EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Retargeting Can Put Fickle Online Shoppers in a Buying Mood: Q&A With AdRoll CEO Aaron Bell

As an Internet marketing tactic, retargeting has never quite reached its stride. However, updated technology, changing market dynamics and new offerings by vendors — especially Google’s entrance into the space — is changing that.

Briefly, retargeting is a marketing response triggered when a consumer expresses an interest in a product’s ad but doesn’t take action. It presumes that the individual may still be interested in the product, perhaps mulling a purchase. The retargeter’s strategy is to provide a gentle nudge in the form of another ad.

The technology has been around for some time, but “it is only now that we are really seeing what it can accomplish,” said AdRoll CEO Aaron Bell, who spoke with the E-Commerce Times about the industry, its ongoing changes, and AdRoll’s own approach to the market.

E-Commerce Times: Why is retargeting so underutilized?

Aaron Bell:

There are a couple of reasons. Brands traditionally haven’t looked at display as having a high ROI or being a significant performance channel. Typically, over the last 10 years, it has been search engine marketing that has been the breakout channel. And when you think about it, search engine marketing makes sense: It produces a positive ROI — the advertiser spends one dollar and makes more than one dollar in sales. It works because people tell Google, or the search engine, exactly what they want. Google has a good idea of what a user’s intent is, and that data is very powerful against which to match ads.

ECT: There is an element to that as well in retargeting, correct? Matching ads against users’ intent?

Bell:

Yes, and that is one reason why retargeting is gaining traction. We have new and better ways of figuring out intent — what users are interested in. One problem e-commerce sites have is that they are driving traffic from all sorts of channels. Also, online Internet shoppers are very fickle. They like to window shop — only 2 percent of prospective shoppers actually buy something.

But with retargeting, a site can first of all, gain a sense of the user’s intent — and then actually communicate with him as he surfs around the Web by reminding him of a particular brand while he is doing something entirely different.

In many ways, it is a principle similar to search, in that a user has expressed an interest in something and the company is now following up on that. It is a very effective use of marketing dollars.

ECT: What has changed that makes retargeting different now?

Bell:

The first companies to really explore this concept were focused on huge brands and used agencies with large budgets. It was also a very manual process. That latter point, in particular, proved to be problematic — and that is what is changing now.

Ad impressions are being sold through exchanges, and the auction pricing model for search engine marketing is now being applied to display. Real-time bidding is another factor that is beginning to catch on, and it also facilitates this process.

At the same time, there is more inventory flooding into the exchanges as companies see how well the technology works. Also, vendors such as ourselves are aiming at smaller companies.

ECT: Can you provide some ROI metrics for companies that are using retargeting now?

Bell:

It all depends on the industry and the type of brand. We have one travel company that gets a 35 times ROI — it spends one dollar and get (US)$35 in sales. Another client in the B2B space receives a two times ROI.

ECT: What about the drawbacks to retargeting? Do these tech advances also address the most obvious one — namely, that a consumer might not have purchased a product she was looking at because she didn’t want it, and now wherever she goes online she is haunted by an image of something she decided she didn’t want. Wouldn’t that have a very negative impact on a brand’s image?

Bell:

That is what frequency caps are for. So, the answer to your question is yes — the changes in technology do address that. Frequency caps limit the number of times per day or per week or per month — whatever the advertiser chooses — that a consumer can be shown the ad.

ECT: What is a typical frequency cap?

Bell:

The classic marketing principle is that it takes six impressions to make an impact. Typically, a company will make it four impressions a day.

ECT: Another potential drawback about retargeting is inappropriateness. Can you control for ads served against inappropriate content? Say, for example, that someone looks online at possible flower arrangements for a funeral or hospital stay. Does that person really want to see that ad again when shopping for gadgets or holiday gifts online?

Bell:

Content control is a big issue, and that is something we are focused on. We make it easy for advertisers to filter out specific sites or categories of sites. We have also developed a technology called “PubScore,” which evaluates content for traits like brand safety. So when we are running a campaign, we make sure that the ads show up on brand-safe, highly reputable and relevant sites.

ECT: One more possible drawback — this time from the perspective of the advertiser — is that some advertisers are charged by the ad exchange when a consumer makes a purchase even if it is questionable that the sale was influenced by the ad.

Bell:

They are called “view throughs,” and yes, they are a controversial practice. What happens is a consumer is surfing the Web and is shown an ad that may not render or that was not very visible on the page. Maybe it rendered at the very bottom? If he or she goes onto that advertiser’s website and buys something, the ad will still get credit and charge the brand. It is a prevalent practice.

ECT: Do you address that issue with your clients?

