We still talk a lot about segmentation and understanding customers needs. The argument is we can group customers into like minded groups and infer likely behaviour from their profiles. Why bother? It is a lot easier to observe what they do, and offer them something on a 'people like you' basis.
What do Amazon know about us? Nothing much about us as people, why should they care. But they do know what we buy and what we have told them is in our wish list. They don't care if two book buyers have different profiles, what does interest them is that they buy the same books. Admittedly they could get a bit smarter merging profiles and behavioural data but it sounds like a lot of work for very little return. Predicting book reading interests from personal data is just too much like guess work, you will get many more misses than hits.
Behavioural marketing is easier to apply in e-commerce environments, retail and service, the likes of Amazon, BA Frequent Flyer clubs but the behavioural approach is applicable across the board. What it means is that the role of the marketer is to do stuff, give stuff away, offer help, offer services, content, whatever allows the customer to do something, interact. The marketer is searching for Behavioural clues. Consequently our job is to do something interesting to the customer rather than something that looks to sell with indecent haste. In high end business technology the things that work best are the offers of free IT reviews, on and off line. The information you get is all you need to know about a customers requirements and willingness to purchase.
The problem with the behavioural marketing approach is that as marketers we have to think about the quality of prospects and customers rather than the numbers we reach. For some this is a major cultural shift, for others it is an easier transition. Behavioural marketing is more than behavioural targeting it is effectively the fusion of digital and direct marketing. It is giving us 121 marketing but without the complexity of profiling and inferring behaviour from attitude, profile, demographics, firmographics or whatever. So what will make it really interesting is when (complimentary) businesses sharing their behavioural data becomes common place.
One day soon, what do my customers look like, may become an irrelevant question. We just won't care.