Remarketing is a marketing tactic that leads people to re-encounter your brand. When people talk about remarketing, they usually mean one of two things:

  • Retargeting website visitors with ads
  • Sending abandoned shopping cart emails

Those are common remarketing tactics, but it’s a lot more than that, too. In fact, you’re probably already incorporating some remarketing elements in the marketing you do every day.

Whether you just heard about remarketing this morning when your boss asked “Why aren’t we doing this?” or you’ve known about it for a long time but aren’t sure how it’s done, this guide provides a crash course in all things remarketing.

Already know the basics? Skip to the practical stuff. Otherwise, here’s what we’re going to cover:

Let’s get to it!

What is remarketing?

Remarketing can be defined in two words: follow-up. Everything you do to reconnect with people after they’ve interacted with your brand is remarketing. Meetings. Phone calls. Emails. Targeted ads. It’s a proactive follow-up effort that supports your other marketing and sales endeavors.

When someone interacts with your organization over the phone, online, in person, or through another communication channel, they may or may not take the actions you intend.

It’s nice to think that they just need time to mull it over, and they’ll eventually come back on their own. But unless you have a follow-up plan, most people will simply disappear into the void, never to be seen again.

Remarketing isn’t a standalone marketing strategy (if no one has interacted with your organization, there’s no one to remarket to), but it dramatically increases the effectiveness of your other efforts.

Take abandoned shopping carts, for example. On ecommerce sites, more than 75 percent of shopping carts are abandoned every year. Business Insider estimates that more than 60 percent of that lost revenue could be recovered through remarketing. Think about it: the majority of people who made it all the way to checkout don’t complete their purchase, but with a strong remarketing campaign, you can get them to come back and finish what they started.

Or say you use a giveaway to collect contact information. (With a giveaway item related to the needs of your industry—not just a trendy piece of tech or something with mass appeal—so that you get relevant, qualified leads.) That contact information doesn’t magically poof into customers. Your remarketing strategy is what turns those leads from people who want a free thing into paying customers.

Whether you work in marketing or sales, you’re familiar with the metaphor of a marketing funnel or a sales pipeline (two slightly different ways to measure basically the same thing). At the top you have your broadest, least-qualified leads, and as they progress through your funnel/pipeline, the number of leads decreases, but they become more qualified, and eventually you wind up with paying customers or users.

Without a good remarketing strategy, it doesn’t matter how good your marketing funnel is. You’re losing leads. There are holes in your funnel, and they’re draining your leads straight into the void, where you may never see them again—or worse, where your competitors will pick them up. Every time you try to direct your leads to the next step, some (most) of them won’t do it. Then what happens?

Remarketing makes the holes in your funnel smaller. You’ll never completely plug those holes, but there’s no reason why you have to keep losing all of those leads. Whatever steps you need people to take and whatever marketing channels you use, there are ways remarketing can bring leads back.

We’ll get into some of the biggest benefits that come from remarketing, but first, we need to clarify something you’ve probably wondered.

Remarketing vs. retargeting: what’s the difference?

I’m just going to say it: remarketing and retargeting are the same thing. They are. There’s a two letter difference, but you can use them interchangeably and nobody will bat an eye.

Some people have tried to create an arbitrary distinction between remarketing and retargeting, suggesting that retargeting only refers to advertising and that remarketing is specific to email.

Rejoiner is an email service provider, and here’s how they define the terms: “While you may hear retargeting tools referred to as remarketing tools (ahem, Google), ‘remarketing’ is typically the term used to describe re-engaging customers with email.”

As an email service provider, they want people to think remarketing is all about email. But there’s no evidence to back up this distinction, and neither term is only about ads or email.

In language, usage dictates meaning. And people use the terms remarketing and retargeting interchangeably. And if Google, of all companies, uses remarketing to refer to re-engaging people with ads, that’s a pretty big clue that the usage of remarketing applies to more than just email. They probably have more data about what people mean by the words they use than any other company on the planet.

If someone says, “We should find a way to retarget people who attended our conference,” that could mean they want to retarget them with ads, but it might mean they want to retarget them with a sales call, or an email. Or whatever they decide is the most appropriate way to follow up with that audience.