Bell:

We have two different pricing models — CPC or CPM — which are typical of display advertising. And yes, we are aware that all advertisers want to understand how many conversions they have and how to attribute them to which campaigns. Even if we don’t charge on view throughs, we show them how many are received.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Metaverse Marketing Offers New Approach To Utilizing Customer Data

In Neal Stephenson’s popular 1992 sci-fi novel “Snow Crash” the author introduced the term metaverse to portray a futuristic world where people interacted in virtual 3D worlds using avatars. While his avatar-laced society is a familiar playing field for virtual game fans, few others but forward-looking marketers envisioned much usefulness in the realities of e-commerce.

That is, until now. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned the M-word into a vibrant new name for his now rebranded metaverse company, Meta.

Since the “Snow Crash” novel craze, the metaverse term described multi-user, persistent virtual worlds that incorporate social interaction. The game Second Life, which launched in 2003, was the first metaverse to achieve meaningful user adoption, according to Wendell Lansford, co-founder and CEO of MarTech firm Wyng. Multiplayer online games and platforms, like Minecraft, Roblox and Fortnight, may also be considered as variations of a metaverse.

“Today, the term metaverse describes shared environments that bring together aspects of social media, virtual, and augmented reality, multiplayer online games, and cryptocurrencies to create immersive, digital experiences that both reflect and bridge to the physical world,” Lansford told the E-Commerce Times.

New Frontier for E-Marketing

The metaverse is a digital universe where people as avatars live, play, interact, and work. In the virtual community of the game Second Life, many users work full-time jobs creating and selling digital goods.

That concept of bringing shared environments together gives new life to some tired old marketing strategies. It also suggests exactly where Facebook and the marketing industry plan to go. To borrow a “Star Trek” slogan, it’s a place where no advertisers have gone before.

The online shopping world will become an exciting place. Facebook’s name change as a business force may well carve a place out of the metaverse. Suddenly, metaverse has generated a huge buzz over the potential benefits that this 3D shared environment has to offer.

This new metaverse frontier of digital development may well have unparalleled advantages for enterprising technology enthusiasts. The metaverse concept may well be the driving force to take e-commerce marketing to the next level. But many people are questioning how it could be used.

Zero-Party Data

Digital relationships between brands and consumers and the risk/reward strategies of third-party data have shifted immensely in recent years. As marketers begrudgingly shift away from the practice, the rise of the metaverse presents a unique opportunity for brands to start fresh and employ new privacy-first initiatives.

Being that each user in the metaverse is an authorized user, both brands and consumers are empowered to get the value exchange they want. In exchange for certain coupons, digital goods or access to areas, brands can ensure they are collecting data that was shared with explicit consent.

This eliminates guesswork from both sides. If done correctly, it has the chance to change how we look at data forever, noted Lansford.

Lansford’s company Wyng is positioned to help companies and their customers successfully co-exist with effective online interaction strategies. Wyng uses API-powered infrastructure for zero-party data (ZPD).

Zero-party data is all the consent-based, personal context data that customers share to improve their experience with brands. It gives customers transparency and control over their profiles and builds trust. The process involves personalizing experiences in real time across channels.

Discussing Business in the Metaverse

The E-Commerce Times discussed with Lansford how metaverse technology will impact brands and their customers.

E-Commerce Times: How is the metaverse different than what is non-metaverse?

Wendell Lansford: Think of the non-metaverse as today’s internet as exemplified by Facebook, Google, Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, and any web or e-commerce site.

Metaverse environments, on the other hand, run in parallel to today’s internet. It works much like multiplayer online games. Compared to today’s internet, emerging metaverse environments will offer richer experiences where the virtual and physical worlds converge, and the experience of interacting with others approximates real life.

Is the metaverse concept strictly aligned with e-commerce — meaning doing business over the internet — or does it have connections to other industries, too?

Lansford: In addition to e-commerce, metaverse technologies will have applications in a range of industries. These include entertainment, gaming, social media, education, fitness, travel, real estate, and marketing and advertising.

For example, one popular application today is watching movies (and chatting) with remote friends in a shared virtual theater.

As another example, in November, a plot of virtual real estate in Decentraland (a popular crypto-powered metaverse environment) sold for $2.43 million. The land, purchased by Metaverse Group, will be developed to facilitate fashion shows and commerce within the exploding digital fashion industry.

Fair value exchange (FVE) is a key element of business in metaverse. How is the importance of FVE instead of not shorting consumers in data exchanges a new concept?

