Why Targeted Ads Must Account for Changing Consumer Context

Tom Wentworth is chief marketing officer at Ektron Inc., a provider of web content management and marketing optimization solutions.

Millions of parents have bought Hannah Montana albums online for their young daughters and nieces. Marketers seized the opportunity to launch ads for Hannah lunchboxes and accessories — which unfortunately appear on adult profiles. And guess what? The Bieber ads are next.

For adults whose tastes trend more toward U2 and Smashing Pumpkins, ads that offer deals focused on teen idols miss the mark completely. Few adults are Bieber fans, and they’re likely uninterested in spoiling their preteens with Bieber gifts all year long.

Still, one look at adults’ social media profiles indicates that the users are inundated with ads for teen swag, simply because they’ve purchased the items for family members. User profiles also reflect that they’re interested in a wide variety of other things: skis (for themselves), perfume (for their wife or girlfriend) and sports tickets (for friends).

The key to any successful marketing program is personalization. The ads and content that appear to a user should be relevant, reflecting his individual preferences and needs.

Too often, a diverse holiday shopping list skews your entire purchasing profile based on a micro-moment in the year. The fact is, we all operate in different contexts — especially during the holiday season. If you’re a female fashionista who bought a skateboard for her boyfriend, you’re interested in hair extensions, not helmets. You might be a 45-year-old technology manager who likes jazz and runs marathons, but you’re also a husband, a son, an uncle and a friend — and your purchases reflect all those different contexts.


Marketers need to do a better job understanding not only the purchaser, but the context in which he makes his purchase.

While some marketers do a good job aggregating a purchaser’s persona and filtering out purchases that don’t fit the profile, others fail entirely. If you’re going to market to someone in a sustained way, you need to make sure your offer jives with an individual’s broader patterns.

On the other hand, there is value in identifying the precise moment a shopper assumes a new context. If you present a mobile coupon for jewelry to a middle-aged husband right before he buys a women’s sweater, you might be able to turn a $40 purchase into a $200 purchase. Just as that man entered the gift-buying-husband context, his psyche became open to entertaining offers. The next day, the micro-moment would have already passed. He will have re-entered his more generalized context, and will not be in the mood for jewelry ads.

If someone bought Cars 2 merchandise this holiday season, it probably doesn’t tell a marketer a whole lot, other than the purchaser bought one of this season’s hottest toys. But if that same person suddenly purchases a piano book, that becomes context worth examining. Perhaps it means a father is helping his daughter embark on a lifetime of piano playing, which might mean pitching some lessons or additional collections of sheet music.

Other micro-moments can be leveraged as well. Say a middle-aged husband with no kids prefers action movies, but suddenly orders a barrage of Disney movies from Netflix. Chances are, he has nephews and nieces over for the weekend. He has entered the uncle context. If you anticipate that and hit him with a discount for the nearby amusement park, you may have landed yourself a decent sale.

Or a middle-aged mom from Arizona purchases winter hats two consecutive Februaries in a row. Maybe she’s visiting relatives in Minnesota, and is therefore entering a cold weather context that will certainly wear off by the time she gets back to Phoenix.

Shopping-related data is growing by leaps and bounds. The marketers that use that data to understand their customers’ contexts will be the most successful. Misreading your customer — assuming that he suddenly can’t get enough Bieber, based on a one-time purchase — can be fatal. But tuning in and personalizing content delivery on-the-fly presents a real opportunity to make a sale and nurture a future relationship.

Images courtesy of Flickr, ogimogi, redwood 1

Tom Wentworth

Tom Wentworth is the chief marketing officer at Acquia, responsible for go-to-market strategy, demand generation, branding, positioning and communications. He has spent most of his 18-year career in the web conten…More

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