And if your boss says, “Let’s start doing some remarketing with Facebook ads,” she isn’t going to care if you read an article that says she really meant to say retargeting, because you both know exactly what she told you to do.

*Steps off pedestal.*

That said, when people talk about retargeting, especially in digital marketing, they’re probably talking about ads.

“Wait, wait, wait,” you say. “I thought this guy just said you could use them interchangeably?”

You can. I’m just letting you know, if someone says retargeting, they probably mean retargeted ads, and they’re probably talking about Facebook, Adwords, or maybe (but probably not) Twitter or another platform.

At the end of the day though, it doesn’t really matter which term you use. The point is that you’re talking about re-engaging specific people through marketing.

Now let’s talk about why remarketing is so effective, and some of the specific ways that it supports your other marketing efforts.

Benefits of remarketing

Remarketing has one major advantage over other types of marketing: relevance. While you already put a lot of thought into creating relevant content, building a relevant audience, and making relevant sales pitches, remarketing focuses on reaching people who have already interacted with your company in some way.

And that means there are two ways remarketing makes your message more relevant to your audience.

1. Familiarity

When you bump into a stranger on the street, you probably say something like, “Excuse me,”  and move on with your life. And if they try to start a conversation, you don’t really have much reason to keep it going.

Now suppose you know the person you bump into. Or you’ve seen them somewhere before. All of a sudden that uneventful interaction is a lot more likely to turn into a full-blown conversation.

You immediately recall the last place you saw them, how you feel about them, and things they’ve said and done. If they left a good impression, bumping into them is a pleasant surprise. If they left a bad impression, the interaction probably looks more like it did with a stranger—but there’s also still an opportunity for them to undo the damage of that bad impression.

That’s the power of familiarity. If someone has already heard of you, they’re more likely to care what you have to say. And instead of thinking “who are these people?” they’ll think about their previous interaction with you.

Oh, I know these people. They made that super helpful checklist I used last week.

Jen from sales was really friendly and totally knew her stuff.

I love their customer service. I wonder what they want.

Oops! I forgot to finish checking out.

They better be calling to apologize for my bad experience—oh, they are? Wow.

Familiarity makes people more receptive to your message before they hear or read it. Remarketing capitalizes on familiarity to help you reach the most relevant audiences.

2. Timing

If someone talks to your sales rep and doesn’t make a purchase on the spot, that doesn’t mean they’ll never buy from you. But unless you create more opportunities for them to interact with your brand, you’re giving other organizations an opportunity to swoop in and close the sale.

One of the things that makes remarketing so effective (and so relevant) is timing. Whether it’s an abandoned cart email, a targeted ad, a follow-up call, or something else, remarketing ideally catches people while your brand, product, or service is still fresh on their mind. It’s the perfect time to redirect their attention back to you.

Without regular interactions with your brand, people’s familiarity with you fades over time. A good remarketing strategy ensures people re-encounter your brand while they still remember you. That way, they’re not left wondering, Wait, who are they? Or What’s this?

Instead, their thought process looks more like this:

Hey, I was just thinking about buying that.

I was just talking to them about [problem I have].

Some organizations use timing alone to create incredibly successful remarketing campaigns. Peak Design uses remarketing to upsell customers 30 minutes after they make their first purchase—and people actually buy more stuff.


Welcome email promoting a new Peak Design product.

Peak Design times this email to come after transactional information, where people see shipping details and start counting the days until they can enjoy their new item.
Image source: Rejoiner


Now that we’ve looked at two of the big reasons why remarketing works so well, let’s talk about the major benefits that can come from those things.

Brand affinity

We already touched on how familiarity makes remarketing effective—people know you, so they’re more receptive to your message—but brand affinity is about how people perceive your brand. The more people encounter your brand and have positive experiences with it, the more likely they are to favor your brand over others.

In a word, brand affinity is trust.

WordStream founder Larry Kim has a helpful article about how brand affinity affects click-through-rates, and his conclusions have much broader implications than the scope of his piece.

“People are overwhelmingly biased toward clicking on brands they know and love,” Larry says. In search engine results pages (SERPs), brand affinity means people are more likely to favor your articles (or ads) over your competitors—because they already know and trust your brand and the expertise, perspective, or quality it represents.

