Don’t Be Creepy: Using Robust User Data for Ad Targeting While Respecting Privacy

When your brand possesses or has access to data that provides deep visibility into user interests, you should use that visibility to create more relevant ads, thus increasing performance while limiting costs. But with deep visibility comes deep responsibility to respect privacy. The fastest way to hurt performance is to cross into the creepy zone. Don’t be a creeper.

Google announced that on March 1 it will be updating its privacy policy to enable the integration of user data across Google properties. As it integrates more cross-property data, including information on user interests and demographics, Google can provide advertisers with more robust and precise targeting capabilities in search and display.

For instance, Google may uncover a certain person’s interests through their interactions on Gmail and Google+. This capability may someday enable an advertiser to direct search or display ads to that person based on those interests.

Although users can opt out of the experience and adjust and delete information that Google has collected, the privacy policy update has been met with some backlash. Lawmakers in the U.S. and European Union have asked Google to explain why the changes are necessary and how privacy will be protected. A privacy advocacy group sought a court order directing the FTC to sue Google, and sites like Gizmodo have urged people to take control of their privacy by switching to various non-Google-owned properties for search, email, social, photos, docs and video.

Assuming Google goes forward with the update and activates the potential for more robust targeting options, advertisers should keep a few things in mind to increase performance while respecting privacy:

1. There’s a fine line between appropriate and creepy. Ads that are more tailored to a person’s interests are more likely to satisfy that person’s needs. However, many users would prefer that advertisers don’t know everything about them. If a user sees an ad that’s eerily related to a Google+ or Gmail conversation they’ve just had with a friend, a line may have been crossed.

2. Users will blame you. Creepy ads harm people by making them feel as if they’ve been unwillingly observed. But who’s responsible for this unwanted observation? Technically Google observed the user, but the average web surfer doesn’t think about what’s happening behind the scenes. Users ask, “How did this brand know that about me? Have they been watching me?” Creepy isn’t always a label that users attach to Google (or Facebook or any other advertising platform). It’s a label attached to brands that push the platform’s capabilities too far.

3. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Users must agree to the new privacy policy in order to sign in to Google. Google provides an easy means within its Ads Preference Manager to opt out of customized or personalized search and display ads. Thus Google’s informing its users, obtaining their consent and providing them with privacy controls. But just because a person consents or fails to adjust their ad preferences doesn’t mean that it’s open season for creepiness. People shouldn’t have to choose between using Google and avoiding the creep factor.

As a marketer, don’t think that people agreed to diminish their right to privacy in order to use Google or another service. Respect privacy as a right that can’t be diminished, no matter whether a person opts in to a privacy policy.

When your brand possesses or has access to data that provides deep visibility into user interests, you should use that visibility to create more relevant ads, thus increasing performance while limiting costs. But with deep visibility comes deep responsibility to respect privacy. The fastest way to hurt performance is to cross into the creepy zone. Don’t be a creeper.

Applying Paid Search Optimization Techniques Beyond the Search Engine Results Page

In 2010, Forrester’s The Future of Search Marketing report predicted that “search marketing will become an umbrella term that applies to using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.” Forrester was right. It’s now clear that search isn’t limited to being a channel.

In 2010, Forrester’s The Future of Search Marketing report predicted that “search marketing will become an umbrella term that applies to using any targeted media to help an advertiser get found.” Forrester was right. It’s now clear that search isn’t limited to being a channel.

Search is the science of understanding intent and acting on it to efficiently connect people to your brand — no matter if that connection is made on a search engine, social networking site, display network, affiliate network or other emerging medium. To foster these connections, search engine marketing best practices can be extended well beyond the search engine results page.

First, I’ll consider how traditional paid search techniques can be applied to display advertising to drive new-to-file customers. Like search, biddable display provides advertisers with targeting capabilities to find the right customer at the right price. While search marketers create segmentation via keywords to find the right audience, display marketers create segmentation via data sources.

For example, during back-to-school season this past year, one of Performics’ apparel retailer clients sought to efficiently boost year-over-year daily sales though performance display. Like we do with search campaigns, we restructured the retailer’s display campaign at a more granular level (31 different ads in 2011 versus 6 ads in 2010) to support product/offer testing.

