Consider this bit of classic situation comedy:

  • Guy meets girl at a laundromat.
  • Girl gives guy her number.
  • Guy accidentally washes the receipt she wrote it on.
  • All hope of love is lost.

The poor schlep. If only he had a second chance, right?

Fortunately for him, we're all familiar enough with TV tropes to know that their story doesn't end there. Fate will intercede to bring them together again, and all will be well.
Fortunately for you, the story of you and your prospective customers can have a similar happy ending.
In many ways, marketing is like dating. There's an initial introduction, followed by a period of wooing to secure their digits (or email address or mailing address or Facebook "like," as the case may be). Every step - and every hour and every dollar spent - along the way in nurturing that relationship is designed to keep things moving through the proverbial funnel to greater levels of commitment until you arrive at a proposal (call to action) and the resulting commitment (conversion).
But what if, in spite of your best efforts to get your customer to the alter (the checkout or contact form), they lose interest, forget you exist (ouch!) or, worst of all, go AWOL before clicking "submit"? Like the guy in the laundromat, you need a second chance.

Enter remarketing - the fairy godmother of sales.

Reunited and it feels so good

As we've covered previously, there are plenty of things you can do both to optimize your chances of converting a new customer and to minimize the odds that a shopper will walk away from their cart mid-session.
Inevitably though, despite your best efforts, some prospective buyers will simply fall through the cracks. They might decide they need more time to consider their purchase, or they might be pulled away from the computer by one of the many distractions of daily life. Whatever the reason, unlike our friend in the laundromat, you don't have to rely on fate to reunite you. You have more than a damp blank receipt in your pocket; you have the ability to deploy remarketing.
In principle, remarketing is not rocket science. It's exactly what it sounds like: reaching out once again to someone who has already responded to earlier marketing efforts and engaged with your brand on some level. Essentially, it's preaching to the converted - or nearly converted - if you will.

More specifically, remarketing uses information collected about a visitor's activity on your site (e.g., viewing a product page, adding a product to their shopping cart, etc.) to put your brand and your products in front of them again via a highly targeted follow-up message that's customized based upon parameters relating to the actions they took while on your site.
Typically, this follow-up is executed in one of two ways: either by pushing ads for your products out to other sites they visit as they continue browsing or by sending an email message directly to them if their contact information is available to you. These ads and emails typically feature tailored messages and images designed specifically to re-engage the prospect in the action they previously abandoned based on information collected about their browsing activity.
The nitty gritty

How on earth does this work?

What's happening behind the scenes is that a code snippet provided by your analytics resource of choice (e.g., Google AdWords) is embedded into the source code of strategically selected pages of your site.
This code then places a cookie into the browsers of those who visit such a page on your site, assigning specific information about their visit. These cookied visitors are skimmed off into a new "audience" within your analytics and sent customized ads over advertising networks known as Demand Side Platforms (DSPs). Google AdWords is the probably the best known DSP, but there are a host of others out there, many of which claim to specialize in remarketing. Alternately, recipients of remarketing may instead receive automated, custom-tailored emails if that visitor has previously provided their contact information to you.

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The proof is in the ebelskiver

Let's consider an example that's close to home (pun intended). My wife recently visited the Williams-Sonoma website in search of a special pan required to make her latest obsession: tiny filled pancakes known as ebelskivers.
She located the tart-maker on the site but did not select the option to "Add to Basket." Within a few hours, she received a follow-up email (because she had registered to receive updates from the company previously, they already had her email address on file).
The "Buy Now" button embedded within this message took her directly back to the page for the product, just one convenient click away from purchase.
"Hello, Clarice."

One word of caution: as with any marketing strategy, you must always implement this tactic in ways that show respect for your customers and reinforce - rather than undermine - the trust they have in your company and your brand.
Overly eager DSPs will promise to make it rain, but there's a fine line between a gentle reminder and creepy stalking - or "cookie bombing".

A retargeted ad that reminds a visitor that they have items remaining in their shopping cart is a courteous customer service gesture. Bombarding them with the same ad for days or weeks will come off as a much more self-serving ploy that's likely to cost you not only the potential sale that's currently on the table but any future business from that customer as well.

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