Before we buy we search. For those of us beyond the first, second or third flush of youth this used to mean we would walk through shopping centres and compare what’s available or even pick up a newspaper to see what’s new. Of course this approach is largely dead, never to be seen again.

Today the funnel purchase starts with a Google search. (we heard there are other search engines as well)

Future-time is the new real-time 

Search implies that we know what we’re looking for. But what if your brand could predict what you would be looking for if you only knew it? And get you to convert it…

This advertising phenomenon is called pretargeting and it’s about as futuristic as the 1985 Star Trek Enterprise’s touch screens. Why do we say that? Because pretargeting is here, it’s alive and early adopters of this technology is taking the digital marketing world by storm.

How does it work?

Pretargeted ads use big data to predict a buyer’s preferences with relevant and smart messages while they’re in the buying phase, not after it. Big Data is the stream of data gathered from the digital interactions we have in our daily life, including TVs and computers, phones and credit cards and sensor-equipped buildings, trains, buses, planes etc.

Harvard Magazine says that “the data flow so fast that the total accumulation of the past two years—a zettabyte—dwarfs the prior record of human civilization.”

The more posts we like on Facebook, accept location services, connect our address books, use our digital calendars and the more we share this information across devices, the more accurate the pictures of our lives become to the advertising agencies that analyse it to get a picture of what we do, where we go and how long it takes – in other words why we make the choices we make and which decisions we are likely to make next…even if we don’t know it yet. 

Early adopters of Pretargeting

Google Now predicts your journey to work and tells you to set off early if traffic blocks our normal route. Microsoft Cortana may see your upcoming flight to London and offer relevant information like exchange rates and weather forecasts.

Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer, explains how Unilever has employed pretargeting on its YouTube Page, All Things Hair. “Today, there are over 11 billion annual searches for ‘hair’. Unilever partnered with Google to use data to predict a trend before it actually happens. Google then forwards these queries on to a team of video bloggers who create instructional films. The Unilever/Google team says it can predict with 90 percent accuracy what the next big trend is three months before it happens. Using this information, the CPG giant started a YouTube channel called All Things Hair featuring popular video bloggers. Launched in two markets in 2013, the channel became the #1 hair care channel in those markets with over 17 million views.”

An exciting time for digital junkies, brands and the marketing and advertising communicators who are tasked with breaking their clients through the clutter. For the consumer, on the other hand, pretargeting will no doubt feel scary, invasive and a breach of privacy. No doubt the next challenge will be to find the balance between ‘freedom of gathering personal data and using it to influence your mind’ and applying digital progress to the benefit of consumers and brands alike.

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