Lansford: In the past, brands have primarily collected data about consumers by purchasing data from data aggregators/brokers (i.e., third-party data) or by tracking consumers’ clicks, searches, and purchases on a brand-owned website or mobile app (i.e., first-party data). These ways of collecting data happen behind the scenes, typically without the consumer having any knowledge of the data being collected.

As a result of privacy regulations and privacy-aware consumers, brands are now investing in zero-party data. This is data that consumers knowingly and intentionally share with a brand in exchange for something of value, like a personalized recommendation, loyalty points, and/or a coupon. Consumers will share their data with a brand they trust when the brand makes it worth their while.

How can brands gather zero-party data in the metaverse?

Lansford: The only way to gather zero-party data is by asking for it. On the web, brands ask for zero-party data via micro experiences like guided shopping quizzes, next-best questions, surveys, polls, sign-up forms, and conversational chatbots.

These same techniques can be adapted to the metaverse, but with richer interfaces. The metaverse also opens new possibilities for asking for zero-party data.

For example, imagine a virtual store with a knowledgeable shopkeeper who is there to help customers by engaging them in conversation. The shopkeeping gets to know customers’ personal needs, preferences, goals, and interests (again, zero-party data). Then, with the customers’ permission, the retailer uses that data to provide a more personalized experience with the brand.

Moreover, NFTs or non-fungible tokens, open up new possibilities for value exchange in the metaverse. They can be redeemed for real goods on a brand’s site or in a physical store.

Closing Thoughts

Metaverse commerce is in its early days, with lots of innovation and improvements still to come, Lansford observed. However, the multiplayer online gaming market offers an analogy for virtual worlds and e-commerce coming together.

“[Last year] for example, nearly 20 million people visited a two-week Gucci exhibit, where they could purchase limited-edition Gucci accessories for their avatars,” he said.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Remote Work Transformation Calls for Prioritizing Employee Tech Choices

Image Credit: Lenovo

The global remote work revolution the pandemic caused has accelerated and reinforced the need for companies to prioritize the employee experience. This necessity includes providing tech equipment and consumer products from select retailers via a “choose your own device” (CYOD) reimbursement program.

That is the view from two top suppliers of computers and other electronic devices. Lenovo-Intel research found that a solid majority (72 percent) of employees feel that their employers need to focus more on listening to workers to get clarity on their tech needs. That response ranks in the top three things companies should do to improve the employee experience. 

The Lenovo and Intel study, “Empowering Employees Through Technology Can Supercharge Returns,” is now one year old. But companies still face the ongoing challenges of outfitting their remote workforce with the technical tools they need to work away from the physical office productively, suggested Stefan Engel, Lenovo’s vice president and general manager of Visuals Business.

TechNewsWorld discussed the implications of remote workers’ technical support needs with Engel, who sits in the catbird’s seat in seeing how employers are responding to the realities of the high-tech survey.

TechNewsWorld: How is the shift in meeting employees’ WFH priorities impacting companies?

Stefan Engel: The remote work revolution has put employees more in control of their work technology devices than ever before. We found that improving the employee experience, starting with the tech they provide to employees, is more important than previously anticipated.

Both IT departments and employees agree that satisfaction with their work technology has a direct impact on improving employee satisfaction.

This shift has certainly propelled monitor design forward to becoming the center of communication, interacting with all kinds of devices, not just PCs and laptops, but also mobile phones and gaming consoles, basically anything that can benefit from a fully-actualized visual experience.

How widespread is the remote working demand?

Engel: I saw a recent Gartner survey that noted about one in 10 companies that planned to reopen their offices in the third quarter of 2021 have now pushed back their reopening date to sometime in the fourth quarter.

According to Lenovo’s own customer surveys, 90 percent of businesses plan to keep a hybrid model in place where at least some of the workforce is remote. Workers have grown accustomed to flexibility over the last 19 months and have shown that productivity can be maintained regardless of location.

That increased productivity brings new levels of screen time both day and night. Modern modular technology has become key to keeping employees satisfied with their tech options by allowing for personalization.

Modular options include ergonomic stands that lift, tilt, pivot, and swivel to let workers customize their home setup to best suit their needs, or monitor webcams designed for hybrid work with features like a smart traffic light showing colleagues or family members when a user is “busy” in a conference call.

Is this WFH movement driving new purchases or just moving equipment to the workers’ locations?

Engel: From the same survey Lenovo conducted with Intel, 84 percent of employers are upgrading devices, software, and services as part of employee engagement initiatives to improve team engagement and satisfaction.

The pandemic placed greater emphasis on employees using an at-home monitor to expand the screen real estate of their laptop, making their set-up more productive for working with data and graphics.

