Why Contextual Advertising Is Still Hard

Contextualized advertising is serving the right message to the right person at the right time. Standing in the way of that goal are several hurdles. Among them: user personalization, segmentation and a deluge of data

Contextualized advertising is serving the right message to the right person at the right time. Standing in the way of that goal are several hurdles. Among them: user personalization, segmentation and a deluge of data.

Mobile personalization can create additional complexities that we don’t generally see on the PC side of the world. This can be both a challenge and an opportunity, but adds some new dimensions to how we work to connect with consumers.

This difficulty in leveraging user behaviors makes micro-segmentation more difficult. This is where real value from contextualized ads is found. As close to one-to-one as you can make an ad, the more value it has for the recipient. Having segments that are too large can decrease the overall impact of the ads for a given consumer.

Advertisers can improved their segmentation by sifting through omnichannel data sets. While there’s great progress in this area, attributing online, real world and mobile actions to an end result remains elusive to some of the industry.

New Tools Making Contextual Advertising Easier
New data tools, optimization techniques and leveraging exchanges are all emerging to make contextual advertising easier.

Algorithms that can recognize and contextualize mixed data sets are paving the way for more relevant contextual ads. You can target based on location (information that’s automatically provided by a mobile device), behavior and by predetermined personalization rules. So, someone is now seen as a specific category of user based on what they do, where they are and other relevant data. Messages can be personalized based on these characteristics to get the right ad in front of the right person.

Once a user can be tied to a mobile number, this opens up a world of contextual opportunities. These IDs can be closely tied to segment and location, and passed along to real-time-bidding (RTB) exchanges. Here, brands and advertisers can serve a contextualized ad to the correct mere moments after he/she makes a trigger action. Where as before, this data would be aggregated and analyzed monthly or weekly, we are getting close to the point of real time analysis and optimization.

The Impact of Future Technology and Contextual Ads
The “Holy Grail” of contextual advertising is connecting relevant ads that are optimized for a single individual. Technology is heading in that direction.

Wearables will feed advertisers never before accessible biometrics that could indicate when someone needs a sandwich or bottle of water before the person realizes it.

Interactive TVs and cross-screen attribution will pull together all parts of a person’s day. Ambient qualities, like time of day or weather, will become data points that advertisers can assess and use to target consumers.

As these technologies, combined with faster servers, make valuable contextual advertising an everyday occurrence, we will see a shift in the advertiser/consumer relationship. It will become more symbiotic. Users will be able to decide with what and whom they want to interact. Those advertisers who can use data to provide users the greatest value will prosper. Those who can’t make sense of data will suffer as consumers take their business elsewhere with a quick click on an iPhone.

Getting Started With Email Segmentation

Creating effective email connections that drive response and revenue requires segmentation. That sounds fine in concept, as many marketers know they need to do more segmentation in order to engage subscribers and break through the clutter. However, many marketers struggle with getting access to data and developing creative approaches that match the customer lifecycle. I urge you to not be intimidated. Demand greater data integration and access from your vendors. Start testing new content and creative approaches so that you can be automated and fully functioning immediately.

Creating effective email connections that drive response and revenue requires segmentation. That sounds fine in concept, as many marketers know they need to do more segmentation in order to engage subscribers and break through the clutter. However, many marketers struggle with getting access to data and developing creative approaches that match the customer lifecycle. I urge you to not be intimidated. Demand greater data integration and access from your vendors. Start testing new content and creative approaches so that you can be automated and fully functioning immediately.

Ease into segmentation to avoid overtaxing your precious resources. Use early tests to learn about subscriber interests and understand key success metrics. Doing so will build your confidence and help you make a case for automation, data integration and creative services — all of which are essential for advanced segmentation and better results.

There are two ways to get your arms around your segmentation opportunity, both with the goal of “right message, right person, right time.”

  1. Segment by customer profile and craft messages around customer demographics, firmagraphics and behavior.
  2. Segment by customer life stage and speak to customers who are in specific life stages.

Customer profile segmentation: With profile approaches, even simple segmentation can make a big difference. Separate your file into large segments that distinguish subscribers by a factor that has significance to your business. Clickers are a good place to start. Those subscribers who have clicked on something in the past month are more likely to be engaged than those who haven’t.

You can do less storytelling with clickers. For example, a retailer may simply alert clickers that a sale continues until Friday or put in specific sale prices for pants, sweaters and scarves. A business software marketer may send clickers three of their most popular whitepapers or an invitation to participate in a LinkedIn community. In both cases, clickers need less background info and more options to get them to act, whereas nonclickers may need more guidance and education prior to taking action.

Why burden clickers with info they don’t need and that gets in the way of their actions? At the same time, don’t skimp on critical storytelling information for nonclickers, as they clearly don’t have a strong connection with your offer yet.

Other starter segments worth testing include new subscribers versus long-time subscribers, buyers, geography (e.g., north versus south) and gender.

Draw segment lines around key drivers for your business — i.e., differentiators that give you a clear path to a custom message that will make an impact. For many B-to-B marketers, the most important driver of customization is job title. For B-to-C retailers, the key data point is most recent purchase. Don’t choose geography if location has no bearing on purchase behavior. Your business is unique, but good marketers understand the key customer attributes that lead to increased sales and satisfaction. Focus there for your segmentation and you’ll be rewarded with the biggest lift.

Life stage segmentation: To effectively segment by life stage, first abandon the notion that every email program has to be a long-term affair. Short-term email conversations can be even more powerful, particularly because they address a specific need at the time when that need is most acute. A four-message reminder series that disrupts the messaging flow around renewal time can be much more powerful than a generic newsletter which comes like clockwork every two weeks. Why not replace the newsletter with custom messaging for all customers who are up for renewal in a particular quarter? Similarly, create custom series of two messages to 20 messages that cluster around that particular life stage.

Remember to think through the dialog of the conversation if the message series is longer than three messages so that you can intensify, cease or adapt the message stream to accommodate response. For example, stop pitching the purchase midstream if someone has already upgraded from a free trial.

Not every email program has to be long term. The goal of “right message, right person, right time” can be achieved through segmentation that focuses on a specific life stage as well as customer profile.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to nurturing engagement via segmentation strategies? Perhaps I can address them in a future blog or learn from others handling of them.