10 Things Marketers Should Know when Debating Contextual Targeting vs. Audience Targeting

In some marketing circles, audience targeting has emerged as the successor to the dominance of keywords in marketing. The basic premise behind audience targeting is matching consumers with advertisements based on demographics, interests and behavioral data. While audience targeting still holds a prominent place, it is now rivaled or surpassed by contextual targeting as the new cornerstone of marketing, but that depends on who you ask.

In the debate of one, the other, or a combination of the two, marketers should understand some of the most salient things to know regarding contextual targeting vs. audience targeting. Here are 10 things that are important things that they should know as they move forward.

#1. Context always changes in a connected, Omni-channel world. Consequently, it is defined by a large group of factors that includes:

  • Time of Day
  • Device
  • Past Behavior
  • Purchase History
  • Location
  • Channel preference

Implementing contextual marketing requires marketers to embrace and adopt a fascinating intersection of data, automation, mobile devices and social media. While it uses the convergence of technology and media to provide a context when marketing to consumers, it seeks to go beyond the mantra of marketing the right thing, at the right time, to the right person.

Despite its growing adoption, contextual targeting is not really new, but as it has continued to evolve through the use of digital transformation tools, its successes have become far more high profile and numerous. The Oreo cookie brand’s early contextual marketing campaign on Twitter for the Super Bowl power outage in 2013 was a major indicator of the power of contextual targeting vs audience.

During the blackout, the cookie brand posted an ad on Twitter, which said “You can still dunk in the dark,” which was funny, effective and low cost. At the time it’s success was covered by everyone from Wired to Fast Company and Forbes among many others. In early 2017, Movable Ink gathered some of their favorite contextual email campaigns that hit the mark with targeted consumers.

#2. Contextual targeting can multiply the opportunities for advertisers to communicate with the user by messaging different experiences or offers to the same user at different times. The approach makes the most of the finite number of online users by tapping into the infinite number of online user interests or mindsets. The “WestJet Christmas Miracle” campaign by the Canadian airline shows the effectiveness of context-based advertising through a campaign that has grown each year since 2014.

#3. Although Big data and effective data aggregation are really what powers contextual targeting, it requires a means to quickly sift through that data to provide opportunities in real time. This is where AI and machine learning have come in to make contextual targeting more relevant, accurate and successful.

#4. Audience targeting has traditionally been the easiest way to get an ad in front of millions of potential viewers while being effective on multiple ad platforms. It has become more effective by moving beyond demographics to what a recent Ad Age article categorizes as “audience models based on Behaviors, Emotions and Moments.” This approach enables much finer audience targeting segmentation.

#5. Contextual targeting can be successfully employed in large national campaigns as well as local campaigns. The large campaign use gives marketers more choice in prospects but it can also increase clicks and conversion in local campaigns.

#6. Audience targeting is better at reaching consumers taking their first brand experience steps, so rather than pushing sales, marketers can design ads that build brand awareness.

#7. Although audience targeting has evolved, it lacks the ability to capture intent like keywords.

#8. Contextual targeting on the other hand is driven directly by the page’s content and relevant keywords. Contextual targeting scans the content of a website for the editorial relevancy of keywords and then extracts the most relevant keywords or phrases to serve corresponding ads.

#9. Contextual targeting can also be more cost-effective because it’s cheaper than audience targeting.

#10. Audience targeting via mobile device ID targeting has evolved to become an effective way to add location data into the mix for targeting consumers. According to AdWeek, mobile unlocks location data, so that advertisers can gain better insights into consumers based on the places they visit in real time.

As audience targeting has evolved, marketers are now able to granularly target audiences using rich data, effectively delivering the “right message to the right audience at the right time.” Contextual targeting has become one of the newer programmatic movements that adds the missing dimension of context such as the right place and preferred device to rich data analysis. Machine learning algorithms provide a much-needed tool for the support of rich data mining. By integrating them into effective, agile and easily used platforms, contextual targeting will become even more effective for marketers as part of a well-defined digital strategy.

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