benedict cumberbatch sherlock holmes programmatic display advertising

Is it possible to read your prospects’ minds?

Have you ever watched the talents of Simon Baker’s character in the Mentalist?

Ever seen Benedict Cumberbatch tell someone their entire life story as Sherlock Holmes just by analyzing their appearance?

Do they read people’s minds?


Does it appear that way?


How do the shady shiesters in Las Vegas pick out their targets as they’re walking down the street?

They make predictions about how people will react to them based on direct observations.

If Sherlock can see the traces of Nicotine and Tobacco on a person’s finger-tips, he knows they are a smoker.

The presence of a light brown stain on their teeth tells him they’re either a coffee or a tea drinker. He then uses his sense of smell to narrow it down from their breath.

After his initial observations of their appearance, he then moves to their behavior.

If they check their watch or phone for the time repeatedly in a small amount of time, he then deduces that this person works in a high-stress occupation.

He then proceeds to consider what types of occupations might lead to the type of high stress that would cause someone to need to smoke and drink coffee.

The coffee leads him to deduce that the person has to be up early, and the cigarette habit that they don’t have the chance to destress or relax, so they use the quicker method of the cigarette.

Now, he needs a lucky break or two, but let’s say the person happens to be carrying a book with them which is the biography of a not so well known, but very successful stock broker.


Sherlock Holmes can now predict that this person is indeed a stock broker.

Is he right 100% of the time?

Of course not.

Is he right more often than not?

Of course he is. But then again, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character that has been the star of many novels, films, and TV shows.

So in the real world, how can you use mind reading to find interested prospects?

More practically, how can you effectively predict whether or not people are interested in what you have to offer?

Well, through two ways really.

Programmatic Display and Predictive Analytics

programmatic advertising think with google

Image from Think With Google

What is Programmatic Display?

Google defines Programmatic Display as allowing companies “to be responsive to their audience in real-time, with highly relevant messaging and great creativity. Programmatic buying allows brands to use audience insights and technology to tailor messages to the right person, at the right moment, in the right context. Think With Google

Programmatic Display Advertising, also known as Predictive Display, is changing the way companies advertise to vast amounts of people. This innovation has replaced the old model of putting a full page ad in the newspaper and hoping that some of the people who see it are interested.

The new model is putting your ad in front of people who have already shown interest in what you offer in their behavior.

What is Predictive Analytics?

IBM defines Predictive Analytics as “bringing together advanced analytics capabilities spanning ad-hoc statistical analysis, predictive modeling, data mining, text analytics, entity analytics, optimization, real-time scoring, machine learning and more.” IBM

In Lehman’s terms, Predictive Analytics is when you study the actions of a huge group of people and then attempt to predict the future actions of similar people based on the actions of the people you studied.

predictive analytics from ibm

Image from IBM

For example, eCommerce companies spend thousands of dollars on plugins that study how people interact with their website. By noticing what behaviors lead to purchasing and what behaviors lead to a no-sale, they can adjust their website to encourage more website visitors to become buyers instead of just lookers.

Never have there been more effective marketing tools than these.

Call it an exaggeration…. but these are the greatest things since sliced bread.

Now gone are the days of wasting million dollar ad budgets.

Now here are the days of marketing to the most qualified prospects at the exact time that they’re in the market for what you offer.

Can you picture the old newspaper man that used to stand on the street corner shouting out the headlines to passers-by?

People who were interested in the headlines or just wanted the paper would toss him a nickel and get their copy of the day’s paper.

What if right after every one of those people gave him their nickel, he was able to ask every single person a 10-part survey to identify what they were in the market for, and then customize the ads that were in that person’s newspaper, right before he handed it to them.

It wouldn’t have been great for the newspaper buyer, but, it would’ve been great for advertisers.

newspapers replaced by programmatic display

Today with the sophistication of internet advertising this is a possible scenario for almost everyone.

With the advances of technology in Programmatic Display advertising, many possibilities are open to marketers that they never knew even existed.

By analyzing the internet browsing and buying behavior of millions of internet users, display advertising companies have been able to put together offerings for marketers to be able to reach potential customers almost exactly when they are in the market for their product or service.

Here’s how it works: (Alert! You may find this a bit big brother esque, mostly because it is.)

Every single browser of the internet has a browsing profile.

The large internet data-collecting companies track the browsing behavior of every single user of the internet.

Based on each user’s activity, they will start to notice that a user, using a certain browser, in a certain location, from certain devices, regularly over a period of time, is one specific person.

That person then has a Browser Profile build around their browsing activity.