But brand affinity also leads people to choose your brand over your competitors wherever they see you, not just in SERPs. Whether you primarily interact with your audience offline or online, strong brand affinity makes them more likely to:

  • Think of you first when they encounter a problem your industry solves.
  • Respond to your calls to action in emails, ads, phone calls, meetings, or webpages.

Your message and the presentation of that message still definitely matter. But brand affinity gives you an advantage that has nothing to do with what you say or how you say it—because people also take into consideration who is saying it.

This even applies to people who aren’t currently in your ideal audience. Simon White from Adage wrote a brilliant article about the value of brand awareness (familiarity), explaining that brands like Huggies and Pampers have so penetrated the market that they’ve reached their future ideal audience as well. When people become parents and finally need diapers, they already know Huggies and Pampers and trust those brands enough that they don’t really have to think about the other options.

“They do exactly what a brand should do, which is to help us shortcut the myriad purchase decisions that we have to make every day,” Simon says.

If you create positive experiences whenever people encounter your brand, then brand affinity naturally ripples out from your remarketing efforts.

Better conversion rates

Building brand affinity has a positive impact on your future marketing efforts, but remarketing can also lead to better conversion rates right now.

Generally speaking, the most relevant audience will have the highest conversion rates, and remarketing can provide you with a more relevant audience. As we mentioned earlier, remarketing is so effective because this audience is more familiar with your brand, and ideally, your message reaches them while you’re still top of mind.

This doesn’t always mean that your remarketing audience will be your most relevant audience, though. Timing and familiarity aren’t the only factors that determine who will respond best to your marketing or sales efforts. Sometimes interests, demographics, and other information can make your marketing more effective than timing or familiarity alone. (That was the case for us when we helped a client get more than 12,000 leads for 24 cents a piece.)

Whether you’re advertising, making cold calls, or sending an email, you should always test which audiences convert the best.

But some remarketing opportunities don’t lend themselves to this kind of testing. (You wouldn’t send an abandoned cart email to someone who never had a cart.) In those cases, you basically need to ask, “How is this impacting our overall conversion rate?” And if the alternative is leaving huge holes in your funnel and watching leads slip through your fingers, remarketing will increase your conversion rates by default. Then it’s a matter of finding the best message and the best way to present that message.

So now let’s talk about what your remarketing should actually do.

What should you use remarketing for?

You can’t just flip a switch and start reaping the benefits of remarketing. You need to think strategically about what you want your remarketing to accomplish.

The reality is, you can use remarketing to promote just about anything. The key is determining what will be most relevant to the people you’re remarketing to. Here are a few of the main ways people use remarketing.

Product pitches

The bread and butter of remarketing is the good old fashioned product pitch. Whether you use retargeted ads, email, phone calls, or meetings, remarketing can put your product in front of people who have already seen your brand.

Retargeted ads are often triggered when someone visits a particular page (such as a product page), which lets savvy advertisers show those visitors the products they were just looking at.

But product-specific remarketing doesn’t have to give people that am I being watched? feeling. Say someone shows up at your booth at a conference, and after talking to your salesperson for a while, they don’t feel ready to buy, but they give you their email or phone number. You follow up with them and continue the conversation about your product or service. Bam. You just did remarketing.

Abandoned cart emails

There could be any number of reasons why someone abandoned their shopping cart, and you shouldn’t assume it’s because they decided they didn’t want to buy. Depending on who you ask, the main reason could be that they were still in the research phase. Or that they were forced to create an account before buying.

It’s even possible that they simply forgot about it. Maybe they got distracted with an urgent project. Maybe they were waiting to talk to a colleague about it. Maybe they needed to wait to use next quarter’s budget, or they wanted to compare prices, or they just weren’t ready yet.

Before you start automating your abandoned cart emails, consider using a survey to learn the main reasons why people abandon their carts. Or, test variations of your email that address several possible pain points. You may learn something that can help you reduce abandoned carts altogether, and at the very least you’ll wind up with much more effective emails.

Even if someone abandoned their cart because they just didn’t want to buy, an email can give them the nudge they need to come around. Kissmetrics says abandoned cart/activity emails average a 40 percent open rate, and there’s a 54 percent revenue increase when companies send a second abandoned cart email.


