Do you ever feel like you're being followed online?
Have you ever been shopping on a website like Amazon.com or Target.com, and suddenly you start seeing online advertisements for those products on other websites? Did you ever wonder how your favorite blog knew that you were interested in buying that pair of jeans, or that new book that hasn't even come out yet?
Well, wonder no more as I introduce you to the world of remarketing.
What is remarketing?
Remarketing, or retargeting as it is sometimes called, is the process of marketing a product or service to an individual based on their search history. It's a relatively new form of advertising that has gained popularity in the last several years.
Simply put, when a user visits a website that utilizes remarketing, a cookie is placed on their computer (provided that their browser security settings allow this). When that user visits another website that participates in remarketing advertising, it searches for those cookies. If an appropriate cookie is found, a predetermined ad related to the original website's content will be displayed. If not, then other ads will be displayed based on different criteria.
The benefits of remarketing are tremendous, as it is allows marketers to reach an audience that has already expressed interest in their product. Like other online advertising, remarketing activity is easily tracked, so analytics, including the success or failure of any campaign, can easily be reviewed.
As with many forms of advertising, remarketing has introduced some exciting new opportunities for churches to better reach their intended audiences with the message of the Gospel. While most churches have not even considered using remarketing, I hope the ideas presented below will encourage you to give it a try.
Debunking the remarketing myths
Before I go too far into how churches can use remarketing, let me address a few thoughts about remarketing that might be stopping you from using it.
Any time someone feels like "big brother" is watching them, they can become a bit uneasy, and remarketing can easily fall into this category. When one website seems to know what you have done on another website, it causes you to become suspicious of whether you truly have any privacy online.
As mentioned above, remarketing ads are triggered by the cookie on your computer. That website doesn't know you and where you have been, it simply recognizes the cookie that was previously downloaded by your browser. The owners of the website where the remarketing ad is displayed actually know very little about you. They just want you to click on the ad so they can earn a little income (it helps pay for their site), and ads about products that you are interested in are one of the best ways to do that.
So is it creepy? Not really, once you understand what is happening. I prefer to think of it as relevant. An ad will be displayed for me on that site, and I would prefer that it be an ad for something that interests me (based on my behavior) rather than something that is randomly displayed.
OK, so you've gotten past the creep-factor. But what about the cost? Advertising in any form costs money, and remarketing is no exception. Won't this "advanced technology" be too expensive for congregations to afford?
While that answer really depends on the advertising budget of the church, remarketing has two characteristics that make it especially appealing for churches that may operate on a tight budget.
First, you choose what you pay. That's right! Your choice. Non-negotiable. Remarketing is based on a bidding system, meaning the ads are displayed for the highest bidder. When you're setting up your ads, you have the opportunity to set a maximum bid, and you'll never pay more than that. In fact, you'll often pay much less. You also have the opportunity to set the maximum amount you pay for the entire campaign, so you can ensure you'll never go above your budget.
Second, you pay for successes only. While you may have the opportunity to pay for views (a certain amount for every thousand views), I recommend only paying per click. That means that you pay when someone clicks on the ad, and nothing more.
I'm sure you've heard this quote from John Wanamaker: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." Remarketing, as well as other pay-per-click advertising, ensures that you only pay for the half of your marketing that works.
It's not appropriate for churches.
Even if it's not as creepy or expensive as you originally thought, is remarketing really appropriate for churches?
Once again, it really depends on your congregation. Does your church invest any time or money in advertising? Is there a sign in front your building that advertises events? Do you have an ad in the phone book? Do you have a website or a Facebook page? Remarketing as a concept is no better or worse that any of these methods, but it may be more effective due to the relevance for the end-user.
Remarketing strategies for churches
Unlike businesses, churches are not selling a product; they are sharing the message of the Gospel, so that makes the use of remarketing a little different. Rather than using remarketing to proclaim the Gospel (there are some tricky guidelines that will be discussed later), I recommend using remarketing to share the services and opportunities that your congregation provides.
Use remarketing to advertise the upcoming outreach opportunities in your congregation, especially those that are open to the public. Is your church hosting a Vacation Bible School or summer camp? What about your preschool or elementary school? Even worship services, especially festival events like Easter and Christmas, would be appropriate for remarketing ads.
What resources does your congregation provide that might be useful for a general audience? Does your congregation sponsor an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or maybe a cancer support group? Do you offer homework help for students or English as a Second Language (ESL) classes? Even something as simple as a daily devotion during Lent can be enticing for someone to make a second visit to your website.
