The Do's, Don'ts, and Examples of Behavioral Targeting
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The Do’s, Don’ts, and Examples of Behavioral Targeting

By now, we are all used to the tiny pop-up that appears on our screen when we visit a new website, asking us if we will accept cookies. This simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer plays an instrumental role in marketing campaigns for the brands we love — and the ones we may love in the future. Gathering information on a user’s browsing history — including saves, likes, time on site, and other data — brands can better position themselves to reach the right audience at the right time. This, in essence, is behavioral targeting. As the name suggests, it’s a strategy where marketers follow your behaviors to better target you as a customer through advertisements, newsletters, web copy, blogs, and content in general.

When experts allow behavioral targeting to guide their interactions with users, it becomes more personalized and valuable and thus more likely to resonate, explains Clair Simpson, the director of marketing at Oncue. “In a world where consumers are inundated with ads 24/7, marketers must use their available data to create personalized messaging that brings genuine value to the people for whom it is intended.”

Here, we interview marketing executives about the right ways to navigate behavioral targeting, as well as examples of effective strategies from brands you may recognize.

Three do’s of behavioral targeting.

Three do’s of behavioral targeting.

As you start to research the most impactful ways to add behavioral targeting methods, it’s recommended to keep a few tactics in mind. These do’s include:

  • Do think outside of the box.
  • Do make it personalized at the right time.
  • Do remember contextual targeting.

Do think outside of the box.

While content writers understand every reader and user is different and requires various touchpoints to take action, sometimes, advertisers can be narrow-minded. For example, say an advertiser is selling a skincare product and only focuses on a person’s online behaviors surrounding skincare. This isn’t a holistic approach since many aspects of a user’s lifestyle could shape how they think about their beauty routine, explains Payge H. Kerman, the president of Wink Digital. “Thinking outside the box can enhance the quality of the ads and the relevance to an audience,” she continues.

“If advertisers are looking to target skincare ads for a company that focuses on vegan skincare, they should also look at other behaviors of vegans outside of the beauty industry, too. This includes searches for organic produce, plant-based meat purchasers, anti-hunting activist groups, business owners with eco-friendly mindsets, and so on.”

Do make it personalized at the right time.

Sending the right message at the right time in the buyer journey can make the difference between gaining a new customer or losing them, Simpson says. “As a marketer, it’s important to use data to determine what is and is not important to a particular user,” she explains.

As an example, when you look through the traffic and analytics report from a client’s website, you notice that a user has engaged with a specific email campaign more than anything else. This is a learning process since you can look at the content within that newsletter and the time of day it went out, what time they clicked, and so on. “This data can then be used to create a personalized campaign that is more likely to resonate with the customer since it is something in which they have already expressed interest,” Simpson adds.

Do remember contextual targeting.

To put it simply, Kerman says behavioral targeting is nothing without contextual targeting. What is ‘contextual targeting’? As she defines, it allows you to look at content on a webpage and use that to reach users with particular interests.

Here’s an example: an advertiser is exploring placing ads for a non-toxic paint company. The first audience buckets that innately come to mind are home buyers, those who are relocating, residential businesses, and so on. However, Kermans says if you happen to target someone who falls into one of these categories but is also a destructive graffiti artist, their paint could end up in a place they didn’t intend. And sadly, it could damage the brand’s reputation.

Bottom line: Pay attention to all of the activity of a potential user and set up safeguards to target the correct customers.

From the do’s and don'ts to examples, here’s what you need to know about behavioral targeting strategies. Click To Tweet

Three dont’s of behavioral targeting.

Three don’ts of behavioral targeting

Though you can’t discount the benefits of behavioral targeting, there are many ways to get this strategy wrong. The biggest ‘don’ts’ include:

  • Don’t forget about low-hanging fruit.
  • Don’t harass your customer.
  • Don’t give your users ‘feed fatigue.’

Don’t forget about low-hanging fruit.

When we’re in the trenches of meeting our client’s goals, we’re all guilty of making the process overly complicated. While, yes, you should be mindful of valuable ways to target your customer, there’s nothing wrong with capitalizing on what Kerman calls ‘low-hanging fruit.’ As she puts it, sometimes the best answer is the most obvious one. “Behavior can be erratic, but it’s largely predictable. Don’t forget to target and observe the ‘easy’ wins, too,” she adds.

Don’t harass your customer.

The purpose of behavioral targeting is to edit your message across various mediums to reach certain users specifically. The personalized touch is what makes it incredibly beneficial, but well, at times, it can come across as creepy or strange if it’s too often, too much, or hits too close to home. As Simpson says, this tactic requires marketers to walk a fine line between providing ads and messaging that is genuinely helpful — and making a potential customer feel like your company is harassing them.

“A good behavioral targeting campaign will subtly get your product in front of someone who is already considering it and gently push them into becoming a customer,” she continues. “And bad behavioral targeting will irritate the potential customer with too many ads and possibly turn them away from your product. When it comes to launching an effective behavioral marketing campaign, less is more.”

Don’t give your users ‘feed fatigue.’

Behavioral targeting techniques can create the opportunity to build various pieces of content. However, sometimes, the same user could be served the same article, newsletter, or advertisement if they fall into several audience segments. When this happens, it creates what Kerman calls ‘feed fatigue,’ making the customer feel bored or frustrated with the brand. “If using behavioral targeting to re-market to audiences, make sure to mix up the types of content you show a user to they stay engaged,” she suggests.

Examples of behavioral targeting.

Three examples of effective behavioral targeting

For many marketers, case studies are an easy — and informative — way to digest new concepts. Here, our experts share the most compelling examples of behavioral targeting to create inspiration.

Netflix.

How many times have you aimlessly browsed Netflix, looking for something to watch, and somehow, they suggest the perfect TV show or movie? It’s purposeful — and a great example of behavioral targeting, Simpson says. “By utilizing available data for each viewer, Netflix can create personalized marketing campaigns that are driven by the viewer’s previous behavior,” she continues. “A viewer is left feeling like Netflix knows them so well that they can predict what they want to engage with next, even before the viewer knows it themselves.”

Amazon.

Another example of a company with effective behavioral targeting is Amazon. Just take a look at the advertisements you receive and the emails lingering in your inbox. As Simpson shares, Amazon users will often see emails or ads based on what you were browsing but didn’t purchase or products you may like based on previous purchases. “Perhaps you never searched for a particular product, but when that product is displayed with no effort on your part, the urge to make a snap purchasing decision can increase,” she adds.

An artist’s course.

One of the best cases of behavioral targeting Kerman has worked on was an artist’s online course. She wanted to reach users worldwide for her self-paced Art-to-Print course, which focused on turning original art into high-quality art prints. Kerman’s team evaluated the behaviors of her audience, including those who recently quit/left jobs, who purchased acrylic paint, who were looking for framing tutorials or the best printers, and more, to provide the users targeted ads for her course. As a result, her client was able to generate $70K for months from $4,500 investments. That’s a win!

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Lindsay Tigar

About Lindsay

Lindsay Tigar is an experienced, established travel and lifestyle journalist, editor and content strategist. Since uprooting from Asheville, North Carolina in 2010 to Manhattan, Lindsay's work has appeared on several websites, including Travel + Leisure, Vogue, USA Today, Reader's Digest, Self, Refinery29 and countless others. While she is always up for the challenge of any assignment, her main areas of focus include travel, wellness, career, psychology, love and healthy living.

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