New age of ad targeting: what I wish I learned in business school
by Jordan Ehrlich, on July 30, 2018
I learned a lot in business school. It shaped me into the (slightly more) practical thinker I (sometimes) am today. It gave me ways to communicate strategy and implement tactical marketing plans. But thinking back on some of the specific lessons learned, I realize now that there’s a better way to advertise on the internet than my marketing professors initially led me to believe. And as a result, I feel that digital marketers everywhere could benefit from a new take on digital advertising.
My professors focused heavily on answering the questions of to whom, when and how should we advertise. And in-turn, they spent very little time discussing where to advertise online - or even how to find the sites where advertisements trigger conversions most efficiently.
Focusing on who is overemphasized
All of my marketing lectures seemed to emphasize strategic market segmentation - gathering data to answer the question of “who is our audience?”
The thought here is that if I completely understand my target audience, I can then serve them ads with which they will deeply relate, and in-turn they will buy more of my products. This makes sense, and is effective. But only up to a certain point.
Targeting the individual gets creepy
It’s old news now, but it seems relevant to reference that time Target sent baby product coupons to the household of a soon-to-be teen mom whose parents didn’t even know she was pregnant. And I only mention this because it was the first time massive attention was brought to marketers getting a little creepy - and answering the question of who a little too well.
First it amazed us. Then we all thought, “well isn’t this a bit weird?”
I also wonder if those ads even achieved their desired effect - and got her to buy more diapers.
Technology has come a long way
That was back in 2012. But now it’s 2018. We’ve been given powerful tools that allow us to go even deeper, and over-indulge in this person-centric targeting. And for what? Maybe a 3% conversion rate if we’re lucky.
With Facebook and Google ads, we can now target individuals based on their geography, age, previous website visits, and oddly personal information. It’s as if digital marketers thought, "Oh great! Now that we know Sarah from Cleveland is afraid of the dark (from that facebook page she liked the other day), let’s send her ads for our nightlights for the next 6 months.” And “Sure! She’ll enjoy getting this nightlight ad when she’s trying to buy underwear! Yep, throw it her way!”
Sarah from Cleveland may never forget that tragic Facebook act back in May. The truth is, when served those follow-up ads on Kohl’s.com, she wasn’t even thinking about buying a nightlight - she instead became distracted, and pretty annoyed by these reminders.
It is this this type of advertising that raised the red flag for consumers - the type of advertising that showed us the need for GDPR.
Few platforms act as roadmaps
This is because almost no platform fully understands the flows of traffic online, or harnesses intelligence to determine whether advertisements make sense on various internet sites. We currently have no tools that tell us, “This road eventually leads to your fish stand! You should advertise your fish with a billboard on this road instead of following that person on their way to the adult superstore in Illinois. Sure, they might have expressed interest in your fish at the market yesterday. But they won’t be back down this road for a couple weeks, so let’s not waste our advertising dollars.”
One platform paves the way
This is exactly what DemandJump’s Traffic Cloud® does. The Traffic Cloud® sees and understands these highways - focusing on website traffic patterns instead of website visitors. Its work is independent of cookies and personal data.
This kind of analysis, by the way, is even proven to triple return on ad spend for those who use it - because it places ads where they will be well received.
The process provides digital marketers with recommendations (such as suggesting effective google keywords, sites to display visual ads, and blogs to partner with) based on how heavily trafficked the roads are, and how effective your competitors’ advertisements have been in certain locations. It considers website context, visitor intent, and where people are going so they don’t get served toilet ads when they’ve already passed the toilet store.
You might be thinking, “Well, tools like google analytics show me the volume of search queries for any word I can type. So I think I’ve got a good picture of the highways, Jordan.” But even still, tools such as this don’t show you the full picture. They don’t give you recommendations based on which of those keywords will cause conversions with the least amount of money - or understand where a website exists on a customer's path to purchase products like yours. This is the kind of road map I’m talking about.
What I wish I learned in business school
This is the kind of marketing focus I wish I had as I trained to become a digital marketer. Although, I can’t blame my professors. Some of them were actually fantastic - talking to you Mrs. Smith-Robinson! It’s just because this technology is still not mainstream. Few people know this is possible. And even fewer people have access to the traffic data and computing power to make this kind of analysis possible. To understand where people have come from and where they’re going takes a lot of comprehensive data analytics - and some AI. All of which is right inside DemandJump’s wheelhouse.
I think I’ll send this blog to my old marketing professors too. It’s important to me that students entering the digital marketing arena are exposed to the most effective ways of ad targeting through methods that are not creepy or invasive. I’m excited by this new wave of lean digital advertising - advertising independent of personal data. I hope it becomes mainstream. And you probably do too.