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People aren’t personas: Why behavioral data is the best way to remove bias from marketing

July 26, 2022
Reggie Wideman

Head of Strategy, Lytics

Since behavioral analytics is based on real consumer actions, companies can gain more accurate, genuine insights

Your marketing is probably making assumptions about your customers and, like most assumptions, you probably aren’t even aware of it. The best of intentions notwithstanding, poor data can lead to faulty targeting based on unintentional bias and misled assumptions. 

For years now, marketers across industries have accepted that they need to collect and activate as much data as possible to deliver on the promise of personalization. But is this really the case? 

Imagine a single father who loves treating his daughter with gifts and experiences. Yet he receives almost no marketing of any kind for children’s products. On the other hand, his daughter’s mother gets bombarded with marketing messages for kids in her inbox, mailbox, social media feeds, and more. 

Demographically, a single, unmarried man is not considered the prime target audience for children’s products. Based on his first-party data alone, the assumption is that he has no children. In contrast, the assumption is that a woman above a certain age not only has children but is also most likely the primary purchaser of children’s products.

Don't let data assume your customers are who you think they are.

In today’s fast-paced world, customers rarely fall under a single static persona. Who we are and what we need are constantly shifting based on a variety of external factors that could (and often do) change by the minute. Your marketing should reflect that, too—and if it doesn’t, you not only risk a conversion opportunity but also risk potentially offending a customer. Beyond not following through on a purchase or coming back for another, these customers might even lead you to find your marketing ridiculed on any number of online venues.

Augmenting your first-party data with behavioral analytics offers a better way. An emerging area of data analytics, behavioral analysis focuses on providing greater insights into the real-time actions people take when engaging with a website or mobile app. These actions allow for a more precise understanding of what people are doing right now and why, ultimately leading to better connections, stronger brand loyalty, and better sales and retention.

Is your marketing data missing the mark?

Data can be a game changer for marketing, helping to deliver the perfect mix of personalized recommendations and communications that can win the hearts and loyalty of customers. But if the main goal of marketing is to make sure products and services end up in front of people who actually want and need them—third-party demographic data is simply not up to the task anymore. 

The continued demise of third-party cookies and stricter regulations around data privacy are already severely reducing the availability and access to third-party data, but there’s an even more fundamental problem at play. 

Traditionally, marketers have used third-party data to create segments and buyer personas based on high-level demographics, such as age, gender, marital status, income, religion, ethnicity, and more. However, while these segments can be useful for narrowing the target audience, it lacks the richer context needed to get a deeper view of an individual’s personality, tastes, or daily experiences.

Behavioral data is rooted in experience. You don’t need to make assumptions about who someone is and what their demographics mean about them.

It also feeds into stereotypes that naturally occur if you place people into absolute categories. Happily married couples don’t want ads for divorce lawyers. Childless adults don’t want to see diaper ads. Buying Kosher products doesn’t automatically mean someone is Jewish. And not all people looking to invest in retirement plans are over 50. 

With people more connected and conscientious than ever, those blindspots can cause missteps that can do real long-term damage to reputation and your relationship with your customers. You can come across as out of touch or miss out on substantial buyer audiences just because you’re using data that simply doesn’t fill in the blanks.

New research shows that 82% of shoppers now prefer a consumer brand’s values to align with their own, and three out of four reported parting ways with a brand over a conflict in values. Even if it was their favorite brand, 39% said they would boycott permanently over a value mismatch and 24% said they would at least break ties temporarily. 

Consumers don’t want just words of intention. They want genuine, holistic action that can be seen and felt, especially when it comes to marketing, and that requires an acute understanding of who your customers are and the actions they are taking today.

Building on first-party data with behavioral analytics

The gaps of demographic data can’t be solved completely by turning to first-party data. Nor can you leave this valuable information aside—behavioral analytics is about enhancement not abandonment of your existing data. This emerging practice adds a layer of understanding, allowing you to better predict what your customers might be looking for based on the actions they’ve recently taken. A few benefits of leveraging behavioral data include: 

1) It’s more precise: First-party data is built to support demographic-based marketing, its methodologies, and the systems used to store it. Whereas first-party data has a foundation of demographic, geographical, and financial data (i.e. people living in the Northeastern United States or Southern France, or high-wage earners) behavioral data is associated with each individual user and their action in the moment. This helps reduce the bias and assumptions that come with purer demographic information, which can replace one problem with another. 

2) It’s fast and affordable: While first-party data is proprietary and unique, it’s also challenging to extract value from it. Not every business has the resources to collect, store, and analyze it at scale successfully, whereas a behavioral analytics program operates in real-time on real interactions.

Even first-party data isn't always as reliable as we might hope.

3) It’s dynamic: Even the most detailed profiles may not reflect dramatic changes that occur over time. Capturing a new customer at one point isn’t enough; you must constantly update their profile in real time to reflect changes in circumstances, preferences, and needs to be impactful. Most customers won’t tell you they just moved, they’re budgeting for a new baby, or that they’re in the market for a new car. With behavioral data, those insights are easier to glean than relying on past information

4) It’s limitless: First-party data can tell you more about your customers, but it can’t tell you the whole story. Maybe the snapshot is incomplete or focused on what you already know or only goes so deep. Those same customers won’t automatically share that they are actually shopping for a relative that moved or a friend having a baby or looking for a first car for their teenager—leading to misimpressions for future offers. A fuller picture can lead to a more fulfilling relationship long term. 

First-party data will always remain a critical part of the marketing mix, especially as restrictions on third-party information continue to rise. This changing environment only heightens the need to build a mar-tech mix that provides better, faster results, eliminates risk, and delivers on the promise to eradicate bias. 

Behavioral analytics helps banish bias from marketing

Behavioral analytics are key to seeing customers for who they really are—instead of who you think they are. Behavioral data focuses on individual interactions in real-time with your brand, such as someone scrolling through your website, making a purchase (or not), opening an email, or signing up for a newsletter. Behavioral data is always connected to one end user, whether you know who they are or not. 

Lytic’s own research shows that behavioral data is as much as 20x more predictive than demographic-based data. In fact, with the right tools and data science, behavioral analytics are the leading predictor of customers actions 86% of the time, compared to demographics which are only 4% predictive. 

The advantage here is that behavioral data is anchored in experience. You don’t need to make assumptions about who someone is and what their demographics mean about them. It’s a clear, objective, and unbiased way to understand what someone is looking for and why, allowing you to create hyper-personalized marketing experiences for real people, not personas.

Behavioral analytics can be the key to reaching a customer at exactly the right time with exactly the right offer.

Yet it goes beyond knowledge of the customer to action, and being able to execute on behavioral data in the moment. A person looking at a product or service on a website right now may not come back with the same intention or need the next time. It’s critical to be able to surface value and delight them, right when it matters most.

Consider the success of a streaming company like Netflix, or Google Search. Neither are looking at your demographics, they’re looking at an individual, unique user. They don’t care how old you are or how much money you make. The focus is always on what that specific person wants based on their interactions, interests, and preferences. 

The difference is that these companies see you for who you are, not who they think you are—and isn’t that the way marketing, and the world, should be? 

Learn more by watching the recent eMarketer Tech Talk discussion on how understanding the real value of behavioral analytics can help companies build more connections with customers in real-time.

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