Reaching the Ideal Audience

Advertisers are not taking advantage of the reams of consumer data that are available to them nowadays. Time of decision is replacing time of day and proving itself key to intent-driven marketing.

Watch an episode of “Mad Men” on cable television, and it’s easy to see how much has changed in the world of advertising. Imagine if Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – the advertising agency that is at the heart of “Mad Men” – had the same volume of consumer data available to it in the 1960s that advertisers have available today, from demographic profiles to audience data including behavioral, intent and response data, creative performance data and optimization. They really could have ruled the advertising world.

Yet, in 2011 many display advertisers are not taking advantage of the consumer data that is available to them. In the “Mad Men” era, advertisers would place ads in publications based on cost per thousand, circulation, editorial environment, geographic reach and audience demographics. Many of today’s advertisers are using the same decision-making criteria, just translated to online. They’re missing the opportunity to target individual consumers in ways Sterling Cooper’s media department couldn’t even begin to imagine.

When companies talk about audience targeting, the discussion often revolves around creative approach, time of day, ad inventory and availability, and audience (as most often defined by the publisher or network). But they are missing a key component that is becoming more important as the consumer’s online experience continues to evolve: intent.

Timing Is Everything

Take, for example, an automobile manufacturer. In order to find potential customers, the manufacturer will use a number of major general interest sites for branding but also target audiences with specific automobile interests, as well as inventory on websites geared towards automobile enthusiasts. But interest and enthusiasm are not necessarily intent to purchase. Everyone who clicks on an ad isn’t necessarily in the market for a new car – he or she may be daydreaming about a new vehicle or simply checking out a link from a friend or family member.

But what about the individual who visits the manufacturer’s website multiple times to configure a car, or researches auto loans online, requests an insurance quote, or better still, the individual who performs all three actions in a 24-hour window? Surely this is a consumer demonstrating intent to purchase, and is the exact individual that the manufacturer should be targeting with its advertising.

The data necessary to determine intent is not new – marketers have been able to predict consumer behavior through online activities for some time. What is new, however, are the technology platforms and advanced algorithms powerful enough to crunch the volumes of data and calculate intent in fractions of a second – fast enough for display advertising to respond with the right offer in the right place at the right time.

Once a consumer is qualified with intent to buy, the advertiser must engage the consumer while he or she is in buying mode, as determined by the time of day, website and behavior or activity. Bringing this entire context together at the instant in which an ad impression is available on an exchange is a capability that is provided by a few leading ad technology providers.

Time of day is still a key component of audience targeting, but the focus has shifted to time of decision, as marketers become more accustomed to the use of intent-driven data in display advertising. Frankly, it’s not a moment too soon. Intent-driven marketing will be a key to success with the exploding popularity of tablets and smartphones.

Tablets and Smartphones

According to Forrester Research, PC tablets are expected to reach 82 million U.S. consumers by 2015, and already accounts for 10 percent of computer sales in the United States. Meanwhile, Pew Research reports that 35 percent of U.S. consumers own a smartphone, a number that is continuing to increase exponentially.

The growth of both of these products will bring about some interesting and exciting changes in the way consumers shop online. According to Forrester, already consumers are reporting a preference for shopping and purchasing via their tablets and spending more time browsing online.

Consumers are not only spending more time online, but also doing so in more places – on the train, in the park, waiting in line – thanks to the portability and wireless capability of tablets and smartphones. This means that time of day is less and less useful as a proxy for time of decision.

The window of opportunity for advertisers to target consumers with intent to purchase is widening. Whether it is a casual shopper sitting on her couch at home and browsing on her tablet, or a busy professional needing to make an urgent purchase from a smartphone, the ability to calculate intent is the best way to ensure an ad is in front of a consumer at the right moment. Remember, it’s no longer enough to identify the audience – after all, consumers with intent to purchase could turn up in the most unlikely places.

A seasoned Internet engineer and executive, Eric Bosco is CEO of ChoiceStream, a provider of advertising technology and services. He brings nearly 20 years of experience to the role of CEO. For more information, visit