Why Am I So Frustrated with Behavioral Targeting – Do I Really Know Something

Okay, so people are starting to come at me with questions and are wanting to know why I am so focused on behavioral targeting.  What’s the deal?  Why do I have such a sharp sword pointed at this narrow topic? 

Internet advertising has not changed in many years.  The blog title says that, I know.  But really, what’s different?  Ad serving was born in 1996 so that we could centrally manage campaigns, rotate ads and report on performance.  Ad serving made it possible to deliver a unique message at the time a person landed on a page without having to involve the web site and to generate reports reflecting activity.  Shortly afterward, ad serving evolved to enable us to control and measure post-click events as well.  But nothing has changed since then.

Sure, rich media has come into its own.  Search is VERY in.  Email marketing is mainstream.  But banner advertising, display advertising, has its 33% share of the online advertising spend and it is stuck there or even decreasing in share.  Enter behavioral targeting.  This was suppose to change the paradigm.  But it has failed.  Sure people use it.  Early adopters?  No.  Just circle players with the budget that warrants the proper fit with event-based marketing wherein generating demand associated with some sort of behavior fits.  It is not widely embraced nor has it ever met the mainstream promise it once professed.  It is a fizzle.  So it bothers me.

Moreover, I am energized by this topic because I have other ideas about banner advertising, ways in which I think it CAN change.  You see the technologies of search, rich media, pixel tracking, ad serving, behavioral targeting and email marketing are all mainstream now.  They are widely excepted, understood and in place.  So now what?  Can they be leveraged to do new things?  Sure they can?  What is stopping us from using ad serving technology to deliver content?  What is stopping us from redefining behavioral targeting into customer re-targeting?  The companies that provide those services today.  The business models in place are static and inflexible.  So one has to ask themselves, if there is a new way to do something, who is it going to come from if requires leveraging established technology?  Someone who already has it?  Will it be a big block player that suddenly displays nimble characteristics to change business strategy to redeploy existing technology to do something new or will it be a small to mid-size player?  Will it be a new kid on the block?

Look at Poindexter, now [x+1].  They were an ad server.  Now they are customer site optimization and analytics.  Their core competency is shifting while leveraging their technologies to do something new.  Bravo.  Who else in the market is capable of doing this?

Back to behavioral targeting.  I don’t believe that event-based targeting does what it takes to generate substantial differences in response rates.  Knowing that someone was on a web page once and assuming that they will respond to a specific ad is a big jump to me.  But if you know who someone is, then you can make a lot of assumptions about what ads they will respond to.  I know, I know.  PII (Personal Identifiable Information) violations you are screaming.  But if you know about someone, anonymous things like characteristics, then you can target them.  This excites me.  This is called customer re-targeting.  Ad serving technology can be re-purposed to do this.  It is possible to target people online based on things that an advertiser already knows about its customers.  They can be recognized as a customer and distinguished by non-customers.  Each audience can be messaged to differently in real time through an online ad campaign.  TruEffect does this and I believe other can too if they wanted to.  Granted, their may be some patent issues since Tru created the concept but it is about leveraging an established technology – ad serving – to do it differently.  First party ad serving rather than third party ad serving.  I’ll talk about the extensions of this concept later.

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