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Unlocking remarketing with FAST thinking

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

This article is part two of a two part series entitled 'Unlocking the remarketing opportunity'. In part 1 entitled The remarketing opportunity, we discussed how effective remarketing is and how businesses that do it well can see an increase in conversions of 30%+. In part 2 we go through how to unlock this opportunity.



Whilst remarketing clearly represents a huge opportunity, how easy is it In reality to actually unlock this potential and reap these outsized rewards. The answer may come as a surprise to many as it's actually easier than you might think.

Unlocking the remarketing opportunity

Cost isn’t a major barrier

An important first point to cover is how much it costs compared to the benefits seen. In a statement that’s sure to bring a smile to your face, remarketing does not require huge budgets and it’s one of the most cost effective areas in marketing. It also has a natural ceiling governed by your number of site visitors, so budgets will never be huge in comparison to the size of your business. In addition, if you are doing it the smart way, you won’t be showing creatives to every one of your site visitors on every page they visit online for the next 3 months either!

Start with FAST thinking!

As you might expect of someone who founded a company called Fast Thinking, I recommend using an approach we came up with called the FAST process to break down what to do into distinct areas (see the below diagram). It obviously works best if you tackle all of these areas, but you can also gain some of these benefits by tackling individual areas if doing everything at once is too much. This process is tried and tested and is what we follow for all of our marketing solutions business, not just remarketing, so you can be sure it will help you to deliver good marketing and not just tactical remarketing.

Findings: dive into the data

Starting with the data is always a good idea in any area of marketing and remarketing is no exception. I recommend spending some time with your site analytics data and your CRM data in particular to gain an understanding of your current marketing performance levels and to draw out insights on customer behaviour that can be used in later planning work.

The first thing to ascertain from your site analytics tool are traffic and performance levels for different types of website traffic, so that you can create benchmarks. This will help you to understand the value being driven by your remarketing, both now and in the future.

Next look at how valuable different types of customer are by aligning your CRM data with your site analytics data. In particular you should try to work out the value of a first time site visitor, a repeat site visitor, a first time purchaser and a repeat purchaser. This can then be used to set a range of business targets for remarketing around cost per visitor and conversion rates, which are much easier to work with day to day.

With targets set, the next focus should be on gaining insights on your customer behaviour. This is an exercise in asking searching questions and trying to answer them using your data. For example, do people convert at a higher rate on your website if they first view an article, or does it work better if they go straight to a product page? Do particular types of content convert at higher levels or produce more valuable customers?

A lot of people are scared by data; if that applies to you then I recommend focussing on how the customer interacts with your business online. Draw up a list of questions you want answered on this and give them to whoever analyses your data. Don’t expect your data analyst to know what customer behaviour questions to ask, they may not be marketers by trade or have the level of understanding of a customers that a marketer will. With these questions answered, we can move on to the next stage.

Audiences: work out who to target & what motivates them

Targeting is a key aspect of unlocking the remarketing opportunity. In the first article I discussed why targeting all website visitors with a single audience is a bad idea as it limits the creative performance. Instead, you will want to use the data gained in the previous stage to segment your audience. There are many ways to do this and the right answer is specific to each business and sector. The best way to think of it is where would you want to show a different creative or to track performance separately and then create separate audiences for each of these areas.

Target audiences are often based around ‘products or services viewed’ or ‘content consumed’. For example, a car dealership could create a target audience for ‘family car purchasers’ based on the different models viewed on their site. Equally a furniture retailer could create a target audience for ‘lounge shoppers’ based on people reading inspiration articles on the best sofas.

I would recommend starting with something simple like the above examples and evolving your targeting over time to make it increasingly sophisticated. Once you are confident in your data, you can move into more advanced targeting, such as using past purchasing behaviour, customer types, CRM data, lifetime value or even keywords used in search engines before arriving at your website. There are many untapped opportunities here.

Stories: tailor your creatives to each target audience

Remarketing is all about delivering the most relevant creatives, as people have essentially told you what they are interested in through their behaviour on your website. However, creatives also need to be engaging and on brand in order to deliver the best creative performance.

Creative relevance

Relevance means different things at different times and doesn’t always mean showing a product in a creative. Creatives should appeal to the motivations of the customer and deliver the interests of the business, with planning in this area being about marrying up these two areas to create win-win scenarios.

Creatives should be either tailored to suit the broad needs of the target audience, or they can be personalised. Which type of creative is right depends on the type of business you are and the number of things that you sell.

Audience tailored creatives

For businesses with limited ranges or who are selling high consideration products or services, we would recommend using audience tailored creatives. This allows for creatives to be adapted to suit the target audience and the stage of the customer journey they are at. Creatives only task here is to move people along to the next stage in their journey, which creates simplicity in creative objectives, even though the end goal may happen over a long period of time.

Personalised creatives

Businesses with a large product catalogue, such as a retailer or travel agent, are perfectly suited to personalised creatives. Customers can be shown relevant products to what they have seen on the site, with an almost limitless possibility of variations. Given the products shown are automatically tailored, the room for performance gain is mainly restricted to the rules used for displaying products. We recommend creating smart product recommendations here to boost performance. Don’t just show the product they viewed, show what you think they will be interested in next. It’s worth digging into your CRM data to find these relationships.

