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.



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…


Think Vis 2010 – An Internet Marketing Conference To Attend

About Think Vis


The Think Visibility Conference

Think Visibility is a conference on points you might miss elsewhere at other online marketing events. Take advantage of well-known speakers and emerging talents and networking opportunities with industry experts worth listening to.

The Think Vis events are usually held on a Saturday to ensure you get the opportunity to attend – no excuses accepted!

Find out more about the Think Vis September Event or book for the next Think Visibility >

Think Visibility Golden Nuggets – September 2010

Take a look at some of these articles on Think Vis for a real taster:

Summaries of ThinkVis

Affiliate Marketing @ ThinkVis

Design, Usability & Conversion @ ThinkVis

SEO @ ThinkVis

Did you attend Think Visibility 2010? Any other interesting blog articles worth adding above? What did you think of it and how would you pitch this to fellow Internet Marketers?

How Buying Online Can Be Worse Than The High Street

digital camera with womain posing in mirror

image courtesy of "theonlyanla" via Flickr

I wanted to purchase a digital camera. My 5 mega pixel camera from years back had its time, I was now looking for a 14.1MP camera – yeah baby!

I saw an ad on the TV over the weekend (yes the old medium still works) which prompted me to take a look at this particular camera, 14.1MP now half price! Quids in!

Searching online, I typed the model number into Google as you do and clicked on the 3rd result down which was below the official site and a well known review site. Great I thought, looks like Google Product search has found me an even cheaper outlet. By this time I felt the power of the internet running through me as I was ready to buy within minutes. Beat that high street!

So clicking through, I was not only presented with the camera I was interested in, but also some alternatives around the similar price. Ah, I thought, wonder what I get if I pay a little bit more.

By the time I had finished looking at the alternatives was I ready to buy? No! Now I wasn’t sure. I then started researching the various options trying to understand the digital photography lingo and whether shutter speed would make any difference at all… I was lost.

See the problem here? Had I walked into a store from the TV ad and said I really like this camera, the store assistant would have closed the sale, probably with a 3 year extended warranty, SD card and case that I never intended to buy.

Instead we are at times so fixated with e-commerce sites in providing the customer with choice, we sometimes overlook the simple fact that a customer may simply want to buy this product. Or better still we throw everything at the customer from ‘you should buy this because someone else did’ or ‘buy this because ultimately you don’t have a clue’. As responsible internet marketers we need to understand and respect the consumer much better.

How do you behavioural target a consumer that knows exactly what they want? Do you push the boundary on increasing the basket value with an up-sell or increase your likelihood to convert by placing a little faith in the consumer?

I’m now going to purge my experience and go back to the original camera I was interested in. I won’t fall for mind-games, up-sells and promotions… not at least until the next time I want to buy online…

Do you agree that online shopping can be arduous? Or perhaps I’m over analysing this as an expert (of sorts)?

10 Step Random Social Media Strategy

Having been helping out a friend for his new Startup/SME recently, I advised on a few basic tips on social media (emphasis on basic) to get them thinking. So basic I thought I’d post the tips here, for anyone new to social media marketing. Social media has moved on leaps and bounds since I last wrote on the subject. And the pace of innovation cruises on as more sophisticated platforms emerge (FourSquare, mobile apps) and existing platforms develop (Facebook Open Graph), pushing the boundaries.

The Social Media Bandwagon

Image courtesy of Matt Hamm via Flickr

But with so much going on, where do you start? For most, the start, at this moment in time, exists of Facebook, Twitter and Blogging. Each have their values, purposes and challenges, but where do you focus your social media marketing on when starting out? Here is a random thought process which helped this SME think about the potential for developing their Social Media strategy.

1. Twitter is your most prolific business building tool in Social Media Land

Many think Twitter is a real engagement tool to speak to their customers (ie Dell) yet so many others find the B2B benefits far outweigh the B2C. For this particular company, with their new product, Twitter can be a great way to create market interest and awareness. If you’re in this boat, find Twitter users within your industry and look at who they follow – follow these people. They’ll either be customers of the brands, or business partners/competitors. This is a great way to build awareness. You need to get following them for them to follow you and find out about your new product. Follow all the mainstream companies in this industry.Think about what your most important metrics is however – is it purely the number of followers? Retweets? Click throughs? This should influence how you build up your portfolio of followers.

2. Ensure you keep Twitter updated

So if you’ve taken the Twitter route, then keep it updated! The accounts that fail are those that are
  • neglected – you have a thousand followers but forget to post updates
  • boring and useless – you post insomnia fodder, wake up!
  • updated too frequently – those Twitter accounts that post messages every 5 minutes and clutter my incoming Twitter stream…. yes I unfollowed you!
You will lose followers if you subscribe to any of those.

3. Engage.

Twitter is about sharing and conversing; share your own tweets but also retweet interesting, on-topic stuff. Also try and comment on what others are saying.
Why not:
  • relate and respond to your followers; what are they talking about?
  • analyse trending topics – can you add anything of interest to get Retweets or more Followers?
  • tweet about interesting things you’re doing (like taking your product to a location for free giveaways for example)
  • retweet interesting but relevant stuff
  • IF you have a blog, automate Tweets each time you write a post – drive interest back to your blog!

4. Design a decent Twitter background

Its not hard; its a great way of introducing your product or brand – break open the 140 word limit with a 1000 words! Inform followers on who you are and what you do, make it look as professional as any page on your website. Its another entry point to your brand, treat it like any other page within your website

5. Post your Tweets onto your website

Twitter Birdy

Image courtesy of Matt Hamm via Flickr

That is, the homepage of your site or within a sidebar of your site, using one of the many Twitter to website plugins available. This will automatically show recent Tweets from your Twitter account. Its a great way of getting more followers and to show that you’re actually talking about cool, relevant stuff that your website visitors will want to subscribe to.

