When ad retargeting is done poorly, it becomes the digital equivalent of a retail associate who follows you around your favourite store, refusing to let you shop in peace.

A well-executed ad retargeting strategy, on the other hand, provides a unique form of value to online customers by recognizing what they’re interested in and surfacing it alongside the content they enjoy. Given the level of digital distractions which have shrunk attention spans to a matter of seconds in some cases, getting this kind of tactic right should be a huge priority for marketers in 2018.

If you’ve never heard of ad retargeting, you’ve probably experienced it -- and maybe not on a positive way. You search online for mattresses, for instance, but put off making a purchase for the moment. In the days, weeks or even months that follow, however, you might see the same mattress manufacturer popping up in ads everywhere you turn.

This can be even more disconcerting when you’re looking for something in a professional context, then find yourself being constantly retargeted ads for business tools during your off-hours time online.

The idea behind ad retargeting remains a good one. After all, life online moves pretty fast, and so bringing up ads that have some basic relevance should be welcomed by potential customers, right? It’s just that marketers also need to make the best possible use of solutions, like Marketing Cloud, that are available to them.

Use Ad Retargeting To Invite, Rather Than Pursue

The old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” needs to be applied carefully in this context. From a technical perspective, ad retargeting can let you have the same ad show up across a variety of ad networks and publishers. If you want to be “everywhere,” this may seem like the way to do it.

In reality, though, customers may get sick of seeing the same ad every time they go online. It may seem like they’re being stalked, which obviously isn’t the impression any brand wants to make.

You may get far better results by thinking through a longer journey that recognizes how customers and prospects want to consider all their options before making a big decision. Much like other journeys marketing departments set up and run through Marketing Cloud, this is about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and considering the steps they need to take -- from research to price comparisons to possibly getting someone else’s go-ahead -- before they make a purchase.

A more thoughtful ad retargeting journey might look like this:

  • An initial ad is aimed at those in the legal profession who would fit the profile of a customer interested in “Product A,” which helps them research case histories.
  • If they don’t convert (ie, click on the ad), they get served a different ad elsewhere that focuses on “Product B,” which helps edit and annotate transcripts of what’s said in a courtroom.
  • If they still don’t convert, a third ad is served up which outlines the company’s consulting services to help law firms maximize their potential billings each month.

When you lay it out like this, the ad campaign works like a really helpful store employee, who might offer an item of clothing that would suit someone who walks in, but has other ideas if the first one is rejected. Using data to personalize and contextualize what gets served will only deliver better results over time.

This is about creating an online experience that drives interest in and affinity for the brand in stages, rather than an all-out pursuit of everyone browsing the Web.

Leverage Marketing Content To Bolster The Ad

Given the space and size constraints of digital ad units -- especially on mobile devices -- it’s not always clear to customers what will happen if they click on something. They might assume they’ll be taken to the firm’s web site, for instance, but wind up confused if they’re driven to an offer page or landing page rather than the home page. Calls to action (CTAs) should make this clear, of course. They should also be thought through carefully in light of what will interest the potential customer, rather than what’s important to the advertiser at that particular moment.

As advertising and marketing teams start working more closely together -- and sharing more of the same technologies to do their work -- this is a good time to think about how you could leverage your best content assets as the value behind the ad. In other words, your firm may sell the greatest widgets in the world, but that’s not necessarily what you need to put in an online ad. Instead, think of the knowledge your firm has gained over the course of its history and the insight you can provide. This could include:

  • Blog posts about widget use and why it’s an increasing priority
  • A video that shows how to figure out what widgets are right for you
  • A digital calculator that helps you understand the budget for widgets you’ll need

Using marketing content rather than just a company slogan or logo will bring more meaning to what’s being retargeted to online viewers. You can also build a similar journey based on this kind of content, rather than focus on a specific product or service in your campaign.

Show Rather Than Tell In Ads With Video

What gets shared most often on social media? It’s not text, or even photographs. Video is an outstanding vehicle for storytelling, and can be used as well in ads as it is through other channels.

Don’t assume that working in video requires the production values of a 30-second TV commercial, though. Think about what you can offer through animation or footage of real people that reflect your target audience. Some examples might include:

  • A few seconds of video showing your product in action
  • An animated shot that explains what your firm or product does
  • A quick endorsement or testimonial from a real customer

Again, layering different kinds of video-driven ad units based on data that personalizes the approach will seem like less a brand hounding its customers than one with a lot of great ideas, inspiration and advice to share. That’s ultimately what every effort toward ad retargeting should become.