Level 3 Advertising Personalization — Niche Marketing, the End of Being All Things to All People

Tyson Quick
Sep 27, 2017 · 10 min read

This is Part V in an ongoing series on Advertising Personalization. To start this series at Part I, The Evolution of Advertising Personalization: A 100+ year quest to create advertising that people actually like, go here.

An intention is, well, anything intended. It’s an aim, a plan, an objective.

Seems straightforward enough.

All it takes is a little reflection to recognize that the concept of intention is anything but straightforward.

At its core, intention is a mental state; describable as setting your mind on a task, then embarking on completing that task.

Intention is the instant an action can be said to exist and is knowable. Once the intention is put into action, it becomes “real,” and ends the unaffected state.

Intention also consists of future intentions. For example, I intend, by completion of this article, to have fully elucidated Level 3 of the Advertising Personalization Classification System with the added intention of providing you with an overarching framework that enables you to quickly discern whether or not a marketing message is worthy of your attention. (But first, I intend to finish this paragraph.)

Whatever view we take of the shape, structure, or angle of intention — actions or propositions — the problem with intention is its many, seemingly unravelable, yet logical, complexities.

“The only people who achieved anything have been those who have had no intentions at all.” — Oscar Wilde

If intention is so complicated, how can we understand buyer intent?

As is evident, the concept of intention can get fuzzy, fast. Despite the complexity inherent in intention, marketers, along with focus group leaders, psychologists, behaviorists, etc. have made numerous attempts at plumbing the minds of customers to understand intention, or more precisely, buyer intent, at least insofar as to why a person chooses what they chose.

Studies conducted for decades reveal, and continue to reveal, the obvious. People’s intentions, when it comes to making a purchase, are all pretty similar and travel a nearly identical path.

  • Need Recognition — you have a problem, desire, or need.
  • Information/Solution Search — next step is to start gathering information about possible solutions.
  • Evaluation/consideration — you evaluate your options and/or compare offers.
  • Purchase
  • Post-Purchase Evaluation — Not everyone experiences this phase, but it’s when you either want to share with the world the pleasure you’ve gained from your purchase or when you wonder if you made the right choice.

This begat this:

Sales Glossary: A to Z in Sales Terminology by usekast.com

For the marketer, this funnel will be familiar. For the consumer, think of the second funnel as one that aligns with your progress, or journey, as you go from desire to purchase, except from the perspective of the seller who attaches his/her process to your journey.

“…go where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Every time you interact with a website or a landing page you’re betraying your intentions, needs, desires, interests; creating a trail of breadcrumbs along the way. What you search for on the web, how much time you spend on a site or looking at a page, whether or not you open an email, along with identifying demographic information and your social “likes” are some of the markers a marketer will use to help understand your intent. These crumbs are first-party intent data, and they send the signal, overt or subtle, that a customer is ready to make a purchase. The crumbs that are the most relevant to marketers are pieced together to gain insight into the intent of a buyer.

First-party intent data is the most common form of data collected and it is used to create the kinds of personalized ads many of us see as we move through our journey.

“As your desire is, so is your intention. As your intention is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.” — The Upanishads

Making it Personal

If a reasonable understanding of the term intention is seemingly out of reach, we can understand personalization. Especially the kind of personalization used in much of today’s messaging.

Advertising Personalization is the act of applying the insights collected using the methods mentioned above, to increase the relevancy of an ad. These insights are the components that more digitally advanced brands presently employ and take into consideration when targeting ads.

Advertising personalization is the oldest, newest thing under the sun. By this I mean, in one form or another, ad personalization has always been around, but only recently has it emerged as a vital, and valuable, approach to reaching a target audience and inducing them to act.

B2B Advertising, Personalization, and Landing Page Best Practices by Demandbase 2015

The benefits of advertising personalization for the user/consumer/general public are:

  • There are fewer demands for your attention from people and pitches that have no bearing on your life
  • You’re informed directly about products, goods, and services that are of direct value to you
  • Personalization ultimately removes the friction points in your customer journey and/or transaction process
  • Provides you with a clear communication channel to interact with brands you know and trust

In my opinion, Advertising Personalization works great. Delivering and receiving relevant content and ads is beneficial to all parties. There is a need, however, for more delineation of the levels of advertising personalization, or an Advertising Personalization Classification System.

The system I’ve come up with is advantageous to the consumer for a number of reasons. Foremost, it arms the consumer with the ability to apprehend what kinds of messages are coming their way and just as quickly discern whether or not the message is worthy of your attention. If the user decides that it is, they can then express to a brand their willingness to allow for a clear channel of communication between what they want and that brand.

Advertising Personalization Classification System

In earlier articles I provided detailed explanations of three of the system’s five levels, starting with:

Level 0 Need or Want: a level with nearly non-existent targeting. This is the baseline; an example of personalization would be hanging a sign outside a business and calling it advertising.

Level 1 Regional Personalization: Advertising at this level addresses regional needs. If you live in the mountains, you’ll see ads for coats, gloves, hats, skis resorts, etc.

Level 2 Demographic Personalization: This level addresses identifiable and measurable segments of the population. It starts at dividing and targeting the sexes. It further delineates groups by age. Some are old, some are young, and that age spectrum can be broken into age groups.

Level 3 — Niche Interest/Intent Personalization

The Niche Interest/Intent level of advertising personalization marks a profound shift on in the overall progression of this system. The other levels are relatively “primitive” when compared to the level of sophistication that is found in level 3.

