Retargeting and audience segments

Targeting Active vs Passive Consumers

A lot has changed in 10 years. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The housing market was still expanding and had yet to crumble. President Bush had just began his 2nd term in office. Thankfully, Ray Charles won a Grammy for Album of the Year, so I can’t make fun of some horrible music winning Best Album. And I was still in college. That seems like a LIFETIME ago!

The world of online advertising has changed a lot since then too. We no longer worry about targeting an ad on a specific site. Instead we find users we want, no matter the site they happen to read. We also have a mobile audience today that was non-existent in 2005. Can you imagine not catching up with friends, Tweeps, and the news through your 5-inch screen?!

Today, I’m looking at two specific targeting options in our current media landscape: Retargeting and Audience Segments. Although Audience Segmentation can be considered a form or part of Retargeting, for today’s exercise let’s consider them separate and unique. I’ll compare and contrast the two and then let you decide which best fits your strategy.


Example of Site Retargeting


Retargeting, or remarketing as some call it, is a way to target users who express an interest in you or your products or services through a digital touchpoint. They may visit your site, search your name, read content online with specific keywords. One way or another the advertising is triggered by an action taken by the end user. For this reason, I like to call Retargeting the “Active” targeting model. These are consumers actively seeking you, your product or service, or possibly reading about your product, service or competitors. Our partner,, does a great job of looking at only specific elements of data that matter to your campaign.

Audience Segments, Behavioral Targeting, Demographic Targeting whatever you want to call it, takes a users information, collects similar touchpoints and puts them into categories called segments. The user may have expressed an interest in a topic at some point, but perhaps they aren’t currently looking to buy, hence a more “passive” advertising message. Segments can be built by demographics (think of all the info found just through Facebook), interests, attitudes, behaviors, and intentions.

The easiest way to explain the difference is through an example. If I’m a travel agent and I want to target users who have expressed an interest in travel, I can do that. People can get placed into a travel segment by reading blogs, checking reviews, commenting on pictures they see on Facebook or TripAdvisor. However, this person may not currently be seeking a vacation themselves, they are just passively looking at travel content. But if a person is filling out dates on Kayak, looking up places to stay on VRBO we can safely assume they are actively seeking a trip in the near future. One person has interest and could buy now or in the future. The other has an intention to buy now and is making it known by their online use.

Audience Segments

Example of Audience Segmentation

Audience Segments are great if you can categorize the majority of your customers. If 90% of your business comes from women 35-54, there’s your audience segment. If you only want people interested in Real Estate, there’s a segment for that as well. If you want to reach anyone potentially looking to buy a home, then retargeting people based on searches done on Trulia, Zillow, mortgage rates, etc could be the best answer. If some business comes from 25 year olds, others who are 60, men, women, those making $250k+ or less than $50k, then Retargeting them based on only those looking at the time may be the best solution.

Again, this all comes down to an advertising strategy. Do you want to target people by “Who they are” or by “What they do online”? It’s Active vs Passive. Each individual campaign strategy can be different. You might use audience segmentation for one product or service, but maybe that doesn’t fit your other products so you utilize Retargeting. All of these discussions need to happen with your media partner so expectations and objectives can be created and upheld.

Fewer online ads are wasted than ever before. Publishers, content creators, media companies, data management companies are always trying to perfect and enhance the online experience, including the advertising with which it comes. Today’s targeting options aren’t perfect, but they’re a heck of a lot better than 2005.