E-mail: The Best Platform for Serving Banner Ads Online?

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Scott Knoll
Scott Knoll

What if I told you that e-mail marketing is the best business platform for serving the most targeted display ads online?

Nearly 8 out of 10 marketers who responded to Collective Media's 2008 Ad Network Study said that they planned to use demographic targeting in 2008, while nearly three-quarters of respondents planned to use behavioral targeting this year, up from the roughly 64% who did so in 2007. But what about leveraging transaction-based behavioral data derived from email marketing to serve targeted banner ads online?

Online marketers have spent countless hours, resources and research dollars figuring out the best methods for displaying banner ads to their perfect customer. Ad networks use site categories to target ads based on rough estimates of the demographic profiles of site visitors. Behavioral media companies use Web surfing history to serve appropriate ads to "interested customers." Lead-gen companies use self-reported data to filter out inappropriate customers. But these methods only work effectively in certain direct response categories and fall short of the new targeting/reach standards being set by some e-mail marketing companies and ad networks.

E-mail is the key to expanding the applicability of online behavioral targeting well beyond a few proven categories. Some integrated ad networks are able to drop a cookie on an email open. This cookie can contain recent behavioral information, as well as third-party verified household demographic data, such as age and family size, as well as behavioral information. Once the cookie is released, it travels throughout the online world and is never tied back to a specific e-mail address or any other personally identifiable information. When packaged correctly, this data provides marketers with a powerful understanding of the interests and true demographic make-up of their perfect customers.

And let's not overlook the importance of transparent analytics. "When putting together the online portion of a campaign, the question should not be whether or not to target ads," said David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer. "Instead, advertisers and agencies must examine the best actions to track, what metrics will gauge a campaign's effectiveness and what goals underlie the marketing."

A true ad network partner can give a report on the precise demographics behind online response. For example, if an ad campaign is focused on reaching Midwest females 25 to 39 and ends up getting stronger response among northeast males, that's priceless feedback. Currently most online marketers are measuring clicks, but not audiences. While clicks can provide a good proxy for interest, the combination of clicks and audience is where things really get interesting. Networks should also be able to tell marketers from where responses are derived by DMAs, age, household size, income level, etc.  This is only possible with valuable data generated through the e-mail channel.

Behavioral Media 2.0?  Consumer intelligence will be garnered by state-of-the-art data warehousing and software tools, and ad responses apportioned by lifestyles and psychographics.

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