This resulted in a large uptick of PC monitor shipments in 2021 according to IDC and other industry researchers. Monitor technology is evolving rapidly. Employers should think about replacement after approximately three years to keep work productivity at high levels. It is also worth it for talent retention according to several employee satisfaction studies.

What other tech concerns did the survey indicate?

Engel: Half of employees still say they are frustrated with their PC hardware and software experience. It is evident that technologies are instrumental in driving employee productivity and engagement. Part of what is making this work is the adoption of video calling and collaboration software.

remote employee working on notebook

Image Credit: Lenovo


Potential exists to bridge these two groups and improve employee experience and satisfaction by making new up-to-date purchases, refreshing cycles, and remotely integrating hardware and software.

For example, an upgraded external monitor that supports high refresh rates and is connected to your PC can leverage the enhanced color performance of HDR 10 brought to life by the latest Windows 11 OS experience — certainly an improvement to your day in front of a screen.

What impact on data security does the remote workforce pose?

Engel: Data security and the feeling of still having control with employees working primarily outside of an office are top of mind for IT decision-makers when considering digital transformation solutions.

Malicious attacks targeting businesses moving their critical functions to the cloud are on the rise, as are attempts to exploit human vulnerabilities via phishing and ransomware, which have increased 11 percent and six percent respectively in 2021, according to Verizon.

Besides security software, one way employers can protect their remote workers is by encouraging them to use their physical shutter when not on camera as an added protection to user privacy.

A new feature I really love is the presence detection sensor that detects if a human being is in front of the monitor. If not, it goes to sleep mode to ensure privacy from prying eyes as well as potentially reducing your home’s power bill.

What other options are employers providing to remote staff?

Engel: As we near the second year of primarily remote work, employers are encouraging their staff to design their at-home workspace smarter than before; where they can easily switch between their workstation and laptop with a single keyboard and mouse combination for a more intuitive user experience.

We have seen several models used to equip/update the workplace at home around the world, all of which are better than companies just leaving their remote employees high and dry.

Here are a few examples:

  • Full free choice: The company reimburses employees fully, often with a max cap per item;
  • Flat amount reimbursement: This approach often leads to the user choosing a standard monitor that skimps on important features, like natural low blue light, in an effort to save money;
  • Preferred list offered: Companies provide a short list of approved monitors that employees may purchase to be eligible for reimbursement, which is a win-win because it caters to the employee’s needs while ensuring that the company is considering the impacts of a healthy work environment;
  • Delivering equipment: Companies make the selection and ship the monitor to the employee’s home.

What equipment baseline do remote workers need?

Engel: Day-to-day remote collaboration requires tailored technology that can improve video calls and even large online meetings, meet the unique needs of businesses, individuals or classrooms, and keep IT costs manageable.

Our user insights point to advancements in flexible modular tech, including enabled high-definition cameras and better device privacy and manageability. Our users also want monitors that feature high-performance displays, ergonomic capabilities, one-cable docking solution, easier video collaboration, smart software management applications, and built-in natural low blue light technology.

What are the priorities that ITDMs want for strategic IT integration?

Engel: IT decision-makers can better improve employee engagement and business outcomes by realigning investments, focusing on PC devices, and involving employees in technology decisions.

Create employee investment in your company’s digital transformation. Listening to employee feedback can go a long way towards establishing the hybrid security, software, and device framework with which IT decision-makers are tasked.

One thing that is different now is that the responsibility for meeting rooms or collaboration spaces in offices and conference centers moved from the care of facilities management to the IT department due to all the smarter technology and influx of high-tech devices. I predict this will soon become the standard for most offices.

How can OEMs address this remote technology divide?

Engel: OEMs must recognize the new realities employees face with remote work and provide technology that can not only help boost and maintain productivity at home, but also keep their work from home space minimal and organized. Organizations can improve employee experience by providing a choice in flexible with mobile and modular technology that adapts to employees’ working style from no matter where they choose to work.

Any final thoughts on how remote working is changing employer options?

Engel: I was struck by one of the study’s takeaways for IT decision-makers. It advises IT to also prioritize tech investments that focus on stated employee needs, such as building a strong ecosystem of PC devices, data security, and exploring easy-to-use collaboration tools.

In large organizations, it is common to have employee advocates working behind the scenes making sure that the long-term health and well-being of employees is factored into any equipment purchases. But this same level of compromise happens less often at smaller companies, or when people are left to buy equipment on their own as part of a company reimbursement program.

I think it is important for IT decision makers, employees, and managers to consider an issue that is just below the surface of all these connected devices. That is blue light emissions from digital displays.

Companies are starting to ask the right questions on behalf of their employees, but much more education is needed to make eye health part of the broader conversation when considering new equipment purchases.

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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