Hey you! You’re targeting the wrong gal!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m living a double life. During the day, I’m a full-time digital marketing manager. And at night… a full-time MBA student. (Gosh – how many cooler things I could have said for a second life?! That I’m Mystique, Black Widow, Tomb Raider?!… Sigh… Stan Lee/Marvel call me!) Accordingly, I’m sure that you can imagine just how much time is spent on my computer researching business stories, trends and market information. Given the high concentration of business-related traffic driven by my IP address, I subsequently see a great deal of banners that are pushing B2B offers. Makes sense right? Yes – I’m absorbing a good deal of business content and, therefore, it is wise for ad marketers & servers to tag me as having a high likelihood to consume business-related offerings. Enough of that though – success stories don’t make for a fun blog post – so let’s jump into what doesn’t make sense!

Last week, I went onto a password-protected portal dedicated only for the 90 students who are registered in my MBA program. I went straight to this dedicated portal from a bookmark – no external searches on the university website. All was normal with my visit to the portal. I logged in, drifted through pages of course content and checked out a couple of grades from completed courses. All activity should have notified marketers who were dropping cookies throughout my website tenure that I am a current MBA student. However, when I left the portal and instinctively visited people.com thereafter (OK, yes… my traffic isn’t 100% devoted to business initiatives) BOOM – I was re-targeted with an ad that was encouraging me to visit an open house for the EXACT SAME SCHOOL and the EXACT SAME PROGRAM as the one that I am currently enrolled in. Clearly, the marketers behind this student acquisition campaign hadn’t thought strategically about where they were dropping their tracking pixels. Rather than only drop them on pages where potential candidates are inquiring about and applying to programs, the campaign dropped cookies throughout the school’s entire business website. Therefore, new, potential, current, and past MBA students (not to mention rival schools, teachers and other staff members) are likely all seeing these ads for – to them – an irrelevant open house. This will accordingly translate into a huge audience who will not be engaging with the banner ads, not clicking through to the website to find out more information and – most importantly – not converting the dollars spent on the campaign into revenue dollars from application fees and program tuition. Here, the acquisition campaign’s brand and conversion objectives will fail as users are annoyed by irrelevant display ads and marketing dollars spent on impressions are totally wasted. Unfortunately, this type of re-targeting error doesn’t exist only in the digital space: is there anything more frustrating than receiving unaddressed physical mail with a credit card application for the EXACT credit card that you’re already carrying??! One would think that acquisition-marketing databases would know better!

We marketers need to step out from our subjective mindsets and realize that not all users who come to our sites are actually interested in our products and services.  Instead, the beauty and power of digital marketing comes in recognizing that varied stakeholders have varied objectives. By identifying users who visited a product page on your website and then left without buying, then retargeting them with ads for the same product they just viewed as they travel elsewhere on the web you will be in a much better position to pull them back to your site, have them add the product to their shopping carts and watch as revenue flows from the new sale.

And what about all of those other stakeholders? It’s time to stop thinking about them for direct pitches and, instead, think about them as audiences who can be targeted for different and complementary messages. In the example above, for instance, imagine how powerful it would be to send my cohorts (90 extremely busy full-time students/full-time employees) targeted ads promoting cleaning services, restaurants and … maybe even a good bottle of white wine! My guess? Impressions sent to this audience will see better performance via higher click-through rates, more post-view conversions and, ultimately, significantly improved marketing spend. By breaking through of our siloed and proprietary views of audiences to push more targeted and – accordingly – more relevant messages, we as an industry can only get better and Internet users will only be happier.