Rethink Retargeting

marcgrabowskinewData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Marc Grabowski, CEO at Iris Mobile.

Marketers need to reprioritize their remarketing and display reengagement decision stack because the status quo is antiquated.

Display remarketing, retargeting and reengagement – terms that will be used somewhat interchangeably here – were once fantastic methods for reengaging potential customers after a website visit or shopping cart abandonment. Over time, the precision of this retargeting has drastically improved, graduating from binary pixel-based retargeting, in order to find and retarget users with a single product they’d browsed, to a more intelligent model that includes matching users’ profiles with products they are most likely to purchase based on other customers in their cohorts.

These improvements and the generally positive performance have been addictive to marketers. In many cases, it has even demotivated marketers from looking for new ways of reengaging consumers, as display retargeting has shown so much success. Unfortunately, a lack of experimentation from retailers is slowly eating away at their margins and allowing competitors to take market share.

As technology continues to advance, marketers have become more educated. Prioritization of retargeting through display advertising is now an archaic model, because retailers have the ability to connect their owned data to owned distribution channels in ways they never could before.

Site pixels and app tracking, via mobile device ID, can connect to other pieces of owned data, such as email address, mobile phone number, point of sale and loyalty card numbers. As a result, paid advertising retargeting is no longer the only way to reengage a qualified customer. Instead, remarketing through owned communication channels should be prioritized in decision stacks above display. Display retargeting is the least efficient means to reach this customer and should only be used when all other means fail.

If you have not started thinking about building an owned data asset or deploying via owned channels, including email, mobile messaging and push notifications, you are a decade behind and need to start building this asset immediately.


Owned communications can be timelier than display because active targeting can be deployed. This is because display retargeting uses passive targeting, where the retailer is required to wait until the user stumbles across an ad on a publisher participating in a display network where the retailer has reach.

This contrasts with owned distribution channels, where a retail marketer can trigger an email at any time with a high likelihood of it being seen.


The personalization strategy extends beyond customization of products and salutations. It should be seen as an awareness of a person’s timeline of engagements with a brand across channels. If that email is not opened within a set period of time, such as 5 minutes, then the marketer can have a mobile message immediately deployed. If this isn’t clicked within another 5 minutes, a push notification could be triggered, followed by a display ad. Should a user click or convert along the way, the rest of his or her journey should change to reflect these most recent actions.

Such a practice will quickly move a consumer through the buying funnel, reduce frustration of seeing duplicative – and unwanted – creative and improve the odds of conversion.


Owned channels allow precise, one-to-one reach at lower and more predictable costs than paid display channels.

Owned distribution channels require no media costs but have fixed distribution costs, such as email service provider, mobile messaging or push notification expenses. Moreover, with display retargeting, marketers are forced to pay a variable market rate for a paid retargeting spot to reach their own audience – a rate that fluctuates as demand ebbs and flows with that publisher. Marketers should not simply accept paying variable costs to reach their own customers, since it is their data that has informed the transaction between the publisher and the marketer.

All of this can only be accomplished if a marketer leverages a decisioning platform living above all distribution channels, including email, app notification, mobile messaging and display retargeting.

With this said, the decisioning layer doesn’t necessarily mean that marketers should replace their entire technology stack, because their current partners can still provide the plumbing to reach customers in various channels. The decisioning layer should simply interoperate with existing demand-side platforms, email service providers, mobile app tracking, SMS partners and CRM.

Such an integration will not eliminate display retargeting but will allow marketers to reduce it drastically in favor of reaching their consumers in a more timely, personal and cost-efficient manner through owned data and distribution channels.

Follow Marc Grabowski (@MarcTGrabowski), Iris Mobile (@Iris_Mobile) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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