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Out with the Old in with the New: The Demise of Re-targeting?

Steve ManattMarch 24, 2015

How many times have you visited a website, clicked on or even purchased a product, and magically you start to see that product following you around the internet for days, or even weeks? Surely there is a better way to market to consumers… With the heaps of data many companies maintain, the evolution of predictive modeling and better understanding of consumer buying behavior, there is a new game to play – It’s called pre-targeting.

In my recent move from New York City to Denver, I was in search of a vehicle as I knew my legs would not suffice in getting me from point A to point B anymore.  After walking and taking public transportation for several years – which really isn’t so bad – it became a daunting task to find the right vehicle as I was inundated with the plethora of makes and models.  Little did I anticipate the immediate barrage of re-targeting that would ensue by each and every car brand and dealer site I visited.  I couldn’t seem to escape!  I would see ads in my Facebook feed and on nearly every site that I visited – and it wouldn’t stop for weeks!  Now, even months later I am still being targeted for cars I no longer have any interest in purchasing.  Car manufacturers and dealerships are not the only companies that suffer from the re-targeting dilemma, which overwhelms or targets at the wrong time in the consumer lifecycle.  I’m not saying that re-targeting is not useful in the right scenarios, however, it’s problematic as it is often based on past interests.

For many marketers, re-targeting has been seen as the ‘saving grace’ or ‘last chance’ to make an impact on the consumer’s buying decision.  The challenge with re-targeting is that it is not yet smart enough to know when to target with ads and when to stop those ads, aside for the use of generic messaging.  It could be that I may have just purchased from a competitor and just because I clicked on a link or visited a site does not constitute purchase intent; I may not even be in the buying cycle at all.  Re-targeting ads are cookie based so they follow the consumer until a set number of impressions are exhausted, which can lead to negative brand impact instead of creating the desire to purchase.

Enter pre-targeting which uses a combination of first and third party data to serve the consumer relevant and timely messages through the most appropriate channel.  Now, with the massive amounts of data and advanced predictive modeling, companies can glean insight into the consumer’s future purchase intent.  This is the biggest difference as re-targeting is based on cookies, which are ‘dumb’ and don’t know the consumer or their actual intent and lifecycle.  On the other hand, pre-targeting leverages known consumer data, preferences (product, channel, etc.), demographics and advanced propensity models to make a scientific prediction of their future needs and desires.

If you have ever used a Google phone you may be familiar with Google Now which is an app that can essentially predict your day.  It leverages geo-location, preference data, email, search history, contacts and more. After a relatively short period of time after installing the app, it will tell you how long it will take to get to work, the best route, give you live flight updates and even offer events, restaurants and sights to see along your way…all without you doing anything.  I frequently use this app to find local events and plan my journeys accordingly.

At this point you can start to imagine all of the integrated uses of pre-targeting.  Not only is this useful throughout the consumers day, it is also highly individualized and targeted, no more irrelevant blanket advertising that people tend to ignore.  Taking it a step further, advertisers can use it to direct consumers towards what they were already going to do in the future and seamlessly incorporate ads into their daily routine served in a contextually relevant and timely manner.  Increasingly in our ever more connected world where devices talk to each other, this method of predictive advertising will provide true value, especially when ads are based on customer preferences.  It’s time to stop betting on the past and plan the future with pre-targeting.