From Ogilvy to Zuckerberg: How did Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google change consumer research and targeting ?

Conventional (TV, print, radio) advertising often relies on research and targeting methods such as focus groups or demographic targeting to increase brand awareness and sales. These methods seem to be more and more outdated as targeting technology is already delivering better results.

A (very) short history of advertising research and targeting

In the past, as media was unidirectional (broadcaster to consumer), there were few ways retailers could efficiently target potential consumers. Advertisers would use consumer profiles and split purchasing options through demographic indicators (age group, location, education, sex etc.). By using statistic results they could outline marketing opportunities for certain demographic groups (Ex. “Women between 25 to 35 years, urban, having higher education are more likely to buy Product X”).

Having (theoretically) discovered a potential consumer profile they would then buy media in newspapers, radios or TV stations that would best appeal to that certain demographic group.

David Ogilvy
David Ogilvy

Of course this is just a skeletal description of the whole targeting process but it explains the process pretty well. Many companies have benefited greatly from this targeting and advertising system. Most of the brands we now know and buy were built this way. Even now, decades after the likes of David Ogilvy were setting up the rules on research-based advertising, the system is virtually unchanged.

“I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination.” – David Ogilvy

How did the Internet change research and targeting?

Few could have predicted the impact Internet was to have on commerce and economy. Even less would have guessed how this initially “exotic” media would impact research and targeting.

20 years ago there was no marketing concept that could explain AdWords targeting and not be considered science-fiction.

Internet targeting and advertising renders most of conventional knowledge on research obsolete as technology has achieved what was once impossible. 30% of all human population is now in reach of all advertisers and they can now target more than just demographics.

Behavioral marketing is a concept that could not be possibly be achieved with conventional media. Using consumer behavior rather than demographics advertisers can target real time preferences and individuals rather than demographic groups. Say a user is known to have previously visited a car dealership website. He then browses websites in search of reviews on different car models. The car dealership could potentially target this exact user and serve him the most informative ads. Advertising ROI is sure to increase this way.

Some companies have become increasingly good at Internet research and targeting. One of them is now the most valuable company in the world in terms of market capitalization. Let’s have a look at how Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google use large data to target and monetize consumer traffic.

How did Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google changed consumer targeting ?

Amazon personalized recommendations

amazon logoAmazon is well known for its personalized products recommendations. How can it do this? Short answer: large data on consumer purchases and mathematics. Longer answer: Amazon holds a patent on its product recommendations which you can have a look at here (issued in sept. 2006). Although rather technical it focuses on certain key elements:

  • user profiling: Amazon holds valuable data on user demographics and previous purchases. Using this data it can map users in specific consumer groups. User profiling combines shopping cart contents, item ratings and recent purchases as purchase intents seem to change in time.
  • similar products information: say you bought three SF books. Similar products would be other books in that category. Some of these books would be more popular in terms of item ratings, reviews, views and purchases.
  • item affinity is the probability of some products to be purchased together. Say you are buying a Kindle on Amazon. You are very likely to buy a cover or case to protect your device. That means these products have a high affinity index
  • driver items are those products that are most likely to drive traffic to store. Again – the Kindle, Amazon’s best seller is not only a driver item but also a platform that insures further product purchases.
  • user path: the consumer will follow a certain path until it ads a product to the shopping cart or confirms a purchase. These paths are very important as they can be used to “guide” consumers to products they are most likely to purchase.

Using these information (and probably more) Amazon can first map users in consumer groups (1), extract popular, affinity and driver products (2), compile most profitable user paths based on previous history and other users actions (3) and than recommend the items most likely to increase basket size.

Recently Amazon announced the launch of its Kindle Fire product. This product is built on a Android platform and uses a proprietary web browser called Silk. The browser optimizes web traffic by routing it through Amazon’s servers. As Amazon already holds information on user profiles (users will have to login to synchronize their book collection) and now data on web traffic it can further improve its recommendations.

Apple Genius recommendations

apple logoAlthough Apple does not explicitly state it monitors iOS user actions it doesn’t deny it either. If it does, however, it might access a huge pool on users data such as web traffic, mobile purchases, locations, call history, social networking information (through access to contacts information, call history, SMS and iMessage history etc.). Basically everything there is to know on its customers profile.

