Online stalking as acquisition strategy

Advertising, at its heart, is about persuasion, not harassment. And while for the past few years creative has played second fiddle to data, Tyler Greer explains why marketers need to take charge and use consumer info to entice and not clobber customers.

If stalking laws have taught me anything – and they haven’t – it’s that people, in general, believe it or not, do not like being followed.Tyler Greer-adotube

The memes depicting Trump’s lurking presence behind Clinton as he followed her around this week’s debate prove this. It makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter how benevolent, beneficial or technically brilliant the follower justifies it to be. In digital media we have another word for this behaviour: retargeting.

For the uninitiated, retargeting – or its ‘a rose by any other name’ counterpart, remarketing – refers to the process which occurs should an online user visit a brand site or begin the process of conversion on that site.

Namely, that they are then pursued across their online journey by that brand via advertising. This includes display, video and social, amongst others. Theoretically this is smart, efficient advertising. In practice it can be infuriating for the recipient and damaging for the brand.

Cork, Ireland

Let’s go back further and try to understand how we got here.

Generally speaking, it’s thanks to the interweb. The internet has given us the greatest gift we have ever had as marketers – consumer data.

Online users, through the sites they visit, the stories they read, the content they consume, leave breadcrumb trails which tell us about them.

In this trail we can view not only the content they are consuming and when they are in market, but we can gain insight to understand the forces that are shaping those decisions. For marketers, this is gold dust.

At Exponential, where I work, we have a founding principle that states ‘what people do online tells us who they are offline’; you only need to think about your own actions when planning a purchase or researching a concern or need to recognise this truth.

The great irony of retargeting is that it is often negatively exploiting the very thing that offers it the most power – this online data.

mobile phone graph analytics business data - thinkstovk

The data we collect can tell us not only that someone has visited our website, but why. And the only way to do this is to treat a site visit as exactly what it is: a singular data point.

A very substantial and important one, but a singular data point none-the-less. Only when contrasted against a visitor’s other myriad data points can we understand their place in the consideration journey. And to do this, granular data is required.

Data which describes lots and lots of individual online actions. Add to this the frequency of those behaviours, and how recently they have been displayed, and we start to get some idea of the sort of follow-up message which is appropriate to that user. It is almost never going to be a single message for all consumers.

‘Contextual advertising’ has a general meaning tied to where an ad is placed and the content which surrounds it. But advertising technology can now grasp the context in which a person may have visited a brand site.

User contextuality (curiously not actually a word yet – but it should be) is critical to engaging audiences with stories that matter to them. Stories that are nuanced, relevant, timely and, critically, creatively led.ThinkstockPhotos-content strategy blog illoTreating all those who visit a site as the same monolithic lump making precisely nothing of the data we can access, slapping the same message in front of everyone is worse than lazy. It’s negligent.

In these lean times of reduced budgets and ROI, data is being relied upon to show efficiency. Retargeting promises this and does so in a way that is simple to reflect in reporting.

It feels right, because, in principle at least, it is. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its own inherent risks of wastefulness. And profiling all site visitors as the same is a great way to be wasteful. They are different and must be graded and spoken to as such.

Advertising, at its heart, is about persuasion, not harassment. Creative has, for the past few years, laid dormant in the boot while the data wizards take the wheel.

To some degree this is understandable; the data that the online universe provides is like nothing we have ever seen, but it doesn’t speak to persuasion. If we want to deliver real value for our retargeting dollar, we need to use the data to help contextualise the audience that is visiting the brand site and allow creative teams to sculpt the messages that will resonate.

There are lots of reasons for people to hate advertising, but retargeting should not be one. It is a space with plenty of information to assist us in getting it right because all the information we need to speak to the recipient in the right way is there for us to access.

We just need to regard the site visit and the site visitor with a little more care.

Tyler Greer is the head of strategy, APAC, at Exponential


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