Here are a few definitions from Wikipedia to get the post rolling:
Serendipity is the effect by which one accidentally stumbles upon something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated
Behavioral targeting uses information collected on an individual’s web-browsing behavior, such as the pages they have visited or the searches they have made, to select which advertisements to display to that individual
Stalking is a term commonly used to refer to unwanted attention by individuals (and sometimes groups of people) to others.
We’re not short of data in digital marketing. In fact, we’ve too much of the stuff. Let’s take the marketing of expensive holidays: Every couple of years in the Hughes household wanderlust overcomes us and a couple of weeks in delightful West Wales will not quite tick all the R&R boxes. So, sensing this restlessness, I venture onto a few travel web sites and see what destinations like Thailand may offer us that Wales can’t. (Sunshine seems to be the short answer).
20 years ago I went on a Kuoni holiday with my parents and, as it was a great success, I thought I’d check out the delights of Kuoni once again, so Googled the brand and went to their site. I say this to demonstrate that key drivers to branded search could well be deeply emotional , not just seeing a Kuoni banner a few days ago – oh! the perils of attribution modelling. Anyhow, I now left a rich stream of data across the Kuoni website and was maybe a couple steps nearer to knowing what I wanted.
Meanwhile in a distant galaxy far, far away…some analysts were piecing together this trail of data.
- Total pages in session – check.
- Depth of content viewed – check.
- Total time on site – check.
We have engagement!
Cue the scary music.
A few days later I am on the Autotrader website looking to replace my recently-written off Fiat Punto (that’s a long story), and what appears before me – a display ad for Kuoni. But this is not any old banner – it has behavioural targeting under the bonnet:
“Thank you for visiting the Kuoni website” whispers the disembodied voice of the banner.
And then it gets a little more scary. A couple of page loads later, my stalker says
“Thank you for your interest in Thailand”
Now at this point some people may be looking over their shoulder to see if some Peeping Tom is behind all this. For hairy old digital marketers like me it’s not a problem – good luck to Kuoni for using all this data in a positive way. But I can’t help feeling that some customers out there will be a little spooked by all this, which leads onto my real point here…
The medium is the message.
I often use an Amazon email as an example of “as good as it gets” in digital marketing. A few months ago my TomTom SatNav died and I wandered on to Amazon to check out prices of a new one. 24 hours later I got this delightful email with the wonderful copy…
I’m a little more comfortable with this “email stalking” because the terms of engagement are different to display advertising: I leave myself logged in on Amazon because I can do useful things like “buy now with 1 click” and I expect Amazon not to shout general email offers at me…I am delighted when they notice things that could be worth re-visiting. Similarly, I like it when they say on the web site
“Hello David Hughes. We have recommendations for you”
They remind you of things you may have been looking at and fire up the old “collaborative filtering” engine to make things even more relevant for me. Virgin Atlantic have a delightful personalisation box in the “My Booking” area that reminds you how long it is until the next time we meet. They could probably serve that up to me as a banner when I’m on Autotrader, but just wouldn’t be right and proper, would it?
Less is more.
I may wish to keep myself anonymous in certain media, but expect/demand more personal touches at other times. I do not always expect to be singled out for personal treatment and when strangers start talking to me like long, lost friends I begin to feel uncomfortable. I’m talking here about a slight shift in creative tone that would have the same relevance but in a less threatening way…
“Latest ideas and greatest offers for Thailand Holidays”
…could have been equally powerful from Kuoni but with far less emotional damage! People like it when they “accidently” stumble upon something fortunate, especially when looking for something else unrelated! Maybe Amazon has mastered the science of “dynamic serendipity”, where people think that stumbling upon relevant things is pure luck! After all, Amazon don’t say:
Last night between 7.21pm and 7.28pm you viewed the Garmin Nuvi 225 pages for 4 minutes, the Navman S30 for 2 minutes and then you had a quick look at the Tom Tom ONE v4. Here are some special offers.
That would be stalking.
But, Behavioural Targeting is wonderful!
Wherever I have seen it used, behavioural targeting generally drives up opens, clicks, conversions, average order values and drives down costs per outcome. It may well be that Kuoni have tested the “less” versus “more” intrusive copy and the ones I didn’t like pushed up sales…so there, they would say. But for many consumers this “stalking copy” can create the wrong feeling, a sense that something sinister is happening on the interweb. It’s a question of using the right tone and not relying too much on the data to drive the conversation. The whole BT industry nearly came clattering down in Europe a couple of years ago with Phorm and British Telecom’s sneaky attempts to get it in under consumers’ privacy radars. Let’s hope that over-friendly creative techniques don’t have a similar impact on people’s goodwill.