Behavioral Targeting Matures: How it’s Leaving the Sandbox and Playing with the Big Boys


Behavioral targeting is not new. It is an evolution. When I first started working in online directory assistance back in 1998, the concept of behavioral targeting was being used in its most basic form. Our first client,, advertised on our site because they wanted to target people who were interested in finding other people.

Almost eight years later, behavioral targeting is still a popular concept that’s finally beginning to come into its own. The challenge was extending the reach once the users left the relevant section of the Site. Thanks to technological improvements, we can now harness users navigating through other sections of our Site and leverage it for marketers looking to achieve maximum impact with their target audience.

Another innovative way that behavioral targeting has grown is through harnessing user intent. We should distinguish and understand the difference between intent and subject interest. A web search is often times the first step in a consumer’s search for product information. A directory assistance search on the other hand, in almost all cases demonstrates intent by the consumer to make a purchase decision.

Independent research firm Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research Inc (KN/SRI) published a study that suggests a majority of consumers who search business listings are doing so because they intend to make a purchase in the very near future. For marketers, the knowledge that a consumer intends to make a purchase in 30, 60 or 90 days is a powerful combination, and it is unique to online directory assistance.

Online directory assistance searches also give marketers a wealth of information that can be used to enhance and refine an ad campaign. The layering in of valuable demographic information like gender, age or geographic information and even whether the person is searching from work or from home can increase a marketer’s chances that an ad is reaching the right consumer at just the right time.

Take the auto industry for example. A large part of the ad budget spent in this industry happens at the local level because people buy new vehicles from their local dealership. If Toyota knew when a female consumer living in Seattle searched for a Honda dealer in her area, they could target an ad for the Sienna minivan to this consumer, grabbing her attention, instigating a similar search for Toyota dealers in her geographical area, or better yet, a click through to the ad.

Toyota assumes that the consumer is close to making a purchase of a new automobile and because she is a female, they may infer she is looking for a family car and that passenger safety is an important concern. In this case, Toyota could take the information acquired from this customers directory assistance search query and use it to their advantage by serving up a relevant ad at a point where the consumer was still uncommitted to a particular brand.

Research by comScore also tells us that consumers searching online directory assistance are often times reacting to a life changing event like planning a wedding or the purchase of a new home. By evaluating the most popular business categories searched for in any given month, we can gain insight into why people are using online directory assistance.

If those categories included restaurants, hospitals, doctors, churches and schools, you could assume these consumers are new to the neighborhood because anyone who has lived or worked somewhere for any length of time would already know where the closest services are located. Advertisers like Lowes could use this information to serve a relevant ad to a potential new home buyer. When you add in demographic information and geographic information, Lowes can further refine the ad to meet the needs of that particular consumer.

As a marketer your goal is to build brand awareness. Being able to reach a specific audience at a key time can make all the difference in the world when it comes to measuring success. Online directory assistance sites provide a wealth of simple behavioral information that can be leveraged and turned into a successful advertising campaign with real results. For the consumer, this means they will continue to visit online directory assistance sites for local searches because they are being served ads that are of interest to them. For the marketer, this means less money wasted because ads are reaching the right audience at the right time.



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