6. Facebook takes time to evolve.

I’d concentrate fully on Twitter first as a startup. Facebook interactions are different to Twitter. Facebook ‘fans’ would be admitting to using or being affiliated with your product or brand. The advantage with Facebook is having messages seen in your fan’s timeline, giving additional exposure to their friends.However Facebook users tend to be more protective of becoming fans of brands than Twitter followers are of following Tweeters. I believe Facebook has a more targetted, B2C benefit than Twitter but this conversely takes more time to nurture to fruition. It also depends on the brand and product and how mainstream Vs niche you are.

7. A Blog (weB log) is a great opportunity to build some 1-2-1 interaction with potential and actual customers

Blogging, words and life

Image courtesy of Kristina B via Flickr

Blogs have been around for years. Much longer than since the term was coined in fact. Its a communication tool and a gateway into your company/brand for your customers, both existing and new. Company blogs range from high level corporate noise through to meaningful insights. This is where the likes of really capture the true essence of what I feel a blog, in the social media marketing sense, really is. A blog creates 2-way dialogue. You’re not talking at your customers, you’re conversing with them. You’re talking their language, about things they’re interested in and you make them feel part of your brand. You make them want to contribute, and make them feel they’re part of your community. New customers see this and warm to this. Existing customers want to spend more money with you because they feel an affinity. This is not just blogging, this is emotional entanglement with your brand.

And because of this, who blogs your brand makes the world of difference… don’t leave it to PR, or Marketing, or Customer Services. Leave it to someone who gets your customers, speaks their language, lives your brand and can communicate with the masses… ASOS have a range of bloggers and this helps keep things fresh and relevant… crucial in an overgrowing Internet of blogs, blogs and more blogs.
Create posts which are interesting but importantly, engage the readers – ask a question or get them thinking. For example end your blog post with an outro question like ‘Do you enjoy shopping online? Would you miss shmoosing the malls if high street retailers went online only? Perhaps both can exist side by side?’

8. Reddit and Digg it!

There are numerous social bookmarking websites out there including Reddit and Digg – if you can create some really interesting blog posts, submit them onto the social bookmarking websites. They’re a great way of extending your small reach. Consider social bookmarking websites as the modern day alternative to the yellow pages. Except you can add articles for free, highly targetted around your article to attract customers/site visitors to your brand or product.
Get people you know to sign up for these sites and get them voted for. The higher the voting, the more chance a) they will get clicked/visited and b) they will pass ‘link equity’ back to the blog meaning you’ll enhance your SEO efforts too! Perhaps that’s best left for another article.

9. Youtube videos as brand messages and traffic drivers

If you have videos of anything to do with your products, get them into your own section in Youtube. Not only will these rank well in search engines but embedding these into your website into a relevant page will boost rankings of that page over time – you’re serving useful content to your site visitors and search engines like that.

10. Keyword optimise your profiles

For example your Twitter profile: insert the typical keywords you’re targetting as well as the brand name. These may help your Twitter profile rank. Same goes for Facebook, YouTube and anything else where your profile is publicly visible. There is the notion of covering brand searches with maximum brand exposure – if you could rank your website number 1 for your brand term, your blog number 2, Twitter account number 3, Youtube page number 4 and perhaps Facebook page number 5, where would that leave competitors? Vying for spots in paid ads of course but it would ensure a clean sweep of the key SEO positions!

And Finally

Setting Social Media KPIs

Image courtesy of James Cridland via Flickr

Ensure you have your KPIs in place before you start! Yes I jumped in head first into tips on strategy, but nothing creates a better strategy than defining your goals from the start… be clear, be SMART, be cool – whatever, just ensure you know and understand your KPIs for social media else you’ll be walking the social media landscape without a checkpoint for success.
There are a whole range of social media initiatives, tips, strategies etc which I’ve not covered off, but hopefully this simple list provides a few pointers on where you could be taking things if you’re still thinking of starting out, or are new to the Social Media Marketing concept.
What else would you advise a new company starting out in social media? Add your tips below!
Depesh Mandalia

The Retail E-Commerce Challenge

I’ve written before about the challenge of bringing a bricks and mortar sales operation online. Well it seems those in the know in the e-tail sector are all too aware of the relative poor level of sales being generated online for some of the well known high street retailers.

Speaking recently to an e-tail Director, it became apparant at some of the internal issues faced by traditional retailers, including a huge misunderstanding of online trading. It is not enough to use a successful store model online. Why would you try and cash in on those £4.99 value transactions online which work so well in your stores to drive footfall and sales, when the online delivery charge is £5? Am I prepared to pay £5 for convenience? Perhaps, but the online commercial model, whilst sharing the same business foundation as the high street stores, requires a differing layer of development.

In today’s world of high-speed internet, choice and convenience, it can hurt your business considerably by not playing the online game seriously. Consider it a new branch of your business as opposed to a new sales channel… one that needs to be thought out for its business proposition, product placement, differentiation and marketability amongst other things.

The good to come out of the challenges faced by a recession and reduction in footfall for retailers is to find cheaper routes to market and market penetration, leading retailers to give online commerce the commitment and investment required to leverage lower cost sales and marketing to those already online. This leads me onto the issue of customer insight, far too big a discussion area for this post, but one which must be at the centre of the online drive.

On a final note, the travel sector is in many opinions years ahead of most other sectors. Perhaps retailers in particular have lay in wait too long with the comfort of their traditional sales channels negating any need to change. Now’s the time to review your business model.