The restructure revealed deeper audience insights, helping us buy only the impressions we wanted (i.e., the right placements at the right price). We also increased relevance through site retargeting (i.e., serving display ads to people who visited the advertiser’s website but didn’t take action). These strategies resulted in a 211 percent year-over-year increase in average daily sales at a 120 percent return on investment.

Likewise, paid search techniques can be applied to social media advertising. The obvious paid search/Facebook similarities are that Facebook cost-per-click ads are bid based, keyword triggered by likes/interests in users’ profiles and optimized through copy/creative testing. The obvious paid search/Twitter similarities are that Promoted Tweets are bid based, triggered by Twitter users’ search keywords and optimized through copy testing.

There are also less obvious similarities. For example, using paid search campaign structure best practices to boost Twitter followers via Promoted Accounts, which enable advertisers to recommend their account to particular Twitter users who may be interested in following them. For an advertiser’s account to be recommended, the advertiser targets Twitter users via keywords and bids on a cost-per-follower (CPF) basis. One of Performics’ clients sought to use Promoted Accounts to increase followers at a low CPF.

Borrowing from paid search, Performics restructured and relaunched the client’s Promoted Accounts campaign. We increased the account’s size from one campaign to 11 campaigns to include more granular, demographically relevant keywords. Like in paid search, more targeted keywords caused Twitter’s algorithm to recommend our client’s account to a more relevant Twitter audience. Post-optimization, the client achieved a 1,473 percent increase in followers at a 69 percent decrease in CPF.

Search will surely continue to evolve well beyond typing keywords in a search box (think asking Siri to find you an answer or using a mobile augmented reality app to see product reviews while walking through a store). Notwithstanding this evolution, time-tested paid search optimization techniques relentlessly focused on structuring campaigns to deliver the most relevant audiences at the lowest cost will always drive performance.

Retargeting With Demand-Side Platforms in Display Performance Media

A key driver for growth in display advertising is the rise of technology that seeks to bring efficiency to ad impression buying — i.e., demand-side platforms (DSPs). Approximately 10 percent of today’s online spending flows through DSPs, with forecasts calling for that figure to increase to as much as 50 percent over the next few years.

A key driver for growth in display advertising is the rise of technology that seeks to bring efficiency to ad impression buying — i.e., demand-side platforms (DSPs). Approximately 10 percent of today’s online spending flows through DSPs, with forecasts calling for that figure to increase to as much as 50 percent over the next few years.

Large brands will fuel much of this growth as they shift large ad network budgets to DSPs for better pricing, increased transparency/brand safety, centralized ownership, protection of visitor data, among other benefits. Even marketers who failed with display in the past can achieve success with the ad vehicle in the present via DSPs, thanks to the inherent advantages some DSPs bring to the table.

Many direct and performance-based marketers who were unable to measure traditional display buys to a reasonable return on investment in the past are starting to explore DSPs as a new source of incremental sales and leads. Since a retargeting buy is publisher agnostic (i.e., the advertiser is buying impressions served to specific cookies, not impressions served on specific websites or content channels), DSPs offer the most scale and efficiency, reaching 98 percent of internet users through one-bid management platform using global frequency controls.

Thanks to these advantages and the relevance they offer, retargeting campaigns often convert two times to 10 times more than traditional display ads, and can, at times, show an ROI equal to or better than generic search or content targeting campaigns.

Display advertising continues to evolve, and certain key strategies are starting to take shape that can help advertisers control risk while gaining valuable insights for future channel maximization. Depending on website traffic and ROI flexibility, performance-based advertisers typically have the most success kicking off testing with site-based retargeting.

This strategy enables advertisers to retarget consumers who visited their site, browsed and left without ever converting into a lead or sale. By placing a retargeting tag in the footer of these pages (e.g., the home or shopping cart pages), advertisers can build and bid on multiple retargeting segments using segment-specific messaging or offers across the web through an ad buy on either a DSP or ad network.

