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When good behavioral retargeting goes bad

Most of you probably are familiar with behavioral retargeting, a technique where marketers follow up with shoppers who haven’t completed purchases. It’s become a staple of e-Commerce, where it rescues lost sales that would otherwise never be completed. If you have an e-Commerce site, you should be doing it–and it might make sense even if you don’t have an e-Commerce site. Most retargeting is done by e-mail–if you know the address of someone who has come to your site, you can follow up with an offer to save the sale. What’s not to like? Well. my wife and I had an experience with retargeting on a trampoline purchase that worked out just beautifully for us, but not so well for the marketers.

We have four teenagers and I think it is a state law that we must have either a trampoline or a swimming pool. The trampoline was a lot cheaper, so we bought one a few years ago. We discovered last week that it had rusted through in one place, so it needed to be replaced. Two of our kids were throwing parties that revolved around the trampoline, so we needed a replacement fast.

My wife went online to research the purchase, and quickly found a site full of information that helped us purchase a different kind of trampoline that was safer for our now older kids. But there was no expedited shipping, so my wife decided to abandon her cart and call the company on the phone. After some discussion, she assured herself that the trampoline would be delivered on time and she completed the purchase in that same call.

That’s when the retargeting fun began.

Apparently the trampoline retailer’s system did not match up online and offline orders, so the retargeting system began e-mailing my wife offering discounts to “save the sale”–except it was a sale they had already made.

After a couple of such e-mails, my wife e-mailed back and said, I’ve already bought the trampoline from you, but if you really want to give me a $30 discount, I’ll happily take it. The company,, was cheerful about the whole thing and went ahead and gave us the $30 credit, which they didn’t have to do, but which was the best way to keep a customer happy.

And maybe this blog post is $30 worth of advertising for them, but it reveals a serious flaw in how many retailers implement behavioral retargeting. In the past, I’ve urged marketers to track both online and offline purchases so that they know the value of their marketing–don’t undervalue your marketing because you can’t track the offline purchases. But here’s another reason to track offline purchases back to their online origins–you’re paying a customer to do something they already did.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide
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