This level also has a more distinguished pedigree, as compared to say, level 1 which is essentially nothing more than hanging a sign. And, when one traces its origins, the path is far more definite than Level 2 Demographic Personalization, whose foundation was loosely set down by the ancient Greeks.

The earliest example of Niche Interest Personalization can be traced back to the 1950s when the general interest publications like the Saturday Evening Post, Life, and Look, began to fade from relevance. This is germane to the defining of the Advertising Personalization Classification System because it sent consumers and advertisers in new directions.

The forces that drove the shift from the general interest publications to niche-specific magazines had less to do with the returning GIs and the Baby Boom they begat. Rather, it was somewhat unrelated market occurrences that brought about the demise of the general interest publication and spawned the niche interest magazine, and along with it a new kind of advertising personalization. Chief among them was the rise of television.

The nightly news broadcast nearly instantly became the preferred way Americans got their information for the obvious reason that a news broadcast was everything a magazine isn’t: up-to-the-minute, immediately consumable, often reported in real-time.

An equally damaging practice that led to the end of the general interest magazine was the method publishers used to calculate readership. The practice, called “pass along” circulation, based “total readership” on the specious assertion that every issue of their magazine was viewed by three or four different people. Naturally, this produced the obscenely inflated readership rates that were then used by publishers to establish exorbitant ad rates. When advertisers realized they were paying too much to reach a small audience, they pulled their dollars and went to TV.

On the consumer side, the gradual increase in postal rates sent subscription rates plummeting.

This one-two punch ought to have wiped out the magazine business entirely. But it didn’t.

To compete in the magazine trade, those publishers that were left standing, had to specialize. So they did, by creating publications that appealed to niche markets. In 1950 a magazine called Cycle launched. Followed by Popular Photography in ’55, Golf in ’59, Car and Driver in ’62, Rolling Stone in ’67 — to name just a few. These niche publications were attractive to readers who, for the first time, no longer attempted to fit neatly into the myth of the homogeneous population. For example, returning service people saw first-hand that the world is a diverse place and their appetite for information about the world grew in ways the general interest magazine, whose mission had always been to be all things to all people, could not satisfy. Others, whose passions tended toward things mechanical, outdoorsy, athletic, etc. were now able to find others who shared their interests, form communities, and self-identify in ways more specialized or esoteric than had ever been possible before.

Another unexpected byproduct brought on by the decline of the general interest publication was, businesses now had a place to speak directly to individuals they knew had an interest in their offerings. The steady and pervasive rise of the niche interest magazine meant that for the first time advertisers were able to personalize ads in ways they never had before.

It can’t be stressed enough how tectonic this shift from the general interest publication to the niche interest publication impacted people’s intellectual and emotional lives. And, how it created something of a symbiotic relationship between the readers of these niche interest publications and the companies that advertised in their pages.

Level 3 in Action

Level 3 Advertising Personalization is the general state of digital advertising as practiced by most brands today. Your intentions or desires are both driving the exchange of information and guiding marketer so they know how to address your intentions or desires. In other words, the intent level of personalization is something of a closed circle. You express an interest in an item. I acknowledge your interest. I deliver relevant information based on your stated intent. In an ideal world, you’ll purchase my product. In an even more ideal world, you’ll become a loyal customer.

How Level 3 personalization works depends entirely on your intent data. It all begins with a search, usually a Google search. This search signals intent. How this two-way flow of information works is predicated on you. Your online behavior, along with the broad brushstrokes of your demographic, facilitates this level of personalization.

Image by Tracey Wallace/Bigcommerce

By performing a search, you are seeking answers or taking action on something that is of direct interest to you. Your information gathering activity acts as an invitation for a business to approach you and offer you more information about their products. At this level, the personalized ads that come your way call into account your past searches and in some cases will even identify your past buying habits.


While this level is reasonably effective, at least insofar as offering marketers a better chance at winning a sale through intent-based targeting, there is still a lot left to chance and is limited by the still, very general, vague, and at times, the inaccurate nature of the data that has been collected.

The lack of proper technologies and limited human resources indicate that marketers may not be fully equipped to profit from intent-based targeting.

There’s got to be a better way.

Level 4 of the Advertising Personalization Classification System, to be discussed in the next installment of this series, addresses the shortcomings of poor data and defines what is rapidly emerging as the next, though nowhere near final, wave in the development of ad personalization.

In articles to come, we will move up through each level the Advertising Classification System. A powerful system designed to provide consumers, and marketers, an oculus through which they can see how to best focus their attention and on which of the countless messages that make demands on their time, emotion, and money, are relevant to them. Armed with this knowledge, the consumer will be able to make better choices, save money, and take control of how they’re being marketed to. Brands will be able to offer customers experiences that are tailored to their specific needs, reduce their cost of customer acquisition, and be less obtrusive in the lives of their loyal customers.

At Instapage, the Advertising Classification System helps us craft better campaigns, and our landing page solution lets marketers create, integrate, and publish personalized landing pages at scale.

Get started today creating a personalized advertising experience for your prospects. They (and your bottom line) will thank you for it.

If you’re interested in personalization and the future of advertising, follow me.


Anscombe, G.E.M., Intention, 1957, Harvard University Press



A History of the Book in America: Volume 5: the Enduring Book: Print Culture in Postwar America edited by David Paul Nord, Joan Shelley Rubin, David D. Hall, Michael Schudson

The Right Niche, Consumer Magazines and Advertisers by David Abrahamson & Carol Polsgrove Pg. 107–109

Tyson Quick

Written by

Serial Entrepreneur, Advertising/Marketing Innovator, & Instapage Founder/CEO

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