It would be a bit of an understatement to say that marketers are still grappling with the age old question, “What do customers want?” let me say, at the outset, it isn’t for lack of trying!

Permit me to cite an example. You’re browsing your favourite e-commerce website and a new product catches your eye. Intrigued, you click on it and peruse all its details. However, you decide not to purchase it immediately and return to browsing. Later that same day or a few days hence, you notice that an advertisement for the same product is visible on any website you may visit. Be it a YouTube, a blog site or a forum, that advertisement is always present. As a customer, would you say you’re annoyed or intrigued?

That, in a nutshell, is behavioural targeting, just one of the many attempts to get into the customer’s skin. The idea is simple-by analyzing a consumer’s past behaviour and current interests, it obviously becomes much easier to generate marketing material that is tailored to that particular individual. In fact, here’s a fun fact, did you know that data companies such as Google can track an individual’s online behaviour and thereby provide them with advertisements that are more relevant? This is, of course, as opposed to simply bombarding the individual with random advertisements in the hope that one will somehow offer the product or service that they need.

Wait, there’s more. Cookies are (pardon the pun), the bread-and-butter of the concept itself. It works like so-cookies are essentially markers that are placed into the consumer’s web browser that tell data companies what the consumer was looking for and which pages they browsed. Moreover, it also categorizes that content, so that online marketing companies can, in an instant, sum up what the consumer wants and which advertisements they’re most likely to respond to. Marketers listen up; remember that customers expect sites they visit repeatedly to remember who they are and their preferences. Behavioural targeting comes up tops in this context, as it permits the marketer to understand the visitor’s personas and the segments they belong to. This basically implies that the marketer is well-equipped to make snap judgments and interactions, understand the customer’s behaviour across channels, and provide the customer with what they require. This all leads to increased insights and ultimately improved customer engagement.

Now, here’s the catch-the fact that a customer browsed or purchased a product off a website before doesn’t necessarily guarantee that they will do the same again. This is where behavioural targeting stumbles a bit. On a side-note, I feel it is pertinent to point out that I am not dismissing the concept altogether. The idea is to point out that though behavioural targeting was, no doubt, considered an effective (and an adequate enough) marketing tool in the past, it does have certain inherent limitations. First and foremost, it targets individuals who have carried out a particular transaction, which may just serve to reveal their interests. This will not provide a holistic picture of the customer. Next, the data itself may by very fragmented, which immediately diminishes the real value the advertising may have. Finally, it’s all about context! Typically, little or no correlation is made between the data collected and the other existing conditions, such as location, the time of the day, the weather, etc. All in all, not an optimal situation, this!

Just to further drive home the point, marketing professionals, please sit up and take notice. Just think of the staggering numbers of wasted impressions, missed opportunities and the millions of untapped mobile customers who haven’t yet visited your site or displayed a behaviour that matched your business profile! Have you ever considered the fact that these very subscribers may just prove to be the key to your marketing campaign?


So, while I quite agree that this is a rather bleak situation, let’s focus on the bigger picture-what can be done? In my opinion, there are quite a few alternatives one can consider and I’d think that content personalization tops the list. So, in a nutshell, content personalization permits the user to target different content to different types or groups of visitors based on their behaviour or other factors. Say, for instance, people visiting a company’s website have various things in mind. Some are there to purchase something, others are simply conducting some kind of research, while others, still, may be trying to land a job at your firm! Then, of course, are the first-time visitors, and the returning ones. Now, for all intents and purposes, the website in question offers a static view to all these visitors, irrespective of their intent. This means that all the landing pages contain identical content for all the visitors in question. Not too exciting, I would think!

Now, picture this-think of the possibilities of having a website that offered different content and call-to-actions for different types of visitors. Wouldn’t you like your customer to feel that you speak their language?


Moreover, several alternative innovative technologies have emerged, which can “predict” which user is most likely to respond to an advertisement, based on a wide range of targeting parameters instead of just one set of specific behavioural data. Predictive targeting essentially deploys data mining techniques to calculate the probability of an impression resulting in a conversion. One starts off by gathering first party data received from the initial advertisement request. This data is then enhanced with third party data, historical conversions, ambient data. The final step is to match the fully enriched impression to a brand and creative. All this takes place in real-time.

Net, net, perhaps it’s too premature to state that behavioural targeting has had its moment in the sun. I think the idea is to learn how to take advantage of the opportunities this space offers. Dear marketers, please remember, though-history usually does not repeat itself!

Amit Sanyal

Amit Sanyal

Amit Sanyal, Chief Operating Officer - Consumer Value Solutions at Mahindra Comviva, a business focused on Customer Value & Life-cycle Management solutions in the telecom space. A marketer at heart and with over 11...