When I was in college, I took a course in sociology. The study of human behavior was always a fascinating subject to me. Years later, I find myself thinking about that course on a regular basis. I am once again fascinated with the concept of studying human behavior, but instead of worrying about mid-terms, I am thinking of how the translation of inherent behavioral cues derived from simple category or keyword searches can help marketers harness the power of advertising on a vertical search website.
In other words, I’m thinking about behavioral targeting.
It is a well known marketing truism that major purchase decisions tend to happen when life happens. Marketers know this, so they attempt to reach people who are in the process of undergoing a major life event. This allows them to capture the attention of a consumer precisely when their need is greatest.
While it all sounds easy enough, the fact is, it is not a simple task to find people in a particular life stage. As a result, online media spends tend to go to demographically targeted banner ads, keyword search, or sponsorships on niche sites like legal and medical advice sites. These types of spends approximate life-stage targeting by using age groupings, not search related keywords or category terms.
These strategies work, but the challenge comes when the media plan needs to be scaled and the inventory just is not available. There is good news, however. Recent online audience research by Nielsen NetRatings indicates that there may be a new way to reach people in the throes of major life events by using search-based behavioral targeting.
According to Nielsen, WhitePages.com search-based behavioral targeting segments appear to cluster into traditional life stage demographic groupings. For example, people who have recently searched in the automotive category are four times more likely to be in the “new family” life-stage. Something you may not consider surprising since people tend to have a baby first, and then decide to purchase a new ‘family friendly’ automobile like a minivan. But when you realize the strong correlation between the two, you suddenly have a very powerful piece of information.
Using the auto manufacturer as an example, you can translate the nuggets of information like search keywords ‘baby furniture’ or ‘toy store,’ and make a reasonable assumption that the consumer is expecting to be a parent sometime soon if they aren’t already. Knowing this, the auto manufacturer can more effectively place a highly relevant ad targeted specifically at this customer.
Understanding the relationship between search behavior and life stage clusters provides high-consideration consumer product marketers a new, high-reach method for finding people in a particular life-stage. Knowing that the people they are reaching in an auto segment are more likely to be in the “new family” life-stage, insurance companies might consider advertising both auto and life insurance products. This allows them to stretch their media dollars further by reaching people actively in need of auto insurance as well as people who could, and arguably should be considering increasing or revising their life insurance policies.
Vertical search sites are unique in that the ability to identify customers in life-stages can be easily inferred from a simple keyword or category search. Of course, audiences vary depending on the vertical site, but if we know that people searching within particular product categories are more likely to be in the same life-stage, the obvious next step is to turn the model upside down by creating “life stage” behavioral targeting segments that group all search categories correlating to that particular life-stage.
A “new family” segment would combine people searching for autos, moving companies, insurance or wedding services. All of these categories are strongly correlated with Nielsen NetRatings’ “new family” life-stage. By identifying a life-stage segment, vertical search sites can enable advertisers to reach people while they are in the directly relevant search category, or “in-market,” as well as all of the other life-stage correlated categories or “in the market soon enough.”
As more dollars shift online, the landscape will become more competitive. Marketers should be on the lookout for unique opportunities to reach relevant audiences in the most effective and efficient way. By leveraging the power of life-stage behavioral targeting via vertical search, a marketer can more precisely reach the right audience, at the right time, generating real, measurable results.
All these years later, I never imagined the basic principles I learned in that sociology class would apply directly to how we market today. It is only now that I realize how powerful the understanding of human intent can be.