So why not just limit testing to retargeting? Although advertisers may be able to achieve ROI close to search or affiliate campaigns with retargeting, impression volume will eventually limit growth. Similar to the role of generic terms in driving brand term volume in a paid search campaign, it’s important to test and explore a broader set of display performance media strategies that may work at higher, more flexible RS/CPA levels in conjunction with retargeting to help drive site traffic that feeds a retargeting cookie pool.

DSPs can help advertisers implement these strategies. Run of network buys (testing different DSPs/networks with and without filters), contextual targeting and site targeting, when bought in a biddable marketplace, are all viable in driving cost-effective traffic to an advertiser’s site. If an advertiser has the right tools and processes in place, DSPs can even be profitable in and of themselves.

For advertisers that are willing to be more flexible and effectively leverage it, display performance media can quickly become the next big untapped channel. These emerging strategies will continue to evolve and pave the way for targeted display advertising for years to come.

Special thanks to contributing author Kirstin Peters of Performics.

Paid Advertising Opportunities on Twitter

With 140 million registered users and 350,000 new sign-ups per day, it’s past time for marketers to think about taking advantage of the paid advertising opportunities on Twitter. Twitter will continue to monetize its site by rolling out new advertising products in the near future, and there are two opportunities that are currently live: Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends. A third opportunity called Promoted Accounts is currently in testing for a select few advertisers.

With 140 million registered users and 350,000 new sign-ups per day, it’s past time for marketers to think about taking advantage of the paid advertising opportunities on Twitter. Twitter will continue to monetize its site by rolling out new advertising products in the near future, and there are two opportunities that are currently live: Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends. A third opportunity called Promoted Accounts is currently in testing for a select few advertisers.

Promoted Tweets
Promoted tweets allow advertisers to bid on keywords on search results pages. The ad unit shows up at the top of the search results and looks like a regular tweet except that it’s labeled “promoted.” Similar to paid search, the advertiser pays when a searcher engages with the ad, which Twitter calls cost per engagement (CPE).

An engagement is classified as a click on a tweet, a retweet, a favorite or an @reply to the tweet. CPE is currently reasonable because of limited competition. Promoted Tweet advertisers mostly only bid on their brand terms and have little or no competition for those terms. Thus, a small budget can go a long way.

Links within Promoted Tweets can go anywhere — like to a brand’s native website, its Facebook fan page or a YouTube video. With Twitter’s new version being rolled out through September, advertisers can embed content within a Promoted Tweet. Promoted Tweet users will also have access to a dashboard that measures engagement metrics for their tweets.

Twitter users may be searching for product names to see what the Twitter universe is saying about a product they’re considering purchasing. Promoted Tweets give advertisers the ability to show up on top of the search results for their product names. Thus, a Promoted Tweet can do things like help manage a brand’s reputation, provide more information on certain products and offer coupons.

Promoted Trends
Promoted Trends allow advertisers to show up in the “trending topics” section on the right rail of Twitter. For Twitter’s redesign, the trends show above the fold. The first 10 trends are topics that are naturally trending on Twitter that day. Promoted Trends show as the 11th trending topic, and are labeled “promoted.” Promoted Trends run for a day at a fixed cost. When a user clicks on a Promoted Trend, they’re taken to the Twitter search results for that trend, where the advertiser’s Promoted Tweet ranks on top.

If you’re thinking about running a Promoted Trend, pick a topic that seems to fit with the day’s other trends. Keep in mind, the topic could have trended naturally. This makes Promoted Trends ideal for keywords around new product releases that will be generating some amount of buzz on Twitter.

Movie studios have embraced Promoted Trends for new releases. Twitter users are likely to be buzzing about topics related to a new movie release. A Promoted Trend will help create even more buzz around the movie. Promoted Trend advertisers thus garner more engagement — e.g., clicks, retweets, favorites and @replies — and followers.

Promoted Accounts
Promoted Accounts launched this week and is currently in testing. They allow advertisers to pay to be included in the “Who to Follow” feature, which is displayed on a user’s profile page. “Who to Follow” suggests accounts that users should follow based on their interests, as determined by other accounts they follow. Promoted Accounts should be a great way to gain more followers who are interested in a particular brand or service.

