevant and useful results to consumers. This powerful “triangulation” should be approached with care, preserving privacy, obtaining opt-in, and providing transparency on what this fused-together data represents. Doing this right can take us to the next level of digital marketing — not just behavioral. Behavior remains a powerful predictor of future behavior and will only increase in its importance as a major source of information about relevance.


Usama Fayyad is Chairman and CTO of Blue Kangaroo and a board member of Martini Media.

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