You already know what your existing customers purchased. So you can use remarketing to show them complimentary products or services. They might not have been ready for the upsell at the time of purchase, but remarketing gives you another chance to show them why an add-on is worth it.

Maybe they didn’t need or want to pay for insurance, additional features, or related products. Once they’ve had time to enjoy their purchase and experience the value of it though, they may be open to hearing about those opportunities again.

Lead capture

For someone who hasn’t made it very far in the buyer’s journey, you might not have much luck using remarketing to ask for the sale (especially if your product or service is expensive and your buyer’s journey is long). Remarketing is a great opportunity to keep your foot in the door.

If you didn’t get any contact information from someone’s initial visit to your website, retargeting ads are a strong option for remarketing. Use these ads to offer free resources like white papers, webinars, or even popular blog posts so you can refill the top of your funnel and continue engaging these people in the future.

There are probably particular types of contact information that are more valuable to your organization. With savvy remarketing, you can use the information you have to get more of the information you want.

How do you actually do remarketing?

To start remarketing, you need two things:

  • Information you can use to follow-up with people
  • A goal

Take a moment to map out all the places your leads and customers interact with your brand. What information do you already collect there? Are there opportunities to collect more information you could use for remarketing?

Maybe phone numbers are most valuable to you. Or email addresses. You can use this information to remarket to your audience and you can use remarketing through other channels to collect more of this information.

Setting remarketing goals doesn’t have to be complicated though. Remarketing can support the goals you already have and complement the work you’re already doing. It’s just another tactic you can use to accomplish your objectives.

Assessing the type of contact information you have in context of your goal will help you choose the right marketing channel for your campaign. Then it’s just a matter of building your audience and optimizing your campaign.

Here’s how that works.

1. Choose a marketing channel

Each marketing channel comes with pros and cons that make it better suited for remarketing in particular situations. You should explore remarketing opportunities within each of the marketing channels you already use. Don’t limit your remarketing efforts to one channel (especially if you’re still trying to decide if remarketing “works” for your organization), and don’t make this one person’s job. Remarketing should incorporate all your key players who manage marketing channels.


The beauty of retargeted advertising is that it doesn’t require you to have or collect any contact information. Just choose an advertising platform, pop a retargeting pixel onto your website, and create ads based on how people interact with your site.

Retargeting pixels are “cookies” that stick to people when they leave your website. The pixel tells your advertising platform “this anonymous person interacted with the website in these ways.” This lets you target very specific groups of people with highly relevant ads. When those people show up in places where you can show ads, the cookie triggers the ads you’ve specified. Keep in mind: retargeting audiences can get pretty small.

You can also upload an email list or use data from your app to target your existing audiences in new ways.

Before you can build a retargeting campaign, you have to choose a platform. It’s worth experimenting with each of them to find what works best for your organization, and many brands use them in tandem as well. Here are some of the most commonly-used retargeting platforms.

Google Adwords remarketing

Adwords remarketing can display your ad across 92 percent of the Internet. And your ads aren’t stuck on any one website. Google lets your ads follow your audience across millions of websites, feeds, games, apps, and videos.

With Google Adwords remarketing, every ad gets a quality score from 1–10 based on the quality of your ad and the quality of your landing page. Your score directly affects your cost per click (CPC).

Facebook retargeting

Facebook retargeting lets you combine the data from your retargeting pixel or list with your audience’s interests and demographic data. These ads appear on Facebook and in Facebook’s Audience Network, which extends your ads to sites and apps. Similar to Google, Facebook gives your ad a relevance score from 1–10, which affects the cost of delivering your ad. Your relevance score is based on how people interact with your ad (likes, comments, hides, reports, clicks, etc.).

Twitter remarketing

Twitter ads don’t get nearly as much attention as Adwords or Facebook, but they provide some pretty unique remarketing opportunities through their tailored audiences. You can even show your ads to particular influencers in your industry.

Other retargeting platforms

There are plenty of other advertising platforms that can do retargeting. Some provide unique selections of websites to advertise on, some offer unique retargeting opportunities (like Linkedin or Quora), and others bundle services to advertise across multiple channels (like AdRoll, which lets you advertise on websites, social media, and email).


