One of the greatest challenges advertisers face when running ads on social media platforms is a lack of strategy in their campaigns. The ability to produce results quickly, combined with the extremely user-friendly interface specifically designed to cut through the advertising middleman, has created a phenomenon. Having no marketing strategy became the new strategy and traditional marketing strategies and techniques were pushed to the sidelines. The revolutionary pixel-based optimization technologies shifted the entire focus to audience matching and automation, and to succeed, advertisers only needed to feed the advertising platforms with creatives and let the system do the rest.
Suddenly, new advertisers become marketing gurus and the old way of marketing was under threat. The fundamentals of marketing changed. Organic reach was at an all-time low and virtually every interaction point with your visitors now cost you money. The steps to sell to your potential customer had to be dramatically cut, and marketing strategies had to be reconstructed to fit the pay-to play-advertising model. Besides the sunrise and sunset, nothing good lasts forever. The low entry point for new advertisers resulted in an oversaturated market where advertisers competed for the same amount of users. Also, industries that had previously seen rapid growth in their ad performance started seeing a decline in the results of their ads. Strangely enough, advertisers and business owners started going back to look for traditional marketing strategies to implement in their paid social media marketing campaigns to find success again
Although there are many common strategies to discuss here, I chose the two that I believe are most common.
Bottom to Top Funnel Marketing Strategy
The idea here is simple. Separate users based on their intent level and show them ads that would resonate and correlate with that level of intent. New users who are unfamiliar with your brand (cold traffic) will be shown more brand building and discovery type ads. Users with high intent who are likely to purchase will be shown more aggressive ads that prompt the direct purchase of a product or service. The structure sounds rational. Why would someone purchase something from you if they don’t know your brand? How would they know it’s a reputable product? How will they be sold on the price tag if they don’t connect to the brand? If they like the product and believe the price is reasonable, what will stop them from price comparing on a website like Amazon to see if they can find something cheaper? All of the above questions are valid to support the need for a deeper and more engaging strategy.
I am not arguing whether or not this strategy works. I am simply raising the question as to whether it’s universal and if it fits all marketing platforms. If every part of your funnel would be labeled as an interaction point, how do you know how many interaction points are most effective? If every visitor is reached 10 times, perhaps he might have converted as well with just two or five interaction points? If every interaction costs money, perhaps it was better to focus fewer interactions on the same visitor and more on new visitors? Also, how do you know which creative to show at each step of your funnel? If you start your funnel with brand discovery ads, followed by offer ads and testimonials ads, how do you know which ads are most effective at each stage? Perhaps users behave differently on different social platforms? How do we even know that the conversion is a result of the funnel and not just simply because the user was interested in the product after the first impression? There are many other questions you should ask yourself to truly understand the value of this strategy.
These questions aim to challenge the bottom to top-funnel strategy and its effectiveness, but more than that, they are raised to present a more important question. If you can’t accurately measure a strategy and don’t have a direct cause and effect, you shouldn’t expect it to work. The bottom to top-funnel marketing strategy originated from email marketing and was later adapted by advertised into paid social marketing ads. The core issue of this is that email interactions were priced based on the size of the list of subscribers you have, not based on the number of emails (interactions) you sent them. On the other hand, interactions on paid ads are not free, each impression, regardless of the user, costs money. Therefore, the first interaction and the last interaction generally cost the same, and more investment on the same user will prevent you from investing more in new users. I’m not saying that investing in showing a user many ads is not a good investment, but the exact value should be carefully evaluated and tested across different strategies. You should strive to find the perfect balance between the number of users you target and the number of ads you show them.
If you are actively testing or would like to test the bottom to top-funnel strategy on social platforms, I recommend the following:
- Create a split test between different types of strategies to determine what’s the most effective length and engagement level to get a conversion and what’s the optimal cost. If you are getting results from your strategy, don’t assume the results for what they seem. A/B test different lengths for your funnel to find the perfect balance.
- Build your strategy based on your attribution window. If it takes a customer seven days from click to purchase, your funnel should be designed based on that time frame. If it takes a user one day from click to purchase, a long funnel won’t make sense.
- Let the optimization algorithm dictate which creatives to show at which point in your funnel. Yes, you might think that a specific creative belongs in the discovery stage while another belongs in the closing stage, but rest assured that the optimization algorithm can better match your creatives to the relevant audience at the best cost. Good ads don’t look like ads. A specific creative that you might think is better to promote branding might be better at converting the user. If you do segment your audiences into different ad sets/campaigns, test all creatives in each group so Facebook can find the best match between a creative, the relevant audience, and the best cost per conversion opportunity.
