Alexander Santo

The internet is a big place, filled with twists and turns, dark alleyways and the occasional bright spot. Within all this chaos, brands attempt to engage customers.

If a user visits a site one day, there’s no guarantee he or she will ever return. To capture leads that may otherwise disappear into the digital ether, brands use intricate advertising networks that stretch across the internet.

Remarketing and retargeting are two concepts that take advantage of third-party ad networks, and they can help brands target customers as they journey across the web.

Without remarketing, users may never find their way back to your site.

If you’re deciding whether your brand should leverage remarketing vs retargeting, it may surprise you that the two strategies go hand in hand. In fact, retargeting is actually a subset within the remarketing umbrella.

What is remarketing?

The term remarketing applies to any tactics used to engage a customer after an initial interaction.

Remarketing is an essential element of an integrated marketing strategy, because it leverages multiple touchpoints to appeal to an audience. At a strategic level, remarketing supports a brand’s primary sales objectives by recapturing potentially valuable leads. Without a remarketing plan, quality leads are more likely to slip through the cracks.

Though remarketing is not a new tactic, modern efforts in this area are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Dynamic remarketing leverages first-party data to show site visitors ads about specific products or services they previously viewed. This responsive strategy creates a personalized ad experience for potential customers.

Dynamic remarketing displays ads (and other content) that are a tailored fit for your audience.

For example, say a user visits an ecommerce site and views a specific item, then leaves without taking further action. Dynamic remarketing could utilize a third-party ad network to display ads for that specific item on other websites viewed by the user. This keeps the product at top of mind, and helps retain customer interest.

What is retargeting?

Retargeting refers to the specific strategy of using cookies and display ads to promote products and services to people who have previously visited a site, as well as users who exhibit similar behaviors online.

Essentially, retargeting is one tactic that falls under the remarketing heading. In many cases, retargeting strategies leverage pay-per-click advertising solutions such as Google Ads to convert users across the web. Importantly, brands can use retargeting strategies and third-party data to reach customers who have not yet visited the brand’s site.

Retargeting tactics find relevant users, even if they’ve never viewed your site.

For example, a company that sells solar panels might set up a conversion goal such as clicking on a call-to-action button. Let’s say the button leads to a contact form. Over time, user tracking data may indicate that visitors who click the CTA button also visit several other solar panel related sites, including news sources and home improvement magazines.

A retargeting strategy could use retargeting tools to display ads to people who also visit those third-party sources but have not yet found their way to the solar panel company’s website. This tactic improves the quality of inbound traffic, because there’s a better chance that the targeted users are interested in the company’s services.

How do remarketing and retargeting fit into a broader marketing strategy?

Display ads are the bread and butter of retargeting, but remarketing encapsulates a much broader realm of tactics. Other examples of effective remarketing techniques include email lists, add-on products, personalized suggestions and incentives.

In today’s overcrowded digital marketing space, brands cannot afford to rely on just one marketing strategy. Taking an integrated approach increases the reach of a campaign and reduces the risk of low engagement.

Combined with other marketing initiatives, such as content marketing and social media outreach, these strategies form a solid foundation from which a brand can capture, qualify and convert leads. In a sales funnel, remarketing and retargeting tend to fall somewhere in the middle, though their reach can extend to consumers at any stage of the buying process.

Content marketing, remarketing and retargeting support engagement

Remarketing techniques fit well with a content marketing strategy because they all contribute to the user’s journey through the sales funnel. Content draws in readers through organic channels, and dynamic remarketing tactics convert users that have shown interest in specific offerings. Combined, these strategies promote brand awareness, offer value to consumers and support sales efforts.

Integrated marketing boosts the reach of your messages.

Importantly, remarketing supports integrated communications – the idea that all messaging from a specific brand should be consistent and cohesive. Brands that demonstrate consistency of messaging wherever they are present online are more likely to appeal to consumers.

Therefore, if a user reads a blog post on a brand’s site and later views an ad for the same brand while reading a news article from a third-party source, remarketing tools ensure the experience is consistent. When messaging is aligned with brand values and consumer expectations, everyone wins.

Social media outreach adds another strategic layer

Engaging customers via social media can seem a lot like trying to hit a target that is moving erratically. Compared to other marketing channels, social media is a completely different beast. Though blogs, white papers and eBooks have deep roots that can trace their lineage back to long-form advertisements of the 19th and 20th centuries, social media is still in its infancy. We think of platforms like MySpace as aged, but children born the same year the platform launched still aren’t old enough to vote.