The Twitter phenomenon isn’t something that advertisers can ignore. All brands should be using Twitter to engage with their fans and critics naturally. And for some brands, paid opportunities like Promoted Tweets and Promoted Trends can help increase engagement, manage reputation, gain followers and sell products.

HULU.COM: An Intriguing Advertising Opportunity

Hulu is a fascinating Web site. Not only can its content be riveting to the viewer, but also represents a highly efficient medium for advertisers, enabling them to close the loop and measure actual ROI.

When I read that Hulu is drawing huge audiences, I went to the Web site and clicked on a movie—”Abel Raises Cain.” It is a 82-minute documentary about professional hoaxer Alan Abel, who was famous in the late 1950s for dreaming up and publicizing the “Society of Indecency to Naked Animals” with the mission of clothing naked animals. Over the years he has duped the media and made talk show hosts look like chumps and generally made a hilarious nuisance of himself with a slew of nutsy-fagen schemes, many of which are chronicled in this film.

This unique Web site offers full-length television shows and motion pictures; viewers remain on the site for a long time, sometimes a couple of hours—a boon for advertisers.

I sat through the entire film, which was presented with “limited commercial interruptions.” The TV-type commercial advertisements ranged in length from 10 to 30 seconds. Among the advertisers:
“Angels and Demons” (upcoming Tom Hanks film)
Nestea Green Tea
Honda Insight
Healthful Cat Food, Purina
Sprint Now Network
Swiffer Cleaner
Coldwell Banker

Returning to “Abel Raising Cain” on another day, I found additional advertisers:
American Chemistry Council
BMW Z4 Roadster
Toyota Prius
Panasonic Viera
Plan B Levenorgestra
Citi

At the end of this blog is a screenshot snapped during the BMW commercial. As you will see, the moving picture area takes up about half the computer screen, leaving a blank area above. At upper left is the film title, running time and the number of stars by reviewers. At upper right is a small response box that shows the car, the BMW logo and the headline:
The all-new Z4 Roadster
An Expression of Joy.

In light gray mousetype are two words: “Explore now”—the hyperlink to more information.

Once the commercial is finished and the film resumes, this little box remains on screen until the next commercial interruption. Then the next commercial’s response box stays on the screen. For the advertiser, this represents his presence onscreen for far longer than the 10-30 seconds allotted in the commercial.

Further, Hulu combines the razzle-dazzle of action-packed TV commercials with the advantage of direct marketing. The prospect clicks on the box, the advertiser has a record of the response to that commercial and that venue. This closes the loop: ad — response to ad — further info requested — and (hopefully) sale. The advertiser can do the arithmetic, measure the sales and determine whether the ad more than paid for itself or whether it was a financial loser.

This is far more valuable than running an ad on old-fashioned TV and hoping that people (1) have not left the room for a potty break and (2) will remember the thing when they are at the car dealer or supermarket.

What a direct marketer would do differently:
1. The response box at upper right is tiny compared to everything else going on. If Hulu wants happy advertisers, it should at least double its size, so that it is immediately obvious what to do.

2. The advertisers must make a terrific offer—something Free, for example—so the movie watcher is impelled to leave the film and go for the freebie. Or download a $500 certificate. With the tiny box and mousetype, these advertisers seem almost ashamed to ask you interrupt your movie to see what they have to offer. “Learn more” or “Explore now” in teeny-tiny light gray mousetype is not a compelling call to action.

3. My sense is that Hulu may be a tremendously efficient and relatively low-cost medium for testing TV commercials. Run an A-B split where one viewer gets the A commercial and the next viewer gets B and so on. The commercial that wins—gets the most responses—becomes control and is rolled out on TV, in movie theaters and anywhere else … until it is displaced by new commercial that tests better on Hulu.

With the Hulu model, razzle-dazzle TV-type commercials are combined with an immediate direct response mechanism. Trouble is that it is obvious the advertisers are allowing the general agencies that created the great commercials to handle the direct marketing element, which they know nothing about.

Old rule: never use a general agency for direct marketing.

But do spend some time at Hulu and think through how you might use it—either for sales or for testing.