Mobile Ecosystem

Creepy or Contextual? How Mobile Retargeting Is Getting Personal

Becky Doles

By now you likely know how retargeting on the web functions: when a user is interested in a product, the brand serves a cookie that enables them to advertise that specific (or a related) product to the user on other websites. But what about mobile retargeting? What if you could be retargeted in the real world based on your previous behaviors, ensuring relevant information is displayed while you are shopping?

While mobile retargeting might sound a little creepy, it’s actually highly contextual — and many consumers are already experiencing such relevant advertising. I had a chance to sit down with Mike Wehrs, CEO of Scanbuy and former CEO and President of the Mobile Marketing Association, to talk about how his current company is developing the technology that not only makes this all possible, but is convincing consumers that this type of technology is desirable and beneficial.

Mobile Retargeting Explained

At Scanbuy, Mike is working with a team to use mobile devices as a bridge to connect something from the real world that a user is interested in to some digital experience that is appropriate to that user and that particular product. Essentially, all a user needs to do is use their phone to scan a code on the product — but don’t think this is your typical QR code.

Mike explained:
“Everything we do is dynamic. You scanning a QR code might result in a completely different piece of content to you than the piece of content I see if I scanned the exact same code. We use context of where you are, what else you’ve expressed interest in, and include previous scanning behavior to determine what is most appropriate to show you.”

He adds that Scanbuy’s customers — which include big brands such as Coke, the Olympics, Panasonic, Staples, Starbucks, and Home Depot — want to create a high level of engagement with their customers. To do this they have created codes, NFC tags, and other types of objects for mobile retargeting. Scanbuy has helped them set up rules under certain set of conditions to determine what to do when they interact with that mobile device or trigger.

From all this data, the brand can then immediately generate reports and use this data to retarget offers on mobile, such as send you a coupon or serve you a mobile ad in real time.

For example, if you as a consumer decide to put an object in a shopping cart, the brand may decide to serve you a recipe on your mobile phone, encouraging you to buy a few more items to complete a meal (which is commonly known as upselling.) Another example? If it’s the holidays and the brand realizes you’re putting together a meal, it might serve you a coupon for 20% off a bottle of wine. Alternatively, if a store is having a slow day, it can serve a mobile ad in real time for 10% off the entire store, encouraging you to purchase more.

Essentially, a store can change a promotion anytime they want, meaning advertising via mobile retargeting is incredibly flexible and allows brands in the retail environment to drive any kind of behavior they want, while still targeting individual users.

Why Mobile Retargeting, and Why Now?

Mike believes that this type of contextual mobile retargeting in the real world is going to grow tremendously in the near future. The reason for the recent emergence of this type of technology is simple: Never before have we seen such high penetration of smartphones, as well as an easy way to download mobile apps that can read codes onto the phone. (Mike points out it’s easier to use an app store to do that than any other way.)

Additionally, mobile retargeting needed 3G or better networks that have consumer approachable rate plans to utilize this kind of technology. As Mike said, if everyone’s watching how much data they are using, it’s just not going to be feasible.

Finally, it was necessary to wait until camera quality in most smartphones was able to recognize a code; the mobile lens needed to autofocus, controllable exposure capability, and be over 1.3 megapixels.

Of course, consumers may be wary of this type of real-world retargeting — offers and ads that are based on previous user behavior — as it might seem like an invasion of privacy. However, Mike and Scanbuy only target users who have opted into the technology, which is notably different than other technology such as sensors stores use to collect data about you unknowingly. And like traditional retargeting, mobile retargeting technology from Scanbuy provides consumers with relevant advertising that enhances their shopping experience with relevant, beneficial information that is far from disruptive to the user’s (or in this case, customer’s) experience. The brand knows the lifetime value of the customer and can provide them with information that actually creates additional loyalty. In fact, consumers appreciate this type of relevant targeting so much that just between Thanksgiving and New Year’s alone, Scanbuy saw 10 million transactions.

The Future of Mobile Retargeting

Whether you think mobile retargeting technology is creepy or a very smart use of technology to create contextual targeting in the real world, one thing is for sure: These are not just QR codes.

As Mike said, “What we’ve seen is over the last 9-12 months is many more of those brands come back and say ‘what a minute, this technology can do a lot more than just refer to a website homepage.’ If you thought a QR code was just a redirect, look again.”

Becky Doles

Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.