2010: Audience-Centric Buying

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Networking"Networking" is a column focused on the evolving roles of networks in online advertising.

Today's column is written by Alan Schanzer, Chief Strategy Officer of Undertone Networks.

The media landscape continues to evolve as advertisers move away from impression-based demographic buying to audience-centric strategies. This shift recognizes that audiences more accurately reflect potential customers and provide a way to promote more targeted promotions and messages.

This trend is exciting for an industry that continues to demonstrate incremental value in an increasingly complex ecosystem. For ad networks, this is particularly exciting given the potential audience scale available across their aggregated Web properties and the technology deployed to find and target these audiences.

Over the years, targeting has taken many forms. One of the most widely used targeting techniques, demographic targeting, allows marketers to focus online ads on consumers with their desired demographics (i.e. age group, gender, household income, et cetera). Demographic targeting certainly serves a purpose and serves it well for broad messages and relatively simplistic buying models.

This type of targeting segmentation is borrowed from traditional media (TV) buying models and is, quite frankly, a result of limited insight into actual viewers and viewer behavior. While reach and frequency is gained, it comes with substantial waste and limitations on the relevancy of the message.

Contextual targeting, serving ads based on the content that is displayed to a consumer, is another popular way to reach consumers in an environment that is, in theory, more likely to be meaningful to the advertiser’s message – marketers are reaching consumers in the right place, at the right time, and with the right message.

While contextual targeting can be effective, there are also some drawbacks. For example, unless the content is very specific to a consumer’s interest, the opportunity for the most impactful marketing message is limited. In addition, scale on individual sites or groups of sites can be challenging. And while incredibly easy and effective for advertisers in some industries, contextual targeting doesn’t support certain brands where sites specific to their products simply don’t exist. Contextual targeting often does not address a consumer’s point on a purchase pathway or specific life stage requirements.

Behavioral targeting begins to address this but is typically defined by a consumer’s past web-browsing behavior, such as the pages they have visited or the searches they have made, which may or may not be indicative of future needs. In fact, behavioral targeting can lead a marketer to target a consumer who no longer has any interest or need for a product or service.

So, what now? Fortunately, we are in the midst of a fundamental shift toward audience-centric buying. With the advent of properly collected primary and third-party data, meaningful audience buying techniques are emerging. Now advertisers can reach the right person, at the right point in the purchase funnel, with the right message based on needs, interests, life stage, et cetera – regardless of location on the web.

One of the greatest benefits of this approach, first and foremost, is scale. Now marketers can combine the broad reach of a network with true scale and efficiency to drive positive results. This approach enables marketers to reach audiences that are more representative of their actual target consumer such as "Social Media Junkies," "Gourmands," "Culture Vultures" and "Nesters."

As someone who is about to turn 42, I fondly remember the days of being in the "Male 18-34" demographic target segment. When I turned 35, I had a slight breakdown, realizing that I was leaving behind the coveted (and pretty cool) "Male 18-34" demo and joining the older "Male 18-49" group. With audience buying, I am now a proud "Nester/Football Dad/Gamer" and will continue to be even after I am no longer in the "Male 18-49" segment. For me, that’s a better way to look at the world and a much better way to think about me as a consumer.

As marketers think more strategically about audiences and we see industry-wide adoption of this approach, networks and publishers are providing audience-driven solutions that more effectively deliver marketing messages. Look for this trend to continue in 2010 and consider how this approach can positively impact your next campaign.

Follow Undertone Networks (@UndertoneNet) and AdExchanger.com (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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