To build a social media strategy that attracts a diverse set of customers, marketers need to use more than one platform and more than one technique. Within the social channel, marketers often break down their strategies into two distinct categories: content and ads.

On the one hand, brands post images, articles and links on their social media pages to engage readers in an ongoing conversation. On the other hand, they disseminate targeted ads through the platform’s proprietary ad network. Therefore, if a reader views a post on a brand’s page, then returns to their homepage, they might see an ad appear that reminds them of the brand and prompts them to take some further action.

Remarketing in the B2B space

B2B marketers face a unique challenge in that their target audiences may not be well-defined. Job titles vary from company to company, and in small businesses, buyers often wear multiple hats. Plus, business buyers are much busier than their consumer counterparts. An executive with a full schedule may not have time to read through eBooks and probably doesn’t spend much time engaging in conversations with brands on social media.

To reach a business-minded audience, marketers need a deep understanding of the challenges their target readers face on a daily basis. Therefore, the content they produce needs to provide real value, and their remarketing efforts need to be integrated with other strategies.

Remarketing can reach a busy professional audience.

A B2B strategy using white papers and eBooks draws in interested readers who are looking to learn about a specific business topic or challenge. These assets not only draw in readers who are searching relevant keywords but also qualify leads. A lead who has read a white paper on a specific topic has more knowledge on the subject, thus making the sales call easier and more productive.

An integrated approach to marketing utilizes CTAs, mailing lists and other techniques to keep leads interested and moving along the sales funnel. Remarketing supports these efforts by adding another touchpoint that is minimally intrusive. Business leads may have different priorities than consumer leads, but they all consume content online. Therefore, remarketing is still an effective strategy in the B2B space. The important thing is that each touchpoint transmits a consistent brand message.

3 effective examples of remarketing and retargeting

1. Amazon

It should be no surprise that king of retail and the world’s second company to be valued at over one trillion dollars is well-versed in the art of retargeting. Not only does the company show me generic ads for its Prime membership deals when I log into Facebook, it also shows me ads for products I’ve placed – and abandoned – in my cart.

This ad appeared in my news feed as I was checking through recent posts from my friends and family. A week prior to seeing this ad, I had been pricing out a new set of coffee-making tools for my home, and I put these filters and pot in my cart. Here, I’m not only reminded of the products but also their reviews. If I was ready to make a purchase, I could simply click the “Shop Now” button to continue my buying journey.

2. Ally Bank

Ad networks not only track visitor movements across the web, they also match behaviors to look-alike audiences. An algorithm matches patterns of activities and makes an educated guess as to what kinds of products and services would appeal to other readers. I’ve never been to the Ally Bank website, but I still saw an ad for the brand when I visited The Huffington Post.

I’m not sure what about my internet activity prompted the ad network to display this ad, but it is a good match for my interests. I frequent personal finance blogs and do all my banking online. This banner ad shows me a few things I might be interested in: 1) It shows me that Ally Bank provides online services and 2) It shows me that Ally can offer an excellent APY on savings accounts – terms I’ve read on personal finance sites.

3. The Tie Bar

Ever since I entered my late twenties, it seems like I receive a wedding invitation every other month. I’ve also noticed a direct correlation between the frequency with which I attend weddings and the number of patterned ties I own. I recently bought a particularly snazzy plaid tie for an upcoming event from The Tie Bar. Days later, I found this email in my inbox:

Not only does this email provide immediate value – I now have a better understanding of how to pair plaid ties and checked shirts – but I’m also presented with an opportunity to increase my growing tie collection with a new piece. Though I’m not ready to make another purchase yet, there’s a good chance I’ll be coming back to this brand when another invitation shows up in the mail.

Remarketing is essential to modern marketing

As more and more of our lives move online, remarketing will become increasingly necessary. If your brand isn’t utilizing this strategy, its losing customer engagement to brands that have made an investment.

Remarketing is ideal for following up with consumers online because there are few other options. Mailing lists and social media are important but require action from the reader. Remarketing is much more autonomous and less invasive. It helps spread brand awareness and contributes to a successful buying experience. Without remarketing, people who visit your site may never find their way back. Think of remarketing as a lighthouse in a storm of information. Turn on the light, and your target audience will come.