Sunday, February 26, 2006

Content, Targeting & Advertising

By Peter Bordes

AdValiant's president describes how behavioral targeting boosts the value of content in a post-Google world.

We all know that there are tons of reasons why Google's Adwords work. And there's little doubt where advertising is heading online. After all, internet media is a fantastic proxy for special interest media, only with a far more precise ability to target ads to users based on the content they select. It's always been that way, which is why web ad dollars have grown steadily since mid-2000 at the expense of other media.

Then came Google. What's happened in the post-Google world isn't so much about more advertising heading online. It's far more about direct response marketers looking for more precise targeting and accountability than can exist in the non-digital world.

We all know that it's become much harder to reach consumers and customers in the past three years. But, what if publishers could engage your target not based on content taxonomies that were designed under subject headers? What if you could target them through these publishers based on keyword terms within a given network?

While Revenue Science and others have made tremendous headway in this fast-growing field, the major companies in this space focus their products on top-100 sites. We all know that the web goes far deeper than that. What can publishers of other sites do to not only make their content more palatable for advertisers, but also retain control of the types of creative units on their sites?

Lessons learned from in-store advertising

To break out of the logjam of advertising and media at point of purchase, marketers leveraged the in-store environment as a marketing vehicle. When was the last time you spent more than 20 minutes in a supermarket? Those of us who shop in major cities might be surprised by a visit to a suburban grocery store where you'll find everything from brand messages on shelf-edge price cards to advertising on the conveyor belt in the checkout lane. Dozens of new tactics are being tested or deployed all the time. If you think there are constantly new units being tested online, you should take a walk through these well-lit aisles.

When consumers read their favorite sites online, why should we regard that differently?

Let's face it, the best behavioral marketing should perform as well as in-store ads have, if not better. Reaching consumers as they engage with and participate in their interest areas and can self-select, based on these interests, is what makes the best web marketing work -- no matter whether it's measured by traditional branding metrics or by performance metrics.

Lessons learned from print advertising

Anyone who studies direct response marketing knows that some of the best-performing print units week-in and week-out have long been the glossy inserts in Sunday newspapers across the United States. Why do they do so well? Maybe it's because consumers expect to see attractive and glossy ads in their Sunday papers, or maybe it's because Sunday is a time when consumers relax and engage with the information at their fingertips. Whatever the case, if those ads were affixed to the dynamic editorial content that these same users choose when they read their news online they would far outperform even the good metrics they garner as glossy Sunday inserts.

The more innovative any promotion or marketing delivery is, the more difficult it may seem to measure its success. But, given today's remarkable availability of behavioral data, there are multiple resources available to marketers who want to reach consumers at the height of their interest.

Beware of charlatans who seem to over-promise, however. If the sell seems too hard, it probably won't deliver. Any behavioral solution you choose should be able to trace the effects of a given campaign by going back weeks before it was introduced to establish a baseline against which to measure behavioral changes for weeks after, as your campaign flight runs its course. Almost any effective marketing or promotion may yield benefits well after its flight has been completed.

No matter what the industry vertical or sub-vertical, the right kind of network should be able to enable effective behavioral targeting, even for a segment as precisely defined as that of consumer health sites or gaming sites syndicated for media business partners via an affiliate network. Through consistently updated analysis of audience behaviors, any network can continually create targeted audience segments based on individual advertiser and campaign requirements. With micro sites and blogs also being thrown into the mix, enabling better SEM results, the right network can drive tremendous results for marketers interested in driving their performance metrics higher than before.

By integrating all online marketing channels -- affiliate performance marketing, email, SEM and SEO-based lead generation, strategic web publishing and real time data across one network, the right publishing partner can enable marketers to create awareness, generate leads, drive sales and retain their customers over the fullness of time. No matter how well-branded any site is this will increasingly become the trend among successful web publishers. The lines between content and advertising are blurring still, and publishers stand to gain the most from this convergence.

Yes, I used that word that got so many people in trouble back in 1999 -- convergence. The kind of advertising products I'm describing here will drive a new kind of pinpoint convergence between and among publishers and advertisers in a fully contextual, keyword-targeted environment that is highly customizable for both and has intelligent optimization behind it.

Online marketing is truly an intelligent evolution. And publishers hold the key.