Customer Anger Over Tracking Isn't About Privacy, It's About Respect

Blast Consumers Relentlessly With Retargeting and They'll Grow to Resent Your Brand

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Last year I predicted that retargeting would help usher in the era of data-driven marketing. My thinking was this: retargeting is such a transparent activity that consumers will become aware of the practice of being targeted, and grow more comfortable with it over time.

My prediction was accurate… sort of . Retargeting has become a staple line item in most digital-marketing budgets and consumers have become increasingly accustomed to the idea. But I keep hearing the same complaints and, surprisingly, they aren't about privacy as everyone expected.

What I hear is disdain and annoyance with companies that treat customers' online experience with disregard. From Ad Age 's Michael Learmonth describing how he was stalked by a pair of pants, to friends complaining about retailers that bombard them with ads for products they've already purchased, people are grumbling about a lack of respect from retailers they frequent.

It can feel like a personal offense: how does this company not realize they are assaulting my screen? They obviously don't care about my experience -- or my sanity . Why show 900 ads for the same pair of loafers? I looked at them once. I don't even like them. It's this pattern of cyber-blitzing that can turn a consumer off a brand for life. You wouldn't send 20 e-mails a day to one of your customers, would you? Over aggressive retargeting is a similar offense.

This is a huge issue for CMOs, but one that most don't even recognize. The solution means looking at more than just direct-response results when calculating ROI for a campaign. While overly aggressive targeting may actually work from a direct-response perspective, it damages the brand (and the data ecosystem) in the process. And leaving this in the hands of your retargeting vendor is like letting the fox run the hen house.

Most vendors are very responsible, but the more ads they show, the more money they make. Period. They aren't going to focus on the damage you are doing to your brands; they are focused on making money.

So, CMOs, here are some key points to focus on when executing an effective and responsible retargeting campaign:

Frequency caps. Use them aggressively. People get the message long before the 20th ad of the day. In my experience, a two-ads-per-day user frequency cap is ideal.

Use one vendor, two at most. Two reasons for this recommendation. First, frequency caps don't carry across multiple vendors. The more vendors you use, the more you lose control of frequency. Second, retargeting ads are primarily purchased through ad exchanges using a real-time auction process. By using multiple vendors, you create an environment where they are pitted against one another to buy the ad that is targeting your customer, driving up the cost of your marketing efforts in the process.

Avoid the Creepy Factor. We collect a lot of anonymous data about every web surfer. No need to shove that fact in the consumer's face, it only freaks them out. Avoid ad messaging that demonstrates too much knowledge about the user. Keep the ads general and invite people back to your site.

Stay out of the ad inventory gutter. Displaying your ad on might be cheap, but it won't help your brand and probably won't instill anyone with the sudden urge to buy your product. A great audience in the wrong context is worthless. Make sure you control the environment where your ads appear.

Avoid performance-based deals. This will keep your vendor from making performance-driven decisions that could end up damaging your brand.

Don't overspend. A few reminders are enough. People who want your product will find their way back to your site. Research shows that many of the consumers you are targeting will return anyway without the ads. Spend appropriately on retargeting and if you want to spend more, go after new prospects with the incremental dollars.

Measure, measure, measure. Make sure that credit is being given only where it is due. Use controls to identify the real ROI you are getting from a campaign. And be aware of any vendors that are too aggressive with crediting view-through conversions. It usually means they are up to no good and playing games to get credit they don't deserve.

It's all about respect.

Alan Pearlstein is President-CEO of Cross Pixel Media.
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