So to put it simply, as you surf the web you start to form patterns. Every one of these patterns is tracked and stored in your anonymous Browser Profile.

If your patterns on your phone look enough like the patterns on your laptop or tablet, the browser profiles of each of those devices will eventually be linked together under the same browser profile.

So if you start to see that you are being “Retargeted” by the same company on all of your devices, your browser profile is complete.

Why does this matter?

retargeting in pictures from adweek

Image from AdWeek

Imagine the following scenario.

A 29 years young woman is lives and works in Houston, TX where she has a good job and lives comfortably, but not lavishly. She’s young and she doesn’t have much experience with investing, but her grandfather is very ill and he’s told her that he is leaving her $50K as an inheritance after he dies. 

She’s always heard that the smart thing to do with money when you’re young is to invest it so that it can grow over time.

So, she starts to do research online about what she should do with the money.

She begins reading online articles from Fortune and Inc. Magazine, Forbes has a few interesting articles, as well as CNN Money.

She’ll be doing this for a couple of weeks until she has chosen a next step, which may be to start researching specific Personal Financial Management companies.

This young woman has a Browser Profile, and all of her internet activity during this two week period has been tracked. It’s all anonymous, the databases don’t know her name, they don’t know anything that could personally identify her.

But they do know that she’s in the 25-34 year old range, she’s female, she lives in a Houston area code, and she’s been doing a lot of research about personal finance.

programmatic display sherlock holmes

Sherlock Holmes is now on the case. A Predictive Display campaign now takes on the job of figuring out that our 29 year old prospect is interested in financial services by deducing her interests from her online behavior.

Predictive or Behavioral Display advertising is designed to be able to match her browser profile with other profiles that showed the same patterns she did, and eventually went on to purchase professional financial management services.

Now she will begin to see display ads for ABC Financial Mgmt Inc. while surfing the web and on social media. The reason why is because ABC has set up a Predictive Display campaign that is designed to start showing specific ads to interested prospects at each stage of their buying journey.

ABC has a huge head start on other companies in Houston that may want our 29 year old prospect’s business.

Even if she doesn’t go to the ABC website now to request a consultation or reserve a spot at a seminar, if she eventually does a Google search for “personal financial management companies in Houston” she will recognize ABC Financial and most likely click on their link and visit their website.

This is a huge leg up over businesses who our prospect is only seeing the name of for the first time.

Are you reading potential customers’ minds?


Does it seem like you are?


What Companies Have Used Predictive Display Successfully?

The San Antonio Spurs used Predictive Display and saw an 850% return on advertising spend (ROAS). Website visitors brought to their site from Predictive Display bought tickets 5 times more often than other visitors.

The St. Louis Cardinals improved their ROAS by 400% by using programmatic display advertising to complement their existing marketing.

Zenni Optical increased their purchases by 14% and their only change was adding programmatic advertising to their marketing mix.

BuzzFeed grew their website’s audience by over 500% and grew to be one of the Top 10 websites on the internet by reaching new audiences with programmatic advertising.

How Can You Use It?

The best way your business can take advantage of Programmatic Advertising is to insert it into the top of an already proven effective sales funnel.

If you’re a financial planning firm and you use seminars to convert leads into consultations and new clients, insert Programmatic Ads to catch people who are interested in financial planning.

You’ll then start to build a base of prospects who are in the market for what you do, and they’ll start to recognize your brand in the early stages of their search.

They’ll move through your funnel just like they normally would, however since the quality of prospects who will be coming into the top of your funnel is now drastically increased, the conversion rates at the bottom of your funnel will start to rise accordingly.

If you’re already spending money on Awareness level advertising, consider budgeting some ad spend to Programmatic Advertising. Spending money in the local paper? Business Insider? TV?

Switch a percentage of that to a Programmatic campaign and track the results against the former. You may find a huge difference in the quality of leads you start getting from your website.

If you’re not already, it will be very important to have a Retargeting strategy in the lower sections of your funnel. Once visitors identify themselves as being interested in one of your services in particular, you need to stay with them to help move them down the funnel towards becoming a new customer.

While being able to read your prospects minds like Sherlock Holmes is amazingly cool, and will be amazingly effective, you must remember that Programmatic Advertising is most effective when made part of an overall healthy digital ecosystem.

When the right overall strategy is developed including all the aspects needed to attract interested prospects, wow them with your differentiation, and then convince them to choose to do business with you, revenues are grown, bonuses are given, marketing awards are won.

More importantly, businesses thrive and their employees livelihoods are protected.