The vast and growing amount of data available to intelligently target online advertising offers brands a huge opportunity: they can quickly identify the people most likely to purchase their products or be receptive to their brand messaging, and so focus on targeting them.
Information ranging from previous purchases and searches, to the time of day or weather, can all help to build a picture of an individual and their likely actions.
To show the importance of really getting to grips with your audience, the following word cloud represents the drivers of conversion during a recent campaign run by Rocket Fuel for a fast food pizza brand. The bigger the text, the stronger the conversion rate was for sites relating to that category.
The highest lift in sales for the online pizza ad did not come, as might be expected, from people searching for coupons or TV programmes, but from people browsing for engineering and technology content.
Another campaign that produced counterintuitive data was for a major UK fashion retailer. As you can see from the infographic below, the largest site category responsible for conversions was seniors and retirement.
Perhaps this indicates a new generation of silver fashionistas, or that people who share a computer with older residents also like shopping for the latest fashion statements online?
What these and so many other campaigns show is that it is vital to test the landscape, quickly identifying who these people are and focusing precious budgets on these audiences.
A brand is unlikely to target these seemingly obscure segments of the online population, especially while we are still seeing evidence of advertisers and their agencies bulk-buying media in advance.
By applying artificial intelligence across online media, a significantly larger inventory of data can be analysed giving a wider, more accurate sample than could possibly be achieved through other means.
All eyes are on real-time technology right now, because these powerful tools can identify these trends and enable campaigns to evolve, learn and continually adapt over time. This enables brands to optimise results just at the right moment by targeting people who are most likely to make a purchase.
A bit like prospecting for oil, vast hidden reserves are not always where previous experience tells you they should be - significant budgets and time can be lost looking in the same places rather than getting smart and striking rich seams where you least expect.
Identifying key trends can also be used to effectively lift consideration for a brand and key brand metrics eg, speed, quality, Britishness or eco-friendliness.
During a recent campaign that Rocket Fuel ran for Epson, in-banner surveys were used to find out exactly what was affecting buying decisions. The campaign was then optimised to focus on upper- and mid-funnel marketing metrics, such as awareness, consideration and purchase intent. As a result of this campaign, brand consideration rose across Europe - by up to 56% in some countries.
With the right technology and partners in place, big data can enable brands to build a significantly richer view of their consumers, putting the individual right at the heart of digital advertising.
This is becoming more and more essential as users begin to expect online content to be relevant and targeted to them as individuals, unlike bus posters or fashion magazines.
Despite the opportunity provided by all of this data, the reinforcement of traditional stereotypes still gives marketers a sense of understanding their target audience.
However, with any campaign it is worth diverting a small proportion of the budget into audience experimentation. Without intelligent testing, sacred budgets are likely to be spent on preaching to the converted, the disillusioned or the irrelevant.