Marketing in the Dark

Ah, if marketers had a crystal ball, the light they could shed on customers’ actions.

Instead, they have such assets as behavioral tracking, modeling, predictive analytics, retargeting, and segmentation—all excellent tools, but imperfect in our convoluted, multichannel world where customers’ paths to purchase are more like those of bumble bees than of traditional purchase funnels (see “(In)direct Response”).

Cruise control

Consider this scenario: A friend and her husband decided to splurge on a six-star Regent cruise along the Mediterranean. She visited Regent’s website to get some initial information, narrowed her selection on which cruise to take, and was about to dive in to booking all the details online when she had an epiphany: Why on earth am I doing all this work when I have a travel agent?!

So my friend’s online journey ended, but Regent’s had just begun. Within a few days the travel agent booked the cruise, including shore excursions and flights. Unfortunately, Regent’s marketers had no insight into this, so the retargeting began. Display ads attempted to entice my friend to come back to Regent’s website to book a cruise. Despite her understanding that, like many companies, Regent had a channel disconnect, she began to get annoyed. She and her husband had made a huge investment to take this trip and she was being treated as a prospect instead of a valued customer.

I’m sure this scenario is all too familiar in your own work and personal lives. The reason marketers are keen to connect multichannel data, including data from channel partners, is to get insight into situations like these and be able to target appropriately. My friend’s situation got me wondering about my own recent multichannel interactions with handbag- and accessories-seller Coach. As a member of its opt-in email and direct mail lists, Coach sent an email with a preview of its new Madison collection. Of course, I clicked through to the website, browsed around, and fell for the Madison Kimberly. After ogling it, I left empty handed.

Target practice

The next day I received an email from Coach with a photo of the Madison Kimberly and a few other items I had viewed. Oh, yes, Coach had data and was using it. I couldn’t resist. I click through again and gazed longingly at the bag. I lingered. But, again, I left without purchasing.

Then for several days, Coach was there with me online, serving display ads featuring the Madison Kimberly with other items. It was wearing me down, tempting me with the coveted tote. Yes, I clicked. I didn’t purchase then either, but I did receive the bag as a gift a few days later. Unknowingly, Coach continued its appeals. And that’s OK, because I understand that Coach has no way of knowing about the gift.

The question for Regent, Coach, and all brands marketing—to some extent—in the dark, is this: How long should you retarget prospects, keeping in mind that they may have made a purchase through a disconnected channel? It’s a question with no easy answer, but one that analytics and feedback certainly can shed some light on.

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