The Art of Respectful Retargeting

Who are you? What do you do? What influences your behaviors, actions, and decisions?

There are no simple answers to these questions. Yet marketers tragically try to pigeonhole people into them with retargeting ads.

But people are complex. Marketers and brands know this. Whether we admit it, however, is another story. We tend to think our ads are the best in the business. We think they’ll immediately get the attention of our intended audience, and will solve all their problems. The unfortunate reality is no one cares about our ads or us. Why?

Life is chaotic. There are so many distractions. In a single day, users have an infinite number of interactions with a ton of different brands, and do so through various channels - both online as well as offline. Everyone competes for their attention.

Attention spans are short. A recent study by Microsoft found that human attention spans declined on average from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds in 2013 – that’s actually one second less than the attention span of a goldfish. What’s the cause of this decline? Digital technology. That means all the things fighting for our attention are actually making our ability to focus worse.

Buyer journeys are unique. Consumers live dynamic lives that differ from day to day, week to week, month to month. They have their own concerns, motivations, and goals that also change with time. Consumers are busy. The last thing they want is to be bombarded with ads online.

So how do we, as marketers, break through the noise and actually make people care?

It starts with respect. If you respect your audience, you’ll take time to get to know them and craft a retargeting strategy that doesn’t distract, but instead makes a meaningful connection, enhances their lives, and helps them achieve their goals.

We should stop thinking of retargeting as a four-step process (visit, cookie, ad, conversion!). An Adobe study found that the average consumer goes through at least five touch points before converting. The old approach of rushing users to convert after their first interaction does not respect them or their buyer journey.

To respect your audience, you must listen to them. And, although consumer behaviors are complicated and evolving, we are lucky to have access to excessive amounts of data and information to help us understand audience and their behavior. There are also hundreds of platforms and tools that allow us to reach people all across the web, so we can engage where, when and how it’s most appropriate.

We need to shift focus away from the old retargeting mentality. Strategy should NOT be confined to two audiences: those who have converted and those who haven’t. We must understand the people who visit our sites.

  • What do they want?
  • Why did they come?
  • How did they get here?
  • How long did they stay?
  • Was it their first visit?

Answer these questions and you’ll start to identify your users’ behaviors. Then you can better understand where they are in the buyer journey – as well as how long the buyer journey is in general. The buyer journey will be different depending on what you’re marketing. The buyer journey a teenager takes to purchase a pair of socks is different than that of a professional deciding whether to enroll in an MBA program.

Once you understand the buyer journey, decide the best way to segment your audience to engage them in the most appropriate way. Because your audience is made up of individuals, it’s important to consider the different behaviors motivating them to visit your site.

All of the insight above is informed by quantitative data. Time lag, day parting trends, event and content flow, top conversion paths – these are all helpful analytics reports to identify user behaviors, but if we want to understand our users’ motivations, we need to get to know them personally. To do this, you’ll have to dive into the qualitative data as well as the quantitative.

This means talking to people. Reach out to key stakeholders of the business, current clients or prospective leads, even sales and support teams. Another interesting way to gather qualitative insight is on your social channels. People are incredibly vocal on social. Monitor your followers to get a glimpse into their lives.

The more you know your audience and what motivates them, the better you can segment effectively. Then you can get creative with your retargeting audiences. Incorporate interest targets to tailor messaging specifically to visitors based on what they love. Reengage people who have interacted with your YouTube channels. Bring back cart abandoners. Promote recurring promotions to those who have shown interest in the past.

But before you get carried away, there are some rules to keep in mind:

  1. Take advantage of frequency caps and know when enough is enough.
  2. Tailor your messaging to deliver relevant, informational, and compelling ads to your users based on their unique site interactions. Don’t address all of your users the same way. It’s impersonal.
  3. Consider offline trends. Not everything you need to know will be handed over in a Google Analytics report. Sometimes you have to look offline to understand certain user motivations. What’s going on within the industry? What are people talking about?

As marketers, our goal is to reach our target audience and compel them to choose us, in some way shape or form. But because of the chaos of every day life, the scarcity of attention, and the unique nature of every individual’s buyer journey, this is difficult. And it’s only getting harder with time. In order to really stand out to our audience, we need to listen. If we use qualitative and quantitative data to better understand our audience, we can create a retargeting strategy that respects them as an individual, and not as a “target market”. As long as our intention is to have a positive impact on our audience’s lives, we can stand out from the advertising noise.

Written by Kelly Mancuso on July 9, 2015


Add A Comment

Indeed, it's important for a marketer to know how to listen to the customers' voices. This way you can engage them in the long term and really benefit the business.

Keith R says:

"Digital technology. That means all the things fighting for our attention are actually making our ability to focus worse."
I don't exactly agree with this; I'd put forth that it isn't making our capacity for focus worse, but increasing how fast we "get the message" and expect to be communicated to.
That's one of the reasons your second rule is so important. Messaging needs to get to the point. "This is for you, this is why." If it doesn't, it needs to give the audience some other reason to stick around and dig deeper.

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Written by
Kelly Mancuso
Vice President, Advertising