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The Impact of Leveraging Contextual and Purchase-Based Data Targeting

The Impact of Leveraging Contextual and Purchase-Based Data Targeting

Steve Englert

multiple arrows in target bullseye

How do you navigate your media buys to create relevant, meaningful brand experiences? We have some answers.

Here’s a question for you to consider: As a consumer, how often do you enjoy the advertisements you see on a regular basis? Some might say “never,” but most responses fall somewhere on the spectrum between “never” and “sometimes … I guess?”

Why is that?

There is a variety of factors that come into play that may help steer your response: Is this product relevant to me? Am I in the market for this particular item and am I in the appropriate mindset to entertain product suggestions? If advertising isn’t done effectively, the consumer may see it as a nuisance (i.e., “Why do I have to stare at this right now? This isn’t remotely relevant to me.”). But if ads are served at the appropriate time to a consumer in the right mindset, it can create a positive experience that surprises and delights (i.e., “Oh yes! I need this!”).


As an advertiser, how do you navigate your media buys to ensure that you’re creating brand experiences with consumers that are relevant and meaningful rather than intrusive and tone deaf? There is a variety of approaches but in this instance, I’ll be discussing the strengths and limitations of purchase-based data and contextual targeting options.

Data Targeting

When it comes to media activation, first-party data is often regarded as the most powerful in the market when it’s based on purchase or consumer behavior. Gathering insights on what consumers have purchased in the past is a great indicator of what they’ll be purchasing or be interested in doing so in the future. If you have this type of information at your disposal and you’re incorporating it into your media buys, how could your campaigns be anything other than relevant to your consumer?

Sure, maybe it’s relevant, but product relevance isn’t the only important factor to take into consideration and it doesn’t always align with the ideal time to serve an ad to your customers.

Imagine that you’re planning a meal for your family and searching for recipes online. As you’re browsing, you’re served a banner ad for a pair of shoes. Why might this have occurred? Perhaps I (the advertiser) recognized you as someone who has previously purchased a pair of shoes from my store because you fall into my first-party targeting segment. I think to myself, “This is great! They’ve purchased my products before and they’re going to love receiving an ad from me about these new sneakers that we have in stock!” The stars align, I bid on and win that impression and serve you that perfect shoe ad. Job well done, advertiser … maybe.

Or perhaps, your response as the consumer is “Not now!” as you are solely focused on preparing dinner before the kids throw a fit. My wonderful, relevant creative messaging might have just fallen on blind eyes, despite my product being of potential interest to you. Product relevance is important, but not the only requirement that would allow an advertiser to hit a home run with their media buy.

Contextual Targeting

In the example above, an important element was missing from the equation: contextual relevance. Taking contextual relevance into consideration will help provide some insight into the mindset of the consumer at any given time. In addition, identifying the appropriate mindset can be a determining factor for whether someone may be receptive to an ad.

Let’s change some of the details in my previous example to see how this plays out. I’m now an ice cream advertiser looking to spread awareness of my brand’s new Cherry Amaretto variety. You’re again searching for dinner recipes online for you and your family this week. I think to myself, “What a great opportunity to serve them exciting new dessert options.”

Since you’re in a meal-planning mindset, I assume that this is the appropriate time and place to serve you my ad. But what if I didn’t realize that your children share a dairy allergy and are unable to eat ice cream? Or that your family is 100% brand loyal to another brand? How could I have known?

If I had included purchase-based data in my targeting, I may have recognized that your household has never purchased my ice cream brand before, or even ice cream at all! As I mentioned earlier, purchase-based data is a great indicator of future behavior and is an important element to consider in your media buys.

What’s the Solution?

The moral of the story is that targeting strategies aren’t black and white, and consumers can often be complicated and dynamic. There is not one universal approach that an advertiser can follow to consistently maximize their campaigns, but there are some tips that can help you formulate your own approach and iterate from there. In most cases, you’re going to create a stronger impact with consumers when you’re leveraging more than one targeting strategy on your buys. Layering purchase-based data targeting and contextual targeting together will ensure that you’re maximizing your relevance and hopefully creating a brand experience that makes consumers say, “You read my mind! This product is perfect for me!”

There’s plenty of opportunity to create meaningful experiences through your brand messaging by making sure that you’re building a targeting strategy that’s personalized, relevant and appropriate for your consumer at the right place and time. If you’re not currently implementing this approach, try keeping it in mind for your next campaign so that you can surprise and delight your consumers. Your customers and bottom line might thank you for it.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

Steve Englert is senior consultant, product strategy and innovation at 84.51°.