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marketing masterclass

I started my career in radio – in a small town in south-eastern B.C. Having been born and raised in Vancouver, I was wholly unprepared for winter driving conditions. Frankly, I didn't realize there were different types of tires for different kinds of weather.

As the local on-air voice, I was asked to emcee a curling bonspiel. There, I met the local tire dealer. "You got your winter tires yet?" he asked. "Uh, no. I should bring my car in to see you," I sheepishly replied. And then, I promptly forgot about it.

The next day, the tire guy was at the post office. "Oh, hey," I shouted across the room. "Tire guy. That reminds me. I have to come see you." He smiled.

The next day, he was in the dentist's waiting room with me. The day after, I spotted him at a town hall meeting. And the day after that, he was in our office talking to our radio station's sales guy about advertising.

Unknowingly, this fellow was "retargeting" me – reminding me that his business existed and that I'd already expressed interest in his services.

Today, retargeting is a powerful weapon in your digital marketing arsenal. Perhaps the strongest available. And yet, according to a Chango study, fewer than one out of five marketers have set budget aside for it.

Here's how it works and how you can start with a budget as small as $20 a week.

First, you generate a "retargeting pixel" at Google, Facebook, or a retargeting provider (depending on the channel you want to advertise in).

This pixel is a snippet of code you place on your web site. Human visitors can't see it, but the provider will begin adding visitors to a list. Later, you use that list of past visitors to push messages into their Facebook news feed (they don't have to Like your page first) and onto websites they visit.

Like magic, your brand starts following them around the web. And it's a strong audience, because rather than guessing at websites you think they'll visit and placing an ad there, you have your ads appear all over the web but only for people who have been to your website in the past.

(I once had a friend send me a screenshot of my ad she found on an Arabic-language web forum for knitters. "Why the hell are you advertising to knitters in Saudi Arabia?" she asked. I wasn't. She had visited my site in the past. I was advertising only to her.)

At scale, this is a tremendously powerful tool. At my digital marketing agency,, we regularly see conversion rates triple and ad costs get cut in half when using retargeting.

And it gets better. Once you have the magic pixel collecting visitors, you can create sub-groups of people and send them specific messages based on where on your website they've gone.

For instance, if they've visited your jobs page, you can target them with messages about new employment opportunities. If they've seen a products page, you can show them related projects. And most powerfully, if they've bought sometimes (and therefore seen your "Thank you for your purchase" page), you can now reach out to past customers and upsell them or advise them of new products.

Or group them based on time – one message for people who've been to your site in the last week, and another for people who haven't visited in the last six months.

We have found retargeting on Facebook to get the strongest results for most of our clients, though we've also seen good results from services like Perfect Audience and Adroll.

One study from AdReady says many brands see a 400 per cent lift in ad performance from retargeting. (Kimberly-Clark says it sees 50 per cent to 60 per cent higher conversion rates among people who have been retargeted.)

Want to learn more? I've got a guide on my web site at this page will, of course, put you onto a retargeting list. Consider yourself warned.

Tod Maffin is president of engageQ digital, a Vancouver- and Toronto-based digital marketing agency, specializing in online advertising, digital marketing and social engagement. His website,, has many more resources

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