TECH TALK: Retargeting and the Path to Least Annoyance

Three out of four consumers now notice retargeted ads. With consumer awareness increasing, brands must show maturity with their strategies or face public scrutiny, risk alienating once-interested buyers and even possibly deal with legal matters as data privacy becomes more regulated.


Leveraging people's behavior and intent to deliver more relevant ads shouldn't annoy recipients due to frequency or lack of relevancy. So, to benefit from more clicks and conversions, organizations need to take the path to least annoyance. For advice on the topic, Website Magazine connected with Jeff Cheal, director of product strategy for personalization, campaign and analytics at Episerver. Let's get started.


Website Magazine (WM): First, is there a difference between retargeting and remarketing? If so, what is it?

Jeff Cheal, Episerver: These two terms get thrown around it the same conversation, but in reality they differ in the strategy that is behind them. Retargeting traditionally focuses on cookies as a tool to track users after they have left a company's site on other sites as part of an ad network.

Remarketing is more of a broader practice. It involves collecting data and information like email to build an outreach strategy around, typically that involves a customer relationship management (CRM) system.

We don't see companies do an either/or concept with these two terms, but most view retargeting as the easier automated solution where remarketing takes a broader practice to master.



WM: Why are retargeting ads becoming so widely used? 

Cheal: Retargeting plays nicely into the mind of the consumer - they see brand information on a website, then they are reminded of the brand as they continue onto the web. The goal is being top-of-mind as one moves through their daily life, and to hopefully be relevant when they finally have a purchasing need. The drawback is repetition; what is a reasonable amount of exposure for the casual consumer without feeling "tracked? While many demand-side platforms use frequency caps for users, one consumer might think very differently about how they would like to be interacted with before ads take on a negative connotation.

The value to the brand is that through cookie-based tracking, they take the most basic attribute of an "interested' user through a visit to a website, and plug into an automated system to purchase these ads. For many brands, it is very little work, and these ad-buying systems are getting better and better about segmentation and data integration to improve the targeting, along with purchasing relevant ad space to retarget. Finally, the buying strategy is typically pay-per-click, so the risk is low as companies only pay for ads that drive revenue back to their site.



WM: What are some common marketing myths about retargeting?

Cheal: Brands think retargeting is a complete strategy. If we find users in more places, they will come back to us, right? This tool is not just a "flip the switch" method and should be thought out such as:

  • Anywhere we can find users is a benefit to get them to come back, right? Not necessarily.
  • How do we make sure that our ads are being shown next to relevant content?
  • Do we have a proper white list (and black list) of sites that we want our ads shown on?
  • How do we keep corporate responsibility in mind to make sure that ads are not shown on sites that don't align with the organization?
  • How do we know that users are interested in the brand for the right reason?
  • Did they show enough interest in to justify being added to the retargeting program?

Brands consider anyone who puts a digital toe into their customer journey should be qualified as a user to be targeted, but this is a dangerous practice.

WM: When do retargeting ads become annoying to brands versus helpful?

Cheal: Retargeting ads become detrimental when they are delivered out of natural context. A person researches a product such as a CPG brand because they are interested in it at the time. If they then see an ad for that product while on Facebook, they might not be in a research mode for the product and would become aware they are being advertised to. The best advertising methods are done when users are not acutely aware they are being solicited, and for that ads should be avoided on disconnected mediums.



WM: What can organizations do to benefit from retargeting ads versus alienate their website visitors?

Cheal: To really take advantage of this practice, think through the mind of a user. Retargeting networks can be a huge value by putting ads next to content in which a user is possibly thinking about the product while reading specific information about their own lives. For example, a soft drink company can advertise to a family while they are considering fun family outings for their weekend, as they would think about the product for their road trip or their picnic.

Also, other effective techniques are using other data points to qualify users. For example, effective retargeting of credit card users when they are on ecommerce sites looking for certain high-priced items. This is taking advantage of past interest (showing affinity for a new card), plus looking at a product page and being ready to spend. Less is more by thinking about a user and finding the right opportunity to integrate into their lifestyle. 



WM: What is another example of effective retargeting?

Cheal: The best examples are thoughtful and considerate because they share content that enhances the shopper's current experience. Consider, for instance, travel ads as part of social media experiences. If someone is looking at their friends posting pictures of their vacations, they might think about booking one too. Seeing a travel ad while trying to find a pair of shoes? Not as efficient.



WM: What impact if any will General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have on retargeting?

Cheal: GDPR can only enhance this experience by giving me a choice to be part of an extended brand lifecycle. If a person is checking out a brand for the first time, they can now choose to opt-in to their awareness and use of their data. This would mean if they see their ad in a different location, they know they have chosen to allow them to do this and can trust the brand more. It will curb the digital advertising business from being lawless and lacking accountability for less-desired experiences by putting ownership in the hands of the user.



WM: What retargeting trends will emerge throughout 2018?

Cheal: Data practices will continue to get stronger, how we can pixel to collect data about users is getting better, and our integration between systems is getting stronger. Brands should expect more targeted experiences because the criteria for people to be shown an ad will get more stringent.

Brands should also expect subtler retargeting experiences as users are becoming savvier to know what is paid advertising and what is not. Ads are being moved further and further down the pages to stay away from prime viewing areas, and we are moving away from interstitials and page takeovers. With that said, publishers need to create more dynamic opportunities to tie into retargeting networks to provide inventory - more creative placements within content for example. As these placements get more out-of-the-box, their value goes up and it's just a matter of time before brands can access that content as part of my retargeting network.


Jeff Cheal is the Director of Product Strategy for Personalization, Campaign & Analytics at Episerver. He has an extensive background in advertising sales, software and marketing strategy. He is based out of New York, serving the North American market as an ambassador for the Episerver product suite, staying connected with both the partner network and customer base.