The post purchase customer journey

If you’ve planned the customer journey correctly, you will have in mind what should happen after someone purchases. I bring this up as a specific point, because almost universally this is forgotten. Try to think creatively and use the remarketing opportunity to move people on to the next stage in their journey. That could be as simple as moving them towards your CRM programme so you can keep them warm for the future. Or it could be more expansive by offering accessories to their purchase, up-selling, cross-selling, providing reassurance or even after care. There are so many things that can be done here and it will make you stand out if you do it. Whatever happens though, don’t allow the same creative to keep showing, as it is a poor customer experience and damaging to your brand.

On brand creatives

Protecting your brand is extremely important and I’m always amazed at how few businesses seem to realise this. Your brand is an asset and a good brand makes the same marketing perform significantly better. Put simply, why would remarketing creatives not look like the rest of your marketing? But all too often in the remarketing space creatives are off brand. The main area where things go awry is in personalised creatives. These types of creatives have certain inherent limitations as they need to be able to show a huge variety of content in the same space without breaking out of it. However, a well designed creative will represent your brand correctly, whilst handling the dynamic content areas with the type of care that will mean customers won’t see any limitations. It requires more effort, but the performance and perception uplifts make it worthwhile.

Tests: use test & learn to improve over time

Testing is an often talked about, but rarely implemented, tactic that drives serious levels of improvement to your marketing performance. This applies across marketing and remarketing is no exception. How do you know if you’ve got the right target audiences? How do you know if you are using the right creative message for each audience? Are you sure you couldn’t beat your current performance level by trying something new? Of course the answer to these questions is to implement a comprehensive test and learn programme.

This sounds like an onerous exercise, but it needn’t be. You can’t really run that many tests simultaneously and the lions share of the work is really in planning your tests rather than managing them. The area that requires most thought is Working out new and creative ways to challenge your current setup. Doing this requires you to put yourself in the customers shoes. What are you looking for? What would help get you there quicker? If you can get under the skin of these problems, then it becomes much more obvious how to improve your activity.

The main thing with testing is to create a culture of testing everything within your team and it soon becomes second nature. For example, don’t make one creative version, create two. Why not try two different ways to assemble a target audience.

When running tests, be sure to always maintain a control group and operate a ‘winner stays on’ policy. Swap losing versions out for new contenders that are ready to take on the champ. Keep a record of all the tests you run and periodically look over them to draw out insights on what they say about the customer. It’s often a gold mine of behavioural insights that are difficult to ascertain in any other way.

Distribution: maximise your reach

We’ve focussed to date on how to setup your remarketing for success. However, without distribution none of your good work will be seen of course. The good news is that in my view this is the easiest area to improve on.

The focus for distribution is on maximising reach, so you ensure your message is seen at the right time, given we already know we are targeting the right person. To maximise reach, it makes sense to use the full range of distribution channels so you have the best chance of reaching your target audience. If you can, set up your remarketing in display ads, social ads, search ads, video ads and also in email to fully extend your reach. It’s worth noting that not all channels contain the same level of reach, with areas such as email and search potentially being much more limited in scale than the likes of display, social and video. It’s better to start with the areas that definitely have the reach and then assessing the work required versus the likely upside in the other channels.

With maximum reach in hand, it is important to look at filtering distribution to ensure you maintain the control you need. Firstly, ensure you use frequency capping so that your creatives don’t chase people around the internet. It’s a waste of budget and it damages your brand. As I mentioned in the first article in the series, I would recommend a frequency of around 5-6 per day for up to 30 days. That’s higher than you might imagine, but not all ads are truly seen online due to many distractions on a single page which you are competing with for attention. Also, if you’ve tackled creative relevance and experience adequately your creatives won’t irritate people.

Another area you will want to filter distribution is around brand safety. Like all marketing, you don’t want your ads appearing in unsavoury or unsuitable places as it damages your brand. Prepare a list of sites that you do not wish to appear on and restrict your activity from these places. Otherwise, your ads will appear everywhere online. This is all about where your ads don’t appear, rather than where they do!

Whenever we talk about distribution, thoughts quickly turn to costs. Some areas of your advertising require expensive and well curated media placements, in particular acquisition activity where premium or targeted audiences are required. Remarketing however, is not one of those areas. It requires less focus on the environment or the content your creative appears within. This is because the target audience has already been qualified through a website visit, which is a better qualifier of interest than demographics or content. Because of this, the cost of media doesn’t need to be as high as premium activity. Costs will still be higher than untargeted activity though, as you need to ensure the ad is seen given how valuable this audience is.

In conclusion

Unlocking the remarketing opportunity requires an investment in time and expertise. As with other areas of marketing, it needs data insights, highly targeted audiences, relevant & on brand creatives, a comprehensive test & learn programme and to maximise reach by using all available distribution channels. Given the size of the rewards on offer though, giving it this level of attention looks entirely worthwhile. Not doing so would result in leaving sales on the table and potentially alienating customers too. Go forth and remarket!

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