We’ve all been there. One day you’re minding your own business shopping online. You make a purchase. No big deal: your team’s away shirt in extra-small (for the kids). Once you hit ‘buy’, it’s forgotten about, because you’ve got exactly what you wanted. You no longer need it. It’s just another moment that makes up our online lives.

But then the stalking starts: the away shirt starts popping up all over the web. On your Facebook feed, on news sites, on Twitter – everywhere. You get the hint: the retailer wants you to buy the shirt. But you’ve already bought it… so why retarget you with something you already own?

If only brands would retarget you with what you need next or something even more valuable to you, or not at all…

The problem with retargeting

If used intelligently, it could be a great technique, but the way it’s used by many is a little lazy. There’s no intelligence, no personalisation (beyond the product selection), no appreciation of where the buyer is in their journey. You bought an away shirt, so why show you another away shirt? Why not show something you might like to buy next – a shirt to fit you or a hat and scarf set for those frosty winter games? How about something you abandoned after getting distracted during Final Score?

The fundamental issue is the lack of creativity. Stop trying to preach to the converted or hoping that you’ll eventually wear them down. Just like in a conversation, you wouldn’t ask the same question over and over again (unless you’re Jeremy Paxman) – that’s just annoying. Instead, you ask a question, listen and move within the context of that answer to create a meaningful conversation.

Retargeting allows you to tailor your interaction with your customer – it’s a conversation, not a shouting match. Be intelligent and fun, and treat your customers just as such. Marketers need to change their attitude that relies on shooting for short-term wins instead of focusing on building rapport and a sense of trust with the customer.

Tactics vs strategy

Marketers are often pushed to take advantage of tactics in the name of gaining instant results. The business wants more leads and sales, and that means a mad dash for quick-fire digital tricks, like retargeting, in place of more robust long-term plans. But what’s the cost of this dangerously short-term thinking? No one wants to annoy and frustrate their own customers if nothing else the brand looks a little foolish for not knowing you’ve already bought it.

Retargeting is proof that few brands are truly customer-centric. Most retargeting takes a classic short-term two-step approach: 1. A potential customer visited our website. 2. Let’s shout at them until they come back.

It doesn’t work

Why not? Because retargeting is a form of interruption marketing, meaning retargeting ads force their way into your online experience when all you wanted to do was read the news or check the weather. They can be intrusive and annoying, and as we already know, they can follow you around the web for days.

But what is ‘doing it well’?

Good retargeting is helpful, informative and positively contributes to the user’s experience of a given brand. The technology exists to take retargeting beyond its current basic state, moving from simple product pushing noise to an experience that adds value, progresses the customer through their experience or re-engages a customer who has dropped off their journey. Retargeting can be used to get customers back on their journey, but to do that, you need to know who they are and understand their complete online and offline journey – where they’ve been, what they’ve done and what they’re already purchased.

The secret ingredient is insight. A combination of insight and retargeting is a formidable opportunity. Understand your customer, who they are, what they want and the context of their visit to your store. If you know they’ve just bought an away shirt, how about inviting them to the stadium for a tour, sharing Saturday’s kick off or player stats – consider building a relationship away from the online store. Sometimes you can be helpful, and that, in turn, helps build trust.

And if there is something you know this person is interested in (and don’t get me wrong, we all have to sell), you can share it with a more receptive audience. What’s more, because you have the right insight, you can sell to them more intelligently. It’s retargeting done right.

It’s time to revisit retargeting

So, enough of the tactics. It’s time to think of every interaction as an opportunity to build a relationship with your customer. Focus on valuable, high-quality conversations, share value, and use retargeting cleverly. Technology allows you to understand your customer and their individual journey, start using insight for a greater gain, customer engagement.

It’s time we all got a grip and changed our attitudes to retargeting. With the right knowledge and insight, we can revolutionise retargeting and make it the useful, powerful tool it has the potential to be.

My advice? Approach it creatively and only use as a tactic within a broader engagement strategy to build long-term customer value.  Retarget with focus on the next conversation you can have and use it to build a relationship that’s valuable to your customer.

Stop taking shortcuts and pushing your way through. Get involved and provide your customer with what’s best for them (not another away shirt they bought two days ago) and provide them with a creative, fulfilling experience that answers their needs.