Behavioral targeting: The dos and don'ts

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Behavioral targeting: The dos and don'ts
Behavioral targeting: The dos and don'ts

Every marketer's dream is to know as much as possible about a consumer to improve brand image and generate sales by sending exactly the right message to the right audience at the right time. 

But when do consumers think we have “gone too far” in tracking their behavior? A growing number believe their every click of a mouse, swipe of a card or call on their cell phone is being recorded and sold to the highest bidder.  And … in some instances, they aren't too far off the mark. 

Consequently marketers and their data collection practices are under the spotlight like never before. For companies with a brand to protect, this can be an uncomfortable place to be.  While you don't want to be the next negative headline in the Wall Street Journal, you also don't want to be so reluctant to embrace new marketing intelligence that provides a positive return on investment, or that you let the competition beat you. 

Here are  five simple rules to follow when evaluating your campaigns that utilize behavioral intelligence, whether it comes from sites visited, search keywords, email content, cell phone tracking or TV shows watched.

Calculate your shock rating. Calculate how shocked the average consumer would be to learn what information is being collected about his/her behavior and how you plan to use it in a campaign.  This means understanding what your vendor does to create a profile or segment to which you advertise.  Your rating should evaluate the kinds of clicks, locations or shows that are tracked to create the profile.  Pay special attention to highly sensitive areas of information including medical, financial and children.       

 Use a soft-sell approach. Direct marketers know in the offline world that you don't take specific knowledge you have about a consumer's behavior you received from a third party, such as frequenting car sale sites or locations, and make a specific reference to that knowledge in an ad. Even if the profile tells you the customer has been shopping for a car, a subtle approach works best. Instead of saying “since you are shopping for a new car” the best approach is to say “if you are in the market for a new car.” 

Promote choice. Consumers like having choices, even when they choose not to exercise them.  Just knowing they can take action to “make it stop” if they so desire.  One of the big criticisms about using behavioral intelligence is that consumers find it very hard to “make it stop” if they get uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, in the online space, ‘turning off' the behavioral tracking isn't as easy as consumers might like it to be.  You should provide consumers with information and choices about receiving this kind of advertising.  Be sure to inquire with your vendor about what options they offer.  You can also put in your own privacy policy information about how to opt-out and manage cookies.        

Buy from reputable vendors. This industry isn't regulated – at least not yet – so dealing with reputable players can pay you big dividends.  Work with respected vendors who follow the self-regulatory guidelines from the Network Advertisers Initiative, the Mobile Marketing Association and the Interactive Advertising Bureau.  These organizations are leading the way in establishing practices that build trust with the consumer and protect your brand.  

Follow the issue. Using behavioral information to target advertising online, especially search and IPS information, is politically hot right now and will continue to be controversial for some time.  Follow this issue in the news and watch for practices that are widely criticized.

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