For now the most visible way Apple uses data to increase sales is iTunes Genius, the music and video recommendation system. iTunes Genius uses purchase history and iPod activity to recommend potentially interesting songs, albums or videos.

Although iTunes Genius probably uses a system similar to Amazon’s it is not yet known to be as accurate. The performance issues are probably connected to the number in customers and items on sale. Amazon has a wider products inventory and a larger pool of potential customers. This leads to a larger database and increased accuracy.

Technology based companies have changed the way we think of consumer targeting and advertising. Innovation lead to profits and behavioral targeting will probably develop in the future. Tomorrow we’ll have a look at how two of the largest advertising – revenue based companies, Facebook and Google, use large data to improve consumer targeting. Stay tuned.

How is Facebook changing the Internet Economy?

By now you have probably heard of this little thingie called Facebook. You have also heard it has a bunch of users and these users are spending a lot of time on the platform sharing thoughts, news, photos, playing games or interacting with each other.

The Influence of Facebook on the Internet Economy

Right now Facebook accounts for roughly 30% of all internet users and is estimated that 20% of all pageviews on the Internet are on Facebook.

Facebook is big. It is so big that Internet World Stats added a special Facebook usage indicator to each country. As you can see there is no Google usage, no Yahoo usage, no Twitter usage indicator but there is a Facebook usage indicator. For good reasons too …

Using Facebook to increase online sales

In just 8 years from the 2004 launch, Facebook is expected to reach 1 billion users in 2012. That number is more than impressive. It is fastest adoption of any communication related technology.

Facebook related sales are a huge part of what lures giants such as Amazon, Apple, Ebay on the platform. From my experience Facebook seems to be the most profitable refferal for small and mid-size ecommerce companies and accounts for a large part of sales generated by larger online retailers.

While Facebook stores may not yet be the best choice (JC Penney, Gap and Nordstrom have opened and than closed their Facebook stores) there is a clear opportunity to be harnessed with Facebook related ecommerce.

Facebook creates jobs, has a  7.3 Billion Euro economic impact on Europe

A recent study by Deloitte states that Facebook accounts for a 7.3bn Euro economic impact and has so far, through the creation of Facebook pages and advertising , created more than 110.000 jobs in the EU.

Just like Europe many other regions benefit from the impact Facebook has had in the recent years. In the EU the country with the heaviest Internet Economy, the UK, has also the largest Facebook user base. Although merely a correlation and not a cause for the heavy impact the internet has on the UK economy it is easy to see that Facebook usage increases internet economy impact and many small and mid-sized companies can benefit from it.

Where is Facebook headed?

With such extraordinary growth and impact on our lives, both socially and economically, Facebook is sure to develop even more. Facebook is more than an website or application. It is a communication framework, a market that has already changed the life of its users. It will continue to do so. It will reach beyond extending the Internet.

I expect Facebook to cycle through some inherent changes but in the end it will probably be the biggest internet – based business in the world.

UK – the heaviest Internet Economy in the world

Internet has changed many aspects of our lives and will continue to do so. As people shift their attention more and more toward the internet so does the economy.

UK leads the way towards this new economy with a £82bn ($128 billion) internet economy. About 16% of this ecosystem is accounted for by mobile connections. The overall traffic is expected to increase each year between 2010 and 2015 by 37%. What does that mean? Having an ever increasing interest for mobile connections and ecommerce we might see three trends in the future:

  1. Mobile networks will need better infrastructure to handle the growing traffic.
  2. Mobile internet will increase in popularity which leads us to…
  3. Mobile commerce will set new challenges to retailers as consumers get more informed, faster deliveries and better deals

Data regarding these numbers has been put together on a study commissioned by Vodafone UK to ATKerney. You can find the study here.

It’s interesting to see that the internet economy reacts to people needs and wants as is stated in the graph bellow:

 

As you can see the internet is expected to be the most commonly used media in Europe by 2013, with 50% of all media consumption.

The other media (radio, print, TV) is expected to continue to decrease in the following years.

With smartphone usage doubled between 2008 and 2010 it is expected that smartphone terminals will be a major player in the internet economy ecosystem. Data is already used more often than voice. Mobile operators will adjust their market accordingly and that will increase the internet consumption even more.

Online retail (both web and mobile) accounts for roughly £45bn ($70bn) – approximately 6% of GDP, leading the UK to the 1st place in G20 countries as internet economy share of GDP.