To Thine Own Customer Be True


ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — Consumers like behavioral targeting. No, consumers love behavioral targeting.

Despite what you may be thinking, I am not delusional nor am I in denial about the facts surrounding consumer preferences and online advertising. I am simply reacting to how consumers prefer to be treated by businesses with which they have a relationship. For decades, the mantra of the one-to-one marketing industry has been “know me,” and that is just as true online as offline.

Since the dawn of time, consumers have frequented merchants they have come to know and trust, and that have come to know them. In fact, they not only become loyal, they pay premium prices for the experience. This is how companies like Nordstrom, the Ritz-Carlton and even Amazon have become so successful. I had an experience at a Ritz-Carlton hotel that illustrates this well. On my second visit to this particular Ritz, seconds after checking in, the bellman escorted me to the elevator and said, “As you recall from your last visit, the business center is located on the main floor.” He could have been guessing I used the business center and got it right, but the fact he keyed off the conversation at check-in and used that to personalize my experience is what left the impression. Selfishly, we all like to be remembered and reward businesses that tailor our experience to fit our preferences.

Assuming the above is accurate, then why has interactive advertising and behavioral targeting become the whipping post of consumer advocates and the subject of renewed interest by both U.S. and Canadian governments as well as the European Union? The recent consolidation of several large online players has certainly catalyzed renewed interest, but the bulk of the negative reaction is simply due to the fact as an industry we have pushed the limits of what consumers consider appropriate. Online we have shrouded the identity of those collecting the data and the intended uses of the data to the point that consumers have become suspicious. Remember those two questions – who and for what purpose – as they are the pivotal component to getting consumers to be comfortable with online advertising once again.

When we trust the party with whom we are dealing, we will share more information. When that information is then used to provide a superior product, service or experience, we reward that party. In fact, when we share information and a merchant fails to use it to enhance our experience, we actually get upset. Again, let’s use an example.

Let’s say I see an ad for Crates of Couches on local broadcast television and go to the store. I tell the salesperson all about the size and location of my home; the fact that I have three kids and a dog; my wife’s taste in décor — and even when I’ll be home from a bike ride to accept delivery. My new couch gets delivered, but now the coffee table looks ratty next to it, so I head back to the store. The salesperson doesn’t recognize me and greets me as a stranger, and I am miffed.

Take this simple scenario and mirror it online – I see an ad and visit and similarly provide information and order a couch for delivery. I return to the site to order the table and sure enough, all of my information is retained in my account. I even get “Bonus Bucks” as a frequent shopper. But after that second purchase, I notice how specific offers regarding furniture start to appear in ads I see across the Web. Tables, carpeting and interior decorating services I’ve never heard of suddenly appear to have me fingered as a prospect. Creepy. I intended to share information with and no one else. I wonder who has information about my furniture preferences and how’d they get it? I make sure to clear my cookies before heading out for another bike ride.

I am in the business of ad serving, so how can I consider this a problem? Isn’t targeting the way I differentiate our company and grow the business? Of course it is, but consumers want to know that if they enter into a relationship with a known and trusted merchant, any information derived from that relationship stays with and is used by that merchant — and no one else. That’s the flaw in our industry and the reason we’re under scrutiny once again. Online advertisers and their agencies have a wealth of information provided by customers that is a fantastic source of targeting dimensions. I’m not bothered by viewing targeted offers from because I told them to “know me.” I want to learn of invitation-only sales and 0% financing promotions. But what I don’t want is to feel as if someone else is following me around from store to store with a clip board recording my every move.

So why is this important? Consumers have not abandoned the Web because of concerns about behavioral targeting. In fact, the 18-25 year-old cohort seems enamored with brandishing a wealth of personal information on MySpace and Facebook pages. But we need consumers to trust the medium even more as it matures. The Internet has evolved from simple email and news portals to an integral part of how we live. We are being offered the chance to interact in whole new ways online. This goes beyond stock trades and ecommerce. Confidential physician consultations are being conducted through new models. Divorce counseling and even driver’s education classes are offered online. Continuing to make the Internet enhance our daily lives will depend on the trust and confidence of every day consumers.


  1. Regarding your statement “[…] consumers want to know that if they enter into a relationship with a known and trusted merchant, any information derived from that relationship stays with and is used by that merchant — and no one else.” do you have some links to surveys or studies that have found this to be the case?


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