If you have ecommerce on your website, you need to be sending abandoned cart emails. Otherwise you’re just leaving cash on the table. But while that’s the go-to example of using email for remarketing, there are plenty of other ways to do it.

You can email people based on other actions they have or have not taken—whether it’s on your website, in your app, or in-person. ProdPad has an excellent case study on how they use in-app data to create personas and prompt people to take particular actions. It’s technically part of their email onboarding campaign, but it’s also an example of remarketing at work.

Some email service providers also allow you to do a “soft opt-in,” which basically means if someone has purchased something from you, they’ve consented to receive email from you. It’s technically OK, but it’s definitely a remarketing option you should be conservative with (we highly recommend using a double opt-in, so there’s no question about consent).

Basically, whatever you want your audience to do, you can send a remarketing email prompting them to do it. Whether you need them to schedule time with a sales rep, try a new feature, or take another look at a product they viewed last week, there are opportunities to create highly relevant messaging.


Phone calls are harder to scale than other remarketing channels, but the one-to-one interactive communication can create unique opportunities to learn about your audience and provide highly personalized messaging. This is especially valuable to brands that build long-term relationships with their customers or that rely on a sales rep’s personal touch to close the deal.

Realvolve is a real estate CRM company that seriously values getting their sales people on the phone with leads. They collect phone numbers when people sign up for their free resources, and less than 30 minutes after I downloaded an ebook, they called me to chat about my experience and interests in real estate.

Direct mail

Every time you get a personal card from your dentist saying, “It was so nice to see you!” that’s direct mail remarketing. They’re keeping your last experience with them on your mind, creating positive associations with their brand, and building a relationship.

Similarly, your auto shop may send you letters with service reminders, or a coupon when you’re due for an oil change. If your audience needs your services periodically, direct mail is a great way to remind them, “It’s that time again,” while providing incentives to choose you over your competitors.

When you have mailing addresses for your leads or customers, you can use direct mail to follow up after conferences, meetings, and other scenarios where your audience has had a meaningful encounter with your brand.

2. Build your audience

When you start thinking about who you want to reach, think about behaviors you can track and follow up with. Some behaviors help you isolate new leads, some focus on customers, and others lump customers and new leads together.

Keep in mind, the marketing channels you choose will impact the ways you can build your audience. (You can’t use a phone number to retarget someone with Facebook ads.)

Here are some of the audiences you might want to build.

People who interact with your website

Retargeting pixels, account management software, and email service providers help you segment your audience based on what they do on your website.

A retargeting pixel lets you show ads to people you have no information about (other than their behavior).

Account management software can connect the behaviors of signed-in users to their email address, which you can use to create a segment in your email service provider.

Here are some of the behaviors you might want to track:

  • Pages visited
  • Pages not visited (i.e. didn’t visit thank you or confirmation page)
  • Number of pages visited
  • Abandoned cart
  • Time on site

Additionally, you can refine your audience with more data depending on the platform you’re using (or the information you have available about your email subscribers).

You might combine what someone did (or didn’t do) on your website with:

  • Demographic information
  • Geographic targeting
  • Likes/interests
  • Search queries

Advertising and email are the most obvious channels for this kind of remarketing, but if your account management platform includes other contact information and you have an appropriate angle, other channels could work. But it’s way less weird to see a remarketing ad or email after visiting a website. Imagine getting a phone call, “Hi, I see that you were looking at our pricing page for 17 minutes last week. Is now a good time to chat?”

People who saw you at an event

Whether you’re hosting an event or just setting up a booth, this is an obvious opportunity to collect contact information. You probably already have sales people following up with this audience (hey, you’re already doing remarketing!), but a common mistake is to make some phone calls, throw these leads into your general contact list, and call it good.

These leads should be a unique segment of your email list that receives a special onboarding sequence. And you should use that segment to create retargeting ads.

Lumension provides endpoint security solutions, and they took this advanced remarketing a step further. They matched contact information for people who visited their booth at a conference with contact information for people who accessed gated content prior to the conference. This helped them identify highly qualified leads who then saw retargeted ads.


Checklist showing progress towards earning a bottle of wine.

