The Case for Contextual Marketing in an Audience-Centric World

In recent years, there’s been a huge shift to deliver as much audience-targeted media as possible within digital ad campaigns. One study suggests behavioral data usage rose as high as 86% in Europe.

Whether this is done through cookie-based behavioral targeting, creating user personas or using an identity resolution provider to connect offline first-party data to online audiences, targeting the “right person” has become almost synonymous with programmatic advertising.  

On the flip side, a quick Google search turns up quite a few results (here, here, here) on how little added value actually comes from these targeted ad formats.

In addition, the looming threat of third-party cookie deprecation has some advertisers looking to bring back some older strategies and solutions.

One study found as many as 54% of advertisers are prepared to move to contextual marketing strategies in the wake of deprecation. This would effectively move the needle from focusing on the “right person” to the “right place.”

To glimpse this inevitable future, Goodway Group analyzed one of our auto client’s behavioral targeting and contextual targeting tactics in its programmatic display strategy.

While behavioral targeting and contextual marketing were set up as separate tactics within their own swim lanes, what quickly became evident was – while both performed well enough on their own – they had an even better performance opportunity when combined.  

Comparing Behavioral Targeting and Contextual Marketing

To compare behavioral targeting and contextual marketing, we looked at the top-delivering sites for the client’s campaigns and broke those down to the most granular level available – the individual page URL.

This level of analysis was made possible due to our ability to connect and analyze impression-level data from both demand-side platforms (DSPs) and supply-side platforms (SSPs).

While typical DSP reporting is at the domain level, SSP impression-level data includes the full-page URL, allowing us a unique view into the deeper delivery layers.  

The plot below shows impression delivery (blue bars) and conversion rate (orange line) by subdomains across many high-volume publishers.

What you’ll see is there’s no relationship between the two metrics: the highest-impression-volume category (politics) is solidly in the center of conversion rates; the lowest-impression-volume category (opinions) is right next to it and has a similar median conversion rate.

That is, the behavioral targeting segments are finding users that wouldn’t be found with contextual marketing. If behavioral and contextual tactics found the same users, you’d expect a higher degree of agreement between these two metrics.  

contextual marketing bar chart

Said another way, this plot shows when we target specific audiences with standard behavioral targeting tactics, we often overlook the categorical component of where we target them.  

Behavioral Targeting and Contextual Marketing: a Hybrid Approach

Behavioral targeting’s longevity as a tactic is uncertain, but we’ve shown here it’s finding distinct users from contextual marketing tactics.

We recommend employing a hybrid approach that involves connecting SSP-impression data with DSP-conversion data to look at the highest-volume site taxonomies and their corresponding conversion rates.

This approach allows you to deploy specific audience targeting within the optimal location.

To put it simply, with a mix of behavioral targeting and contextual marketing, you can target the “right person at the right place” rather than focusing on one or the other.  

Want more data-driven insights to fuel your digital marketing? Let’s make it happen; we can help. Reach out now for a free consultation.

Daniel Earley is a senior data scientist at Goodway Group with a Purdue University MBA and fifteen years’ experience in the advertising industry. He enjoys playing competitive volleyball and disc golf, hiking and photography.