The days of blatant advertising, promotional emails and “spammy” messages are over! Marketers are evolving beyond such advertising strategies using advanced digital marketing methods, platforms and tools.

The latest entrant in this space are social media giants like Facebook and Twitter who recently launched retargeting tools  for advertisers and marketers allowing them to retarget prospects through their platform. Unlike traditional advertising that works towards generating a demand, retargeting works on user intent—getting them to buy a product or service they have already shown an interest in (by visiting the merchant’s site, completing a form or when they have already made an initial purchase).

The concept of retargeting (or remarketing) isn’t new. Amazon has been using its basics from many years to retarget customers with special offers/recommendations based on a customer’s purchase history, likes, etc. However, retargeting is now being actively used by businesses globally.

The Power of Personalized Recommendations

While online shopping is growing rapidly (Forrester predicts online sales to reach $250 billion by 2014, up from $155 billion in 2009), it is also true that only 2% of shoppers convert on their first visit to a site. Marketers are challenged to quickly reacquire these consumers after they leave a site, and find ways to counter the risk of losing them to competition. Retargeting helps you engage with these prospects and drive them further down the conversion funnel.

The mechanism is simple—by dropping cookies on your browser, marketers are able to track your activity on the Web and then serve customized ads based on your interaction with their site. For example, you visit a travel portal and check out holiday packages before leaving the site, the cookies placed on your browser will inform the marketer of your next destination on the Web, where you will be shown customized ads with relevant holiday packages/offers that you might be interested in.

For those who are concerned about their “privacy” being compromised, the cookies or tracking codes do not collect any personal information such as name, email or IP. They just track whether or not a user has visited a site before, allowing marketers to focus their ads only on people that have previously engaged with them online.

Facebook’s retargeting tool is a great opportunity for marketers to capitalize on the enormous volume of social conversations. This also allows social platforms to go beyond traditional data sources (demographics, likes, followers, etc.) and offer marketers the ability to target customers using real-time data, and reach them right where they are!

Retargeting: The Power of Personalized Recommendations

Turning Intent Into Actions: How?

Technology made it possible to track, monitor and process consumers’ digital footprints in real-time, telling marketers all about their interests and intentions! It is not surprising therefore, that brands are increasingly using remarketing and predictive buying techniques to influence consumers’ buying behavior.

One of my favorite examples is the pregnancy prediction score used by Target. The retail giant can predict a consumer’s pregnancy from her shopping behavior (yes, you heard that right)! It can thus identify prospects to contact with offers specific to the needs of a new/to-be parent. Similarly, Netflix invested $1 million in a competition to predict those movies users like to improve its movie recommendations.

The coming years will see significant advancement in the retargeting space, as brands continue to engage customers using multiple channels and touch points. Turning advertisements into personalized engagements will not only improve user experience, but also drive conversions and loyalty. In fact, businesses will harness insights from elsewhere too, not just visitor behavior on their website. Imagine reaching far back in your demographic/buying histories, to pull in the power of Big Data, combining it with online indicators of intent—to target you with the right offer at the right time.

Whether it is tailored advertising, predictive buying or integrated marketing strategies (including email, mobile and social media), you can today go where no one has gone before. Go engage with customers at the “tipping” point of the decision-making cycle! While I admit I do feel that to be rather scary, the marketer in me is looking very closely at what Facebook and Twitter’s new rollout will mean for consumers and sellers.