How behavioral marketing affects PR playbooks

A little knowledge of the human condition can be invaluable in getting audiences to take action.


It’s simultaneously way easier and way harder than it used to be to reach a huge number of people.

It’s easier in that the old gatekeepers no longer control the flow of information the way they did. You’re no longer dependent on one of the major networks or big newspapers. It’s harder because there are so many things competing for people’s attention that it’s tough to stand out.

Behavioral marketing aims to address that problem. It’s one of the keys to our current online ecosystem—and paradoxically, one of the problems that may be the undoing of the way the internet currently works.

What is behavioral marketing?

Put simply, behavioral marketing is when a marketer targets leads or customers based on actions they take, rather than just the pages they view. This is only possible with the large-scale information gathering capabilities that marketers have at their disposal now.

More traditional marketing techniques are scattershot: Even if you do some targeting, you accept that a certain (large) percentage won’t even open your offer, and of those that do, you’ll only gain a small percentage of responses.

Behavioral marketing uses data to increase those odds. Tools like third-party cookies and search history, as well as location data, are combined with older marketing techniques to deliver an offer that’s tailored for each individual. Market segmentation has always been around, but behavioral targeting takes it to another level—the individual, not the audience segment.

Retargeting (the ads that follow you around the Internet) is one example of a behavioral marketing tactic. Another is targeted emails—for example, if you’ve been browsing for Airbnb options in a city, Airbnb will follow up with a targeted email laying out some options in that area. Suggested selling (“people who bought this item also bought”) is another application. These are only a few examples of behavioral marketing—there are plenty more applications.

Why does behavioral marketing matter?

“Behavioral marketing responds to visitor actions so you can tailor your campaigns to that visitor’s particular experience. It’s people-based marketing,” notes performance marketing agency Klientboost.

“It’s your chance to delight an anonymous audience member by winning them over on their terms. According to a BounceX study conducted by Forrester Consulting, businesses that use behavioral marketing see returns of more than 11x their investment.”

As of a 2019 Statista study, 90% of U.S. users classified marketing messages that weren’t relevant to them as “annoying.” Forty-four percent were willing to switch brands to a company that better understood their interests.

Simply put: Users expect personalization.

The days of big mass-market advertising aren’t over (just watch Super Bowl), but they’re definitely in their twilight. People want to see content that’s tailored to them. If you’re not taking advantage of the tools you’ve been given, you’re probably annoying your audience.

There is a caveat to this, though. Rising privacy concerns are defanging some of the more invasive behavioral marketing tools—for example, third-party cookies, which are being phased out as browsers have begun blocking them.

Companies like Google and Apple are trying to work on solutions that offer privacy as well as advanced targeting, but it will take time—they’re trying to completely invert the way targeting works.

There’s no way they don’t succeed, though. There’s too much money and too many smart people involved for them to not find a way. Google has pushed its FLoC technology back, but it still looks like we’ll have replacements for tools like third-party cookies before regulation really sinks its teeth in.

How does behavioral marketing affect PR playbooks?

PR is all about making a connection with people. Behavioral marketing can help.

What if you could only reach the people that actually cared what your clients had to say? And you could target them with a message that specifically relates to what they want to hear? Behavioral marketing will let you do that.

You can use “digital body language” to create triggers based on behavior when someone visits a page or watches a video. For example, you could create an ad only tailored to people who’ve visited the corporate social responsibility section of your client’s website.

That ad would follow them from site to site and remind them that they can be a part of your company mission. Or you could create a video about the client’s company and have a pop-up trigger when they reach a certain point that allows them to sign up for more updates.

You can come up with all sorts of creative ways to use behavioral marketing. Modern PR sees less and less distinction between the marketing and PR—there’s a reason more PR heads are getting hired as CMOs. Your playbook no longer just includes the big networks, personal outreach and shotgun blast emails. You can touch people individually in a tailored, intentional way.

So, why wouldn’t you?

Use behavioral marketing techniques to deepen your PR playbook and see what new horizons open up to you.




 Lucas Miller is the CEO of Echelon Copy LLC.


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