Marketing|Demand Creation Blog: Thoughts on strategy, lead optimization, social media and the digital space

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Behavioral Targeting: Serendipity Lost?

Yesterday I was able to listen in to a very informative webinar presented by Marc Silverberg of Claria and the American Marketing Association on the Future of Behavioral Marketing. As a marketer, it was exciting to look at the possibility of finally getting to hard-to-reach prospects using technology to track them (without using any personally identifying information - PII - of course!) and talk to them when they are ready to buy, instead of expending marketing resources at earlier stages of the buying cycle on customer segments less likely to deliver superior financial returns. Marc mentioned where he thought some of the technology was headed: the personalization of content to site visitors based on their web-wide surfing behavior so that, for example, if you had been to a travel site, an auto site and a family-oriented site recently, your portal site using behavioral targeting technology might only show you content related to family vacation options and the associated travel arrangements.

I thought this sounded great at first - you know, to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of the content I view - until I considered what we might be missing as consumers if this became the norm on the web. If my favorite information site is using its sophisticated tracking and content-serving programming to show me only the things related to what I've been doing lately, am I missing anything important that may not be related to my recent surfing behavior? Both online and offline I think there's something to be said for the serendipity of discovering something wonderful that you weren't looking for in the first place. The nearest analogy I can think of is how shopping for books on Amazon changed everything. While I like and use Amazon a lot, unlike wandering through a physical bookstore (Starbucks cappuccino in hand, of course), using Amazon, I've never unearthed a "must-have-but-really-wasn't-looking-for-it-and-I-only-found-it-because-someone-absent-mindedly-dropped-it-on-top-of-the-bargain-pile" book. I guess the question I'm pondering is will our computer algorithms ever be 'smart' enough to reliably give us those chance discoveries that make life more enjoyable? Time will tell.
Joseph Mann Saturday, July 02, 2005


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