What is retargeting?

Retargeting is the act of advertising to a consumer after they’ve visited a business’s website or social media profile, bounced, and are out and about online. (They can also be used to retarget consumers who already exist in a business’s database, like a newsletter subscriber.) Paid retargeting ads for the business will continue to pop up on partner sites within seconds, all with the goal of keeping the brand at the forefront of a user’s mind.2

There are two main ways a company can initiate a retargeting campaign strategy:

  • Pixel-based retargeting – Pixel-based retargeting refers to targeting ads shown to users who’ve already visited a company’s website. They may already be a part of a business’s database or they might be a completely new potential customer. This strand of retargeting can be used any time a user clicks “Accept Cookies” or if they have a pixel installed on their browser. Cookies and pixels track online behavior and allow for relevant ads, like pop-ups or banners, to be displayed on the other sites they visit.3
  • List-based retargeting – This form of retargeting involves zeroing in on users who may already have a foot in the funnel (e.g. being part of a lead database).4 Like remarketing, it can only be employed if a company has a user’s email or mobile number, but it can enable ads to be displayed on platforms from Instagram to LinkedIn. Common list-based retargeting strategies include offering users a free trial or discount on a first purchase.

It might seem that showing an ad again and again would trigger feelings of intrusion, if not prompt a consumer to complain. And while this certainly can happen, the data shows retargeting is remarkably effective for two reasons:

  • The “mere-exposure effect” – The success rate of retargeting is attributed to what’s known as the mere-exposure effect. The basic premise here is that the more a person sees something, the more affinity they’ll develop for it.
  • Brand awareness – Retargeting enhances a business’s exposure. The more familiar and recognizable a brand becomes, the greater a users’ trust, and the higher their likelihood of converting.5

What is remarketing?

In some ways, remarketing can be thought of as a form of retargeting that’s executed vis-a-vis a single communications channel: email.

Instead of “targeting” a new consumer on the sites and platforms a user frequents after pausing on a business’s page, this strategy involves sending out an email to previous customers and/or email subscribers that says, “Hey, remember me? Here’s why you need me in your life.

In sum, remarketing campaign efforts are  used to reignite the interest of inactive users, subscribers and/or followers. They’re useful in various scenarios, most commonly:

  • Reminding users of an abandoned shopping cart.
  • Alerting them to an upcoming sale or promotion.
  • Introducing them to a new (or new to them) product or service.

Remarketing campaign tactics have been around long enough to appear somewhat blah—but they remain incredibly effective. Even so, email can be a tremendously versatile channel for businesses that wield it wisely.

Some other ways to drive favorability with users include:

  • Offering complimentary shipping.
  • Inviting a recipient to an exclusive loyalty program.
  • Telling a user how many loyalty points they’ve accrued, and how to cash them in.

Remember, users encounter remarketing frequently—a birthday email from the retailer we bought from two years ago, or a reminder praising our good taste with the six cute tops we just added to our shopping cart all fall under the umbrella. But when brands can deploy the tactic in a way that’s helpful (rather than annoying), it can be a brilliant tool for compelling users to follow through.

Key differences between retargeting and remarketing

Ultimately, the distinction between retargeting and remarketing comes down to three main factors:

  • Messaging channel – Retargeting uses targeted, relevant advertisements that surface across multiple sites and social media platforms. The strategy can be executed in paid ads as well as more organic channels like email.
  • Target – Retargeting is primarily used to attract users who are newer to a business, whereas remarketing is used to rekindle engagement with existing ones. Where retargeting focuses on acquisition, remarketing is geared toward retention.
  • Paid vs unpaid – Retargeting employs paid advertisements; remarketing does not. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean remarketing is a more economical choice for brands (marketing dollars are routinely spent on remarketing campaigns, from seasonal promotions to introducing a new product).

Benefits of retargeting

One of the biggest boons of retargeting campaigns is in helping businesses connect with entirely new consumers. And even aside from expanding reach, retargeting can also teach brands about who their customers are with greater nuance.

In addition to helping foster and refine customer relationships, this strategy is a smart business decision for brands who want:

  • Marketing precision – Posting targeted ads in the vast, bottomless internet sans strategy can all too easily translate to dollars down the drain. Retargeting speaks directly to leads and brands’ target audience, which can help stabilize and grow brands’ marketing ROI.
  • More exposure – From Twitter to Facebook, retargeting grants businesses the ability to showcase their ads on some of the most high-traffic platforms online.
  • More user engagement – A well-placed, customized banner ads that speak to a specific niche of users can increase their likelihood of exploring a business’s site. In some cases, merely appearing in a digital venue a target customer frequents can establish a sense of common ground between brand and user.

Benefits of remarketing

Remarketing is the go-to strategy when a brand is looking to bring consumers back into the fold. It’s also an advantageous tactic for businesses that want:

  • More variety – Remarketing campaigns can be sculpted to champion whatever KPIs a brand has set from quarter to quarter. Email remarketing presents a nearly infinite canvas for incentivizing engagement creatively. From sending a fun quiz to users’ inboxes to letting VIP members peek into an upcoming subscription box, brands have limitless freedom to create campaigns in response to data as they acquire it.
  • CTA follow-through – …aka, no abandoned carts. There are dozens of reasons a user might abandon their cart, from comparing prices with other brands to simply getting sidetracked. Remarketing helps nudge them in the right direction—sometimes by providing a simple reminder, and others by incentivizing the shopper by offering a discount or letting them know the item is low in stock.

The main benefit of remarketing is helping companies nurture the relationships they have with their customers. And because modern marketing revolves around relationships rather than coercion, it’s a crucial strategy for brands to keep in their back pockets.