Retarget like a love brand

by Bart Delvaux - October 27, 2016

If retargeting is meant to get form or basket abandoners to complete their purchases, all too often the tactic’s actual net result still are frustrated prospects or even definitely lost leads. Here’s how to fix those costly retargeting fails.

“Why in the world am I still chased around Facebook and the internet with ads for a pair of sneakers I purchased weeks ago?” Digiday’s Ross Benes recently wondered. And chances are he isn’t the only one to get frustrated by the bluntness of traditional linear retargeting practices, even if “it would seem all sides lose, in that all-too-familiar scenario. The sneaker-purchaser gets annoyed, the advertiser is trying to sell something someone already bought, and the retargeting company is wasting an impression.”

Even if the retargeted prospect decided not to purchase the specific product, traditional linear retargeters believe he or she will eventually convert and buy that same product if only he or she is chased around the web long enough with a banner promoting the product he or she “almost” bought.


Repetition is known to be effective, of course, especially when it comes to achieving hypnosis of some sort. Yet that, unfortunately, wouldn’t make these obstinate retargeting tactics any more customer-centric, let alone sympathetic. If your prospect decided not to buy your product, he or she must have had a reason – or several reasons – for that.

On top of those repetitive ads, traditional linear retargeting campaigns tend to return to a generic display ad once a purchase is completed… and those ads often mention – or even push – the product already bought, further worsening the lousy user experience.

Last but not least, finally, there’s the fact that these linearly retargeted ads follow people wherever they go on the web; prospects see the same banner on every site they visit, frequently even multiple times on a single page. And if that weren’t enough, the chase seems endless: weeks on end the blunt effort continues to push the refused product down the throat. No wonder “intrusive” is such a popular user feedback category.

Ad blockers

How come retargeting has remained such a primitive practice, in these days of ‘ultrasophistication’? Why do we keep on frustrating potential customers with ads that annoy them very much? Do we lack the data to do better? The strategic creativity, perhaps? Or is someone somewhere being consistently lazy? Fact is media buyers often still charge a percentage of what’s spent on media or a so-called or a cost per thousand impressions (CPM). And that business model does not exactly encourage smarter retargeting strategies, more personalized experiences or a limit to the amount of ad impressions users are served.

And that’s a pity, since these annoying ads come with an important and increasing cost, both in terms in money wasted on worthless advertising and customers lost. Eventually, short-sighted linear retargeting tactics will frustrate people to the extent they’ll refuse to interact with ads any further or even join the ranks of the ad blocking generation.

Respectful retargeting in 5 steps

So, what would it take to start retargeting in a less blunt and a more customer-centric way? Below are five suggestions These Days would fit in a respectful and sustainable retargeting strategy.

Step 1. Cap banner frequency. Frequency capping allows you to limit the amount of impressions (when your ad is shown) per user or timeframe and thus to reduce the annoying repetitiveness of your retargeting strategy.

Step 2. Avoid ad collision. Ad collision happens when several ads of the same campaign are displayed on the same single page, resulting in your ads – and your brand – being perceived as intrusive. On top of that, you’re leaving money on the table, if you agreed on a fixed CPM: on any particular page only one ad can be clicked-through, after all. Both DSPs (demand-side platforms) and SSPs (supply-side platforms) offer options to minimize ad collision.

Step 3. Shorten cookie lifetimes. Are you retargeting people who visited your site forever? Or did you settle with the standard cookie lifetime of 30 days? Cookie lifetimes of retargeting lists can be customized, enabling you to, for example, take into account, the sales cycle specifics of your product. (If you’re product is pricy / has a long sales cycle, for example, you might not want to endlessly push the same expensive product?)

Step 4. Show your prospect some respect. Another example: if your prospect didn’t buy your €1.275 design barbecue right away, give him/her a break… Instead of persistent retargeting with identical product banners, you could get back to him/her with a more inspiring message, more useful information or even a related cheaper product tip?

Step 5. Introduce progressive retargeting. In recent years, inbound or pull strategies have come to prevail in digital marketing. Yet, when it comes to retargeting, ads still push products by default and keep on pushing the customer until he/she ‘capitulates’ and agrees to buy.

What if our retargeting approach would be less intrusive, less aggressive and more helpful – while increasing retention and decreasing churn?Product Up- & X-Sell ladderIn a progressive retargeting approach, the persistent linear product push would be replaced with alternative pointers guiding people through the product funnel. As illustrated on the image above, one could either (1) stay on the same step (linear retargeting), (2) downshift ‘post churn’ to retarget basket or form abandoners with relevant content – e.g. information, inspiration or reviews – or alternative products or (3) ‘step up’ retargeting efforts towards up-sell/cross-sell after a successful conversion.

While your competitors keep on frustrating their prospects by pushing the same not-yet-bought product, you could start serving them a fine-tuned retargeting strategy taking into account traffic sources, business specifics, user research / audience data, preceding actions (e.g. email conversions, whitepaper downloads, …) etc.Image titlProduct Up- & X-Sell MatrixeLike the email or CRM flows your customers trigger by buying product x, y or z, your next retargeting campaign could be designed around similar ‘progressive retargeting flows’ engaging prospects with content that’s more valuable than the blunt linear product push. In the ‘design barbecue cycle’ mentioned above, that content could, for example, include barbecue recipes and reviews… or an invitation to discover an alternative, more affordable outdoor cooking product?

And once your prospect is converted (you have gathered valuable information about him or her, since he or she has completed conversion X or Y), you could start retargeting him or her with an appropriate cross- and/or up-sell campaign (unlike your competitor who would typically return to ‘square one’: the spraying of ‘general awareness’ ads.)Retargeting Frustration LevelConclusion? Don’t wait until your linear retargeting approach starts costing you money and customers. Demand a customer-centric and sustainable progressive retargeting strategy today.

Bart Delvaux

Performance Marketeer, Analytics