While you will want to be careful not to overdo it with fundraising campaigns, remarketing can be used to help boost financial contributions to your congregation. In today's busy world, it's easy to visit a website with the full intention of donating, only to become distracted with something else and not complete the transaction. Remarketing can be used to remind these potential donors that the opportunity still exists.
With each of these ideas, it's important to remember to enforce relevance to all of your ads. Be very specific about who sees which ads. Choose to display your VBS ads only to users who have visited the VBS page of your website. Only display fundraising ads to those who have visited your donation page AND did not complete your form. By keeping it relevant, the users will be less likely to become annoyed and more likely to click.
Where should churches use remarketing?
Now that you know the why and the what, let's focus on the where.
There are many great services and ad networks that allow you to remarket to your audiences in very powerful ways, but I will only introduce you to the three services with which I am most familiar.
In my experience, I have found that more than half of churches have a Facebook page and that number is growing. With over a billion daily active users, it's very likely that your intended audience will be on Facebook.
Facebook Ads offers a variety of ad types (image, video, carousel, and the new Canvas ads) with an impressive number of audience targeting opportunities. You can display ads for people based on location, demographics, interests, behaviors, and connections.
To use Facebook Ads for remarketing purposes, the first thing you need to do is install the Facebook pixel. This is the vehicle by which the cookie is downloaded for visitors to your website. Install the pixel on every page of your church website, then use the Facebook custom audience tools to begin creating audiences for those specific sections of your website.
Once you have set up your audience, you may then create ads within the Facebook Ads tool for that audience. These ads will display within Facebook in accord with the ad types that you establish.
While Twitter has a smaller audience than Facebook and its advertising tools are not quite as robust, it is easy to use and allows you to reach your intended audience in their preferred manner.
To advertise on Twitter, you first must decide what the goal of your advertising campaign will be. For churches, the most common goal will be website traffic, but you can also use ads to build your Twitter audience or increase brand awareness. If your church has an app, you can also use remarketing to increase the number of downloads.
Twitter uses the term Tailored Audiences when describing these custom audiences. Set up a "tailored audience from web" to utilize remarketing. Install a website tag on your website to begin tracking your visitors.
Twitter ads will be displayed as sponsored tweets, and will show for your remarketing audience whether they are on a desktop or mobile device.
As they are with most areas of online technology, Google is the leader when it comes to remarketing. Their advertising product, Google AdWords, offers a large number of marketing opportunities, and remarketing is just one of the possibilities.
What makes remarketing with Google so powerful is their Google Display Network. This network of websites presents advertisers with thousands of opportunities to connect with their audience, even if the audience never visits Google.com. If you have ever visited a blog or media site and saw a display ad, there is a very good chance that website is part of the Google Display Network.
To start remarketing with Google, you'll first have to create an AdWords account. Once that is set up, you'll need to add a remarketing tag to your website. Just like with Facebook and Twitter, you'll want to add it to every page of your site. From there, you can create shared audiences that are based on visits to pages of your website.
While I first learned how to do remarketing through Google AdWords, I wouldn't recommend it as your first step. The remarketing process is fairly straightforward, but creating ads can be a bit complex and time-consuming as you sift through the many options.
As with anything, there are plenty of opportunities to go down the wrong path with remarketing. While this is not a comprehensive list, here are just a few things to be aware of before you start remarketing.
All three of the advertising companies listed above care very much about user privacy and take steps to prevent the end user from feeling uncomfortable about what information is being shared about them. As you explore the tools, you'll find that nowhere is there anything that allows you (as an advertiser) to pinpoint the identity of any of your visitors. In fact, there is not much more than the total number of people in your respective audiences.
To ensure that advertisers don't give end-users the impression that they know any of their personal information, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have very specific guidelines about the types of ads that can be displayed. I encourage you to read through their guidelines yourself, but it can summed up with this: make your ads about your church and the services you provide, not about the person who is viewing the ad.
Finally, if remarketing isn't working for your church, stop. Remarketing can be a very effective advertising vehicle, but it might not be right for your audience. We have found great success utilizing it at Concordia Technology Solutions, as have many other organizations, but that doesn't mean it is right for everyone.
Do your due diligence and review your analytics, track your success, and optimize as needed. If you find that it is a waste of time or money, then don't do it anymore. Really, that is true for all the advertising, marketing, or communication that your church does. The goal is to connect people to Christ; these efforts are just tools to leverage for accomplishing that.
I would love to hear what you have experienced with remarketing in your congregation. If you have found it to be good, bad, or otherwise, just drop a note in the comments section below.
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