Site retargeting is the most common use of real-time media today, and many marketers consider it the most effective tactic in their media plans. In many cases it's their savior in balancing out the crappy ROI of other parts of their plans. Yet the way it is measured is fundamentally broken, causing marketers to make bad planning decisions, waste valuable marketing dollars, and miss investment opportunities elsewhere that would bring much more benefit.
There are two main problems -- de-duplication of conversions and hidden costs behind those conversions. Oh, and a third -- a lack of motivation.
De-duplication and last touch make you dumb
De-duplication occurs in ad serving technologies like Google's DoubleClick, and what is soon to be Facebook's Atlas. Such tools help us all manage our display programs, and many marketers wouldn't be seen dead without one, even if it were last season's. Each tactic on the media plan is loaded into the system, and the conversion pixel installed on the site measures how many conversions each of those tactics generates. Excellent.
Excellent until someone smart realized they could remove the problem of too many conversions being generated, a problem that occurs when more than one tactic has contributed to the conversion occurring, and therefore artificially inflates the total number. And an arbitrary method was determined: "let's give the credit to the tactic that generated the last touch." Whoever you are that had this Eureka moment, I hate you!
Can we not see as a community of professionals how asinine such an approach is? Do we not recognize that all that advertising we see in magazines, on TV or hear on the radio is influencing our decisions? And yet under the digital model of last touch, all of that value and influence is simply ignored. In the traditional world, it would be like a retail store giving all the credit for a sale to the staffer who greeted you at the door -- they are meant to do that, they are meant to make you feel good and happy, they are even meant to go fetch your size out of the back sometimes, but they did not get you there, make you want that suit in the first place, or place it on someone you admire to make you want it too.
Site retargeting is the staffer at the door. It is meant to bring you in, it is meant to guide you a little during the consideration phase. And if it does those things right, it is meant to have the last touch for many of your conversions. And even though your ad server gives it the credit for the conversion, it did not primarily cause to the sale.
If you are willingly reliant on or are promoting the use of last touch, you do not understand marketing. Last touch is hiding the real data, and without real data, how do you expect to make the right decisions?
Don't hide from the truth, come into the light
And whilst you continue to ignore all those other touch points, you are also failing to take their cost into account. That site retargeting program on your media plan -- the one you think is giving you a 15 to 1 return -- well, it's not.
Site retargeting is only meant to speak to existing visitors, and so every individual you retarget came to the site first because of something else. And yet we ignore that cost in our calculations.
Have you considered that in an ideal world we wouldn't need site retargeting? That if we could give each individual the right experience each time that they wouldn't leave before doing what we wanted them to do? That we could speak to them at the exact moment they need our influence as they consider what we offer?
Site retargeting is there to plug the leaks from our marketing funnels, and stick a Band-Aid on what is broken. Accepting that we can't build such perfect marketing programs, site retargeting therefore has its place. But are you beginning to see that its role is different than you thought?