The more refined targeting you use, the smaller your audience will be. But if you identify behavior that makes leads more qualified, combining data points like this could lead to some highly effective remarketing opportunities. Image source: MarketingSherpa


Hopefully, you have a lot of useful data about your current customers. How long has it been since their last purchase? What did they purchase? What’s their role at their organization? Data like this should constantly feed into your remarketing efforts, and your team should identify the most relevant remarketing opportunities for your customers based on what you know about them.

Is there a complimentary product or add-on service your customers are missing? A new version of a product they purchased a long time ago? Or maybe you can follow Dropbox’s example and incentivize existing customers to refer you to new ones.

People who entered a giveaway

Whether you host your giveaway online, in the mail, over the phone, or in-person, this can be a good way to quickly build an audience you can remarket to. Some organizations incentivize shares to use their existing audience as a springboard to reach new people, and others may focus solely on existing customers or new people.

However you do it, remember that the more relevant your giveaway prize is to your organization, the more qualified your leads will be. Everyone wants an iPad or a car or cash, but only people interested in your product will want to win your product. Every prize falls somewhere on the spectrum between those.

As with events, be sure these people don’t just get thrown straight into your general marketing lists. Tailor your messaging to this audience and start them off with a relevant drip campaign. And remember, they signed up to try to get something for free. If you want to keep them hooked, send emails that continue to add value—don’t scare them all away with a big ask right off the bat.

App users

An app or software program gives you access to all kinds of powerful data about your audience. If you can identify what actions someone has or hasn’t taken within the app, this is a huge remarketing opportunity.

You can use these actions to trigger emails or in-app messages prompting people to take the next step.

Maybe users are getting stuck. Or they stopped using your app before discovering the feature everyone else loves. You can use remarketing to speak into their particular situation and help them along. Or maybe you can show them how to get more out of the features they use all the time.

If you haven’t checked out that ProdPad case study yet, and you have an app or software program, you need to. (Or at least skim the highlights I pulled from it.)

People who called you

When someone calls your customer service or sales team, your awesome employees resolve the issue, make the pitch, close the sale, and say goodbye. Then what? You probably keep records of these interactions. Why not put that information to use with remarketing?

It might seem counterintuitive to call people back when your CS and sales reps are already trying to reduce call times, but this kind of remarketing could create upsell opportunities as well as increase the lifetime value and loyalty of your customers.

If someone asks your team for help, call or email them later and ask how it went.

If they make a purchase over the phone, contact them again to help them get the most from your product or service.

If someone had a negative experience with you, follow up and offer them something for free.

To avoid “clogging up the phone lines,” you could also make an effort to collect additional contact information when people call you, or to isolate your remarketing efforts to people who you already have additional information for. Then you can email them, send something in the mail, or retarget them with ads.

3. Optimize your remarketing campaign

Once you’ve established the channels you’ll remarket with and the audiences you’ll remarket to, it’s time to make it as good as possible. Optimizing your marketing campaigns should never stop until the campaign ends or until your campaign is so good that it’s no longer cost effective to spend time optimizing it.

That means you need to A/B test everything. Copy. Call to action. Images. Marketing channels. Audience. Timing. Frequency. The only way to know what works and what doesn’t is with constant experimentation. (Just be sure that when you A/B test, you only test one variable at a time.)

Optimizing your remarketing efforts is about finding ways to make your audience and message more relevant. Maybe there’s a better pitch to convert your audience, or a better audience to make your pitch to. Or maybe you’re waiting too long to contact people again (or you’re doing it too soon).

If a remarketing campaign performs poorly, that isn’t necessarily an indicator that remarketing doesn’t work for your business—it probably just means your pitch isn’t very relevant to the people you remarketed to. You might be selling too hard to an audience that’s still in the top of your funnel, or speaking to the wrong aspirations.

Rinse, repeat, remarket

Remarketing is a continuous process. Some of it can be automated—once you set up triggers for remarketing messages, you don’t have to send them every time. But some remarketing takes more consistent effort. (You probably don’t want to automate remarketing phone calls, and you’ll need to regularly tweak your retargeting ads.) So as you think about the audiences and channels available to you, remember that some remarketing opportunities take a lot more work than others.

Rather than rolling out a massive remarketing push, you might be better off experimenting with small audiences until you find the most scalable tactics that deliver the best results. And if you’re still not sure what the best remarketing audiences or channels are for your organization, we’d be happy to help you get started.