Top of Mind: Marketers Are Zeroing in on Consumers

Who’ll be the first in your company to buy the video of Mission Impossible 2? All those Internet users with a passion for targeting, that’s who.

M:I-2 is a movie textbook on how to track a beautiful heroine by computer, once she’s been injected with a traceable implant. Tom Cruise’s able associate, played by Ving Rhames, spends virtually the whole film hunched over his keyboard and screen, following the transponder chip in Nyah’s ankle wherever she goes. Ah, if targeting your prospects was only this simple.

The sophisticated companies selling consumer behavior data would like brand managers to believe it is. That’s why they’re gathering information in so many different and unusual ways: to help you build brand loyalty and retention among your customers, and keep all those pesky competitors from grabbing share. These companies are run by the new breed of data management people, and their mission is to up-sell and cross-sell current users. In an era when most major brands already enjoy mass recognition, and marketing to new customers is no longer their prime objective, these people are the pros at what you might call M:E-2: building e-commerce at the speed of a bullet in a John Woo movie.

The most familiar form of data gathering-the computer equivalent of the chip in the ankle-is the cookie employed by browsers and servers for online tracking. Because they serve up so much personal and business data, not to mention security passwords for future visits, cookie data can intensify what your brand’s promise means to users.

DoubleClick and its Abacus Direct Marketing, the most newsworthy cookie advocates, are still smarting from thinking the whole world would welcome an implant that helps people navigate the Internet faster based on their personalized profiles. Not to worry: in due time most customers will accept the fact that targeted ads are less intrusive and more relevant than randomized ads. Most professionals already do.

Or one can target through “patterning,” tapping into profile databases using a protected list selection. This sounds more complicated than it is. You simply match patterns in rough aggregate data (from, say, a credit card company), and then apply the pattern to an independent database of e-mail identities, which don’t contain the consumer’s name. Et voila: you’re sifting and winnowing out real prospects.

A third leading-edge method is through “intelligent agents,” which, like Ving Rhames and his intimate tracking system, get to know and extrapolate your customer’s deepest interests through surfing patterns. Then the intelligent agent can signal the marketing universes to target more messages right to these interests.

All of these move beyond the basic functions of the 3,000-plus Internet service providers that are introducing the world to cyberspace. Here are four hot new players:

  • Adwise lets ISPs send real-time messages to subscribers regardless of Web location. Thus, advertisers can team up with ISPs to deliver real-time offers to surfers, like concert tickets.
  • Predictive Networks uses artificial intelligence technology to create user profiles while preserving user privacy. Unlike data generated from cookies and surveys, these profiles track actual behavior, which delivers precise targeting, specs and guarantees higher clickthrough rates.
  • AlmondNet has launched a real-time bid system for advertisers seeking very specific visitor profiles. Ads are delivered by the marketer bidding the highest price for that visitor’s profile.
  • IWeb.com offers iNotes delivering rich-media content without download or installation of application software. Its iNotesExpress bundles iNotes technology with ads sourced by a rep firm, plus content sourced through a content provider, so smaller ISPs get aboard faster.

Of course, the rules, and players, are changing every day. M:I-2 is a huge success as a movie in part because it moves at lightning speed, but also because it realizes the new, true goal of ruling the world today: not cornering the global market in precious metals (as the evil Goldfinger did in the James Bond era), but owning 51% of a hot biotech company. “I want stock-stock options, to be precise,” purrs the master villain, Sean. He is a very intelligent opponent and competitor.

Just like yours. J

Posted by on August 16, 2000