Value Before Sale Marketing Strategy
Another very well-known strategy among advertisers is the value before the sale strategy. This strategy suggests that you shouldn’t offer a user anything to purchase without first proving value. For example, instead of promoting the sale of the product in the first interaction with the user, you will first target them with ads that educate them about your product or gives them free related value on the same topic. This can be in the form of paid articles that advertisers write to educate users about a specific problem or a solution to a problem. These types of articles are called advertorials.
This can also be a video that promotes the brand’s credibility or any other form of free information designed to build the user’s trust in the brand. Once credibility has been established, the user will be targeted with ads to sell the product. If you trust my information and find value in it, you would be keener to purchase anything I offer you versus if I was a stranger.
If this strategy sounds similar to the first one, it is because it has similar elements. The difference is the bottom to top-funnel strategy has many different parts (segmentations), and each part has different creatives. In the value before sale strategy, there are two parts, ads that promote value and ads that promote the sale of the product or service.
While value before the sale is my preferred strategy out of the two, the effectiveness of using it in paid ads should be carefully examined. This marketing strategy dates back to previous centuries and was designed to be based on traditional marketing mediums. The most recent one is email marketing. Unlike paid ad platforms, email marketing isn’t priced based on the number of interactions you have with a user but based on the number of users you have. Therefore, a value before the sale or a bottom to top-funnel strategy would be more appropriate as you don’t need to rush to sell a user a product before he is ready. Using value before the sale in paid ads is very challenging for the following reasons:
- Ads inventory purchase. If you are paying for each interaction point with a user by showing him an ad, you are paying per impression. Unless users who see your value ad first convert at a 2X rate once they see your direct offer ad, you will be paying more per conversion. If showing your value ad doesn’t directly impact the cost of the conversion, it will increase your overall ad costs and impact negatively your ROAS.
- An overwhelming number of ads. The phenomenal optimization algorithm that helps you find the most relevant audience comes with a price. Guess what happens once you target a user and he finds your ad relevant? Within no time, they will be targeted with similar ads from your competitors. The algorithm piggybacked on other competitors’ data to find you relevant users, so the same will happen to your users. Unless your product or service is one-of-a-kind, you should expect your potential customers to be overwhelmed with similar ads and offers. Even if your user is captivated with your ad, how likely are they to remember to take action if, after seeing your ad, they are targeted aggressively with similar ads?
- Fewer cost-effective opportunities. When you dictate which ad you want to show and which user you want to show it to at which time, you are limiting the optimization of the algorithm’s freedom to find the most cost-effective opportunities. Reaching the same user at different times can have a different cost, as prices are set based on supply and demand. When you tell Facebook to first target a user with a value ad, then target the same user with an offer ad, you are forcing it to deliver to that user even if the cost is higher than normal.
What’s My Recommendation?
If you have made it through this entire article, that’s already a big step towards your conceptual understanding. Your main take away from this article should be the understanding that there are no copy and paste strategies that work the same for all campaigns. Also, if you are looking for framework references, you should look for effective strategies that are native to the advertising platform that you are using. Although there isn’t a universal strategy that you can simply copy and paste, here are a few of my recommendations:
- Many ways lead to purchase. Users respond differently to different ads. Regardless of your product or service, some respond well to direct sell ads, and some convert better when they are shown longer or more content-related ads. Just like you don’t know exactly which person is going to purchase from your audience, you don’t know which ad or strategy converts best. Your macro strategy should include many different micro strategies to find the most effective strategy for your customers. Using different strategies will allow you to not only find the most cost-effective strategy but will also open your door to more customers. Users are not created the same. They react differently to different ads. Having different approaches will allow you to attract a more diverse yet relevant user base.
- Maximum optimization algorithm freedom. We know now that machines beat humans on every parameter besides creativity. Ensure your campaigns have maximum flexibility and freedom to choose which creative to show to which person. You can create the desired structures and segmentations you want to test in your campaigns, but allow the optimization algorithm to decide which creative to show to which user. You can easily do this by loading up your ad sets and campaigns with many different creative variations.
- Timing is everything. A strategy that worked well yesterday, might not be effective today. Your quest for the perfect strategy should be ongoing. Your strategies should be an evolving concept.
The new digital age of advertising declared war on traditional marketing strategies. The death of organic reach, followed by pixel optimization domination changed the rules of the game for advertisers. Instead of focusing on slow-nurturing funnels that give value before the sale, advertisers had to find ways to cut their funnels dramatically and make every single ad count. The bottom to top-funnel and the value before sale funnel were two main traditional marketing strategies commonly used among advertisers. Advertisers who once thrived on new advertising platforms attempted to use these traditional marketing strategies to improve their performance on the platforms. Issues such as different pricing models, increased competition, and lack of platform adaptation limit the potential of these strategies in the new advertising age.