How “Stupid” is Behavioural Targeting?


With so much talk about Behavioural Targeting’s opportunities to us Internet Marketers, it’s worth a little reflection on the purpose of Behavioural Targeting and a few of the issues which need ironing out.

stupid-behavioural-targeting

stupid-behavioural-targeting

The Purpose of Behavioural Targeting

It really is quite simple; track a user’s interaction with your website, and serve ads, promotions or recommendations based on what others do.

These ads, promos or recs could be within the same site the user is on, on another website you own or any other website which accepts and subscribes to one of many behavioural targeting ad servers.

So the purpose is, with my customer advocate hat on, to enrich and personalise the user experience by offering the right message to the right customer.

However my marketer’s hat suggests it is a great way of increasing click through rates and conversion per user. It’s like a store assistant following a customer around holding the items they just looked at in the hope they might actually add the item(s) to their basket.

One could say this is quite convenient for a customer and perhaps a little persuasive (pervasive?). Maybe I will buy it after all since you hounded me so politely…

It could just as easily become quite annoying. Picture yourself window shoppping. You know you can’t afford this particular item but you’re just taking a look… like a holiday for example… 14 nights in the caribbean perhaps? So you leave the site and jump back onto your surf board across the internet…

Targeting is not child's play...

Targeting is not child's play... (image:aboyandhisbike|flickr)

Next time you check your email, you notice the banner ad displaying the exact holiday you were looking at. You ignore it but when browsing the latest news see the ad in numerous places… now you’re getting upset. Quite annoyed in fact. You feel teased.

Behavioural targeting is not exact science

Behavioural targeting for e-commerce that doesn’t use anything more than your clickpath data through a website is severely lacking in one crucial ingredient – what you actually bought. Whilst the last 5 people that clicked around a website like you did may have all purchased item X, you bought item Y. You’re different, unique in fact.

Extending intelligence

Even if the targeting software held data on your past purchases, how could it predict your next purchase? If a customer bought a variety of apparel such as jeans, shirt and shoes, how can you predict their next purchase? Aggregation and segmentation. Whilst the propensity to buy something is not an exact science one can identify triggers and signals in data to determine cluster behaviour.

I can safely predict what time I’m going to want to eat but I won’t necessarily know what I am going to eat. This magnifies the problem online – not only are we trying to close a sale, but best predict what they might buy in order to increase the basket value.

Combining a user’s click data together with history of purchase can only take us as far as predicting their behaviour based on groups of similar consumers.

Behavioural targeting vs personalisation

When crowd behaviour creates pigeon holes, not everyone’s going to appreciate it – even personalising content can become a broadbrush without various other magical ingredients…

So taking our annoyed subject, she won’t be enjoying a hotel break anytime soon.

So how could this form of behavioural targeting be improved?

The Conversion Funnel

Don't stalk your consumer!

Don't stalk your consumer! (image:tomconger|flickr)

This is an assumption, that our subject had indeed visited the website and would really have loved to part with her money, had she had some. However how closely do site owners think about the conversion funnel? This is where behavioural targeting can become really clever. Not only base a recommendation or banner ad based on behaviour AND past purchase behaviour but also on what step of the journey the customer may be on. If you’re targeting a user that has clicked around a particular hotel more than others and maybe even stayed at your hotel chain, have they stayed at this one? Is your brand functional or aspirational? Should you perhaps woo your prospect or are they simply after the best deal?

There is a deep level of intelligence we can delve into, to really uncover the depths within the consumer’s thoughts, their needs and desires, to fully develop a truely personal experience that betters the high street and then, right when we think we’ve mastered it all…. a law is potentially being delivered banning the exact things we believe will help bridge the gap between the high street and online experiences (to an extent)

Is behavioural targeting really just plain stupid? I think not. However businesses need to reassess WHY they’re doing all of this and listen to the consumer – as with any change there will be those that protest but if the consumer feels they’re getting more benefit than not, surely they’ll stick it out…

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