Intent targeting: A creepy or revolutionary next step for advertising?by
To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasins, goes the old American-Indian proverb. Often used in marketing circles as a metaphor for gaining knowledge of a customer’s preferences, a new type of advertising may now mean businesses will not only get to walk a mile in a man’s moccasins, but also influence which ones he will want to wear in advance of him putting them on.
Intent targeting, as it’s known in the US, is the process of monitoring what individuals say on ‘open’ social media platforms and mobile apps to ascertain which products they may want, before directly targeting them with associated online adverts.
It’s an industry very much in its infancy, being led by a New York-based business called LocalResponse which, from 2011 and armed with a few million dollars of investment, has quietly gone about building a client base that includes Nintendo, EA, Coca-Cola and McDonalds, and is now positioning itself to expand out from North America and into the more cautious, potentially sceptical European market.
Europeans might not be blamed for being cautious. Even in the US, intent targeting has been called out by some high-profile journalists for being intrusive. Forbes’s Alex Kantrowitz gave this example in February last year:
“Imagine you finish up a run, tweet about it, and then, minutes later, see an ad for a refreshing beverage. If you think it’s coincidental, it might not be. Brands are already reading tweets and serving ads based on what’s written to people on mobile devices, and the practice is now set to expand to desktop too.”
Some of intent’s staunchest critics have even called the process “creepy”, claiming a barrage of adverts based on everything people might say and do in a social networking whimsy could lead them to resenting the brands that approach them, rather than being drawn to the targeted products they propose.
However, given its inception out of the world of search target advertising and its close proximity to the internet cookies market, advocates of intent targeting suggest this is an unfair comparison; that it is exactly what it claims to be – an evolution of the online advertising ecosystem, and the latest advancement of the drive towards delivering the full customer experience: a real-time advertising opportunity for brands looking to discover who their potential customers are, and in-turn something that offers those customers the things they’ve proclaimed they want, when they want them.
“With the advent and growth of social media it’s really important to be able to provide marketers with a way to respond to social signals in an advertising sense,” says Kathy Leake, LocalResponse’s CEO and co-founder.
“We’re not a social media platform. We deliver ads against intent data. It could be someone expressing a want or need over Twitter, or sharing an article and making a comment about a particular product, or someone using a price alert app; all of these types of social signals we consider to be declarative data. It’s someone really holding up their hand and saying “I want, I need or I’m interested in something”. It’s a real focus on serving up digital ads based on social signals.”
Privacy and cookies
LocalResponse’s data analysis is based on platforms Kathy Leake proclaims are entirely public, such as Twitter and Instagram. She makes sure it’s clear that the company are “not monetising Facebook data because that’s obviously a walled garden,” and that by using algorithms and analysis of data they are doing something completely “unique” – scanning not only for brand names but complete phrases and syntax that relates to a desire to own a product, before sending adverts to those peoples’ multiple platforms via IP addresses, in real-time.
It’s a marketing tool that appears to be catching a potential buyer before their customer journey has even begun. Much in the way location-based marketing tracks a buyer’s physical movements, LocalResponse can track an intent through more than just one piece of communication; the difference being that unlike location tracking they can also scan historical statements as far back as 2009.
So is it this depth of understanding that most concerns sceptics? Leake suggests many of LocalResponse's clients were initially concerned by the perceived privacy issues, but were often won over by an understanding of the potential benefits for both brand and consumer:
“We work with a lot of financial service companies here that are probably the strictest advertisers in the US in terms of privacy. American Express, for example, is probably the most stringent company we’ve ever worked with in that regard, and we pass their privacy tests. If we’re able to work with financial services and they’ve vetted us, many other brands accept that this is probably ok.”
Now, this outlook is what’s leading the company to set its sights on the European market, starting with the UK. In this respect, Leake accepts that there is “a geographical difference in opinion” as to what constitutes privacy and trust:
“I think in Europe privacy is still an issue, and this provides a barrier for entry. Even if the data is public, the EU has a stricter outlook on being able to target based on intent,” she adds. “The US economy is a lot more open when it comes to understanding that the media is subsidised by advertising. However, ultimately a lot of brands understand that as long as what we’re doing is legitimate, then they see the value and we can help them. We hope this philosophy will be matched over in the UK as well as the rest of Europe.”
Despite this, social media platforms are themselves trialing with tailored advertising for brands in a bid to improve revenue. Kevin Weil, Twitter’s senior director of product, revenue, himself declared in his blog last year that “Users won’t see more ads on Twitter, but they may see better ones” as a result of the tailored advertising plans they were putting in place. Intent targeters such as LocalResponse will cling to this viewpoint when assessing the viability of new markets, and that in advertising the philosophy is often "where there's a will, there's a way". There's no denying that in all the talk of social analytics and single view of the customer, intent appears to simply be an evolution of these ideals.
In the meantime, mobile apps are the next step for LocalResponse, Leake adds, with the plan to integrate its analytics tool into more price alert apps, wish list apps, entertainment and TV apps, comparison shopping apps and purchase history apps. It’s a completely new take on the ongoing mobile advertising dilemma, and if it continues to produce success stories from the US, may well leave European marketers chomping at the bit to try their luck too. Whether some people thinks its creepy or not.
Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.