Behavioral marketing has gotten a bad rap. Consumers seem confused about exactly what it is, how it is used, and how it is advantageous to them. In many minds, behavioral marketing has become synonymous with identity theft. But what gets lost in the privacy debate is the fact behavioral marketing is actually a good thing for consumers. Let’s take a look at behavioral marketing and why consumers should embrace it.
What is behavioral marketing?
For those who don’t know, behavioral marketing is the convergence of technology and marketing. Essentially, marketers track individual Web behaviors – what sites you visit, the products you view or purchase, what you search for, and other online behaviors – and use that information to show you personalized ads. These ads are deemed to be more relevant to you based on your areas of interest.
Controversy surrounding behavioral marketing
Consumers have had mixed reactions to behavioral marketing. While younger audiences tend to be more comfortable with marketers tracking their Web behaviors, others are leery. It’s a privacy issue that harkens back to Orwell’s 1984. People don’t like the thought of a “Big Brother” watching their every move (be it government or marketers). In this age of identity theft, many are also under the impression their personal information is put at risk by behavioral marketing. But that’s not the reality. Credit card numbers and personal information are not collected. Only behaviors. It’s about what you do NOT who you are. The FTC has taken steps to ensure privacy is respected, barring marketers from collecting any personal and confidential information. Generally, marketers do not track individuals – but rather “cookies” (small files of data) on computers or devices.
Still confused? Here are a couple helpful links:
Consumer choice in behavioral marketing
It’s important to note that behavioral marketing is optional. Consumers have a choice in the matter. For those uncomfortable with the privacy questions swirling around behavioral marketing, there are ways to opt out. For starters, you can disable cookies on your computer (find out how here). You can also opt out on most websites, though these can sometimes be difficult to find. For example: on the Yahoo home page, if you scroll down to the very bottom and click on “About Our Ads”, then click on the “Manage” button, you’ll be taken to an opt-out screen. Additionally, there are online resources like this opt-out tool from the Network Advertising Initiative. But keep in mind, even if you opt out, you will still see ads on the Internet – the ads just won’t be customized to your areas of interest.
Behavioral marketing benefits for consumers
Despite the controversy, behavioral marketing should not be viewed as a bad thing for consumers. In fact, this practice actually provides a number of advantages for consumers over traditional marketing and advertising approaches. Here are a trio of them:
1. Less advertising clutter
As a result of decades of untargeted mass marketing, customers have trained themselves to ignore ads. To disregard them. Think about it, how many times have you seen an ad online and thought: Why would I ever want that? We have become so overwhelmed by the irrelevant, we’ve begun to think about advertising as a bad thing. An annoyance rather than a useful reference. Behavioral marketing looks to make advertising and marketing meaningful to the individual by eliminating the clutter.
2. Useful and relevant content
Think about Amazon.com. Based on products you’ve bought or looked at, they provide you recommendations based on what others who bought the same product purchased. Netflix does something similar, recommending titles based on how you and other users have rated movies in the past. In a nutshell, that’s behavioral marketing. It’s taking information about what you’ve done (your behaviors) and comparing them with others who have taken similar actions. Behavioral marketing transforms advertising into something more valuable to you. Into something you want to look at. Something that may inform you of deals and products you are actually interested in purchasing. The goal is to make marketing about you and your needs, rather than a company or product.
3. A more personalized Web experience
As websites like Amazon, Netflix and Pandora illustrate, the future of the Web is personalization. It’s about providing unique Web experiences for each and every individual. It’s about pushing out the things that are irrelevant to you and focusing on your interests. Behavioral marketing is just one part of that overall shift that’s taking place on the Web. Five years from now, your Internet experience will look totally different from the person on the laptop next to you. The content, the images, the marketing will all be customized to who you are. Data will make that happen. And it’s a pretty amazing thing.
As we move into the future, targeting and customization will make all our Web experiences better – faster, easier, more convenient. And behavioral marketing will help make marketing and advertising more relevant and valuable to consumers. That’s something we should all be looking forward to.