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Last week, I attended the BlueKai Data Boot Camp, a digital marketing event in New York. The focus was on behavioral targeting (using previous internet behavior to target relevant advertising messages to users). This field is expanding in new and exciting ways. Some companies are using social networks to find more people who “look” like the target market. Others have figured out how to bridge offline consumer data to the internet for use in online targeting.

But one thing they all had in common was a major focus on identifying “in market” consumers, in vertical markets such as travel, financial services and automotive. Given the state of the economy, particularly the automotive industry challenges, it’s not surprising that OEMs and dealers are focusing on lower-funnel targeting. However, it got me thinking, “What about the rest of the purchase funnel?” Obviously, a major purchase like a car is not an impulse decision. If you are already comparing vehicles and estimating payments, chances are you’ve narrowed down your consideration to a small group of vehicle makes or models. So if a brand you’re not considering pays to serve an ad to you, are they wasting their money?

For decades, marketers have relied on traditional media such as TV and print for brand advertising. Why isn’t the internet – which supports a much higher degree of targeting without sacrificing reach – being widely used for branding in the same way? I suspect it’s because there is no easy way to measure the impact of branding campaigns. After all, they are not designed to drive specific, immediate behaviors like clicking on a display ad or performing a search. This makes it harder to determine ROI and justify marketing spend in the current budget-squeezed auto industry. But as the market begins to turn around, I predict we’ll see a dramatic increase in online brand advertising. What do you think?

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