WPP’s media agency GroupM recently updated its estimates for U.S. advertising expenditures and made an impressive discovery. For the first time ever, digital ads accounted for more than half of all ad spending in a year. GroupM predicts $110.1 billion was spent on digital ads in 2020, which means 51% of all spending (minus political ads) went toward digital advertisements.
In 2021, that number will rise to more than 54%, with a predicted $130 billion of the total $240 billion spent on advertising going toward digital avenues. The biggest beneficiaries of that spending? Google, Facebook and Amazon. They’ve got a hold of about two-thirds of the U.S. digital advertising market, with no signs of slowing down.
Customers are still focusing their attention toward digital and e-commerce avenues in lieu of stepping into physical stores. Even after the pandemic subsides, plenty of people will keep their shopping habits digital-only.
The takeaway for brands is simple. If you’re not incorporating digital ads into your marketing strategy, you risk falling behind your competition. Luckily, it’s not too late to get started or to improve on your advertising efforts. Here are five tips to make sure your next campaign delivers the results you want.
Don’t overspend, especially in the early stages
Digital spending may be getting more attention than ever before, but that doesn’t mean your particular campaign needs a lot of dollars behind it. What matters is how you allocate those dollars.
“In most markets, you can spend less than $50 to learn something significant about your audience and their response to an ad,” says Kayla Moses, CX Designer at GoDaddy. “There’s no need to spend several thousands of dollars on Facebook ads until you really understand how they work. Even then, you don’t need that hefty of a budget to be successful—$50, $100, $250 a month sustains many new advertisers.”
Especially in a post-Covid world, most digital campaigns should test the waters before diving in. You’ll want to see how your customers are responding to your ads first. You can always add more money to a strongly performing campaign later on.
Be prepared to do math
Don’t worry, this isn’t like that time the teacher called you to the front of the class to demonstrate how to do a complex calculus problem. Digital platforms give you ample amounts of advertising data. You likely won’t need all of it, though, so that means playing around with some numbers.
On Facebook, for example, you may run a general awareness campaign if your brand is lesser known. But with a bit of recognition behind it—or during a retargeting campaign—you’ll want people to take action with clicks and conversions.
“In terms of data, running Facebook ads is the best,” says Zack Hurley, founder of Indie Source. “Use it to determine where your customers are and create a strategy around getting in front of them. Get them to click on the page so they go to your website, and it’s just math from there. What percentage of people clicked on the ad? What percentage of people that went onto the site actually bought something?”
Know Your Audience
The data you receive on your ads can highlight what’s resonating with people. As always, use A/B testing with any campaign you do. Perhaps your target audience is 25 to 44 years old, but within that range, there may be a preference for how they like to receive content.
For instance, the 25-to-34 audience may prefer receiving their content as a video with a longer introduction of several sentences or paragraphs of text they can read while the video plays. Meanwhile, your 35-to-44 audience would rather see a post with an engaging image and a quick line of text.
Once you segment your different audience groups, it becomes more obvious what types of content they want to see from you. The next time you run an ad, use that knowledge to your advantage. You can also pull insights from Google Analytics and pair that with your digital ad campaigns. If a certain page, product or service is garnering a lot of attention from a particular demographic, it could be worth putting more of your ad spend to push traffic toward that specific page. And don’t be afraid to get creative with your targeting.
“I’ve found people mainly target based on gender, age and geography, when you can do so much more than that on Facebook,” says Emily Branson, Media Manager (Digital & Social), Ampersand Agency. “You can retarget based on organic activity, paid ad activity, website visitors, loyalty club members, device ID audiences, and more.”
As Branson notes via retargeting methods, determining where your audience is hanging out is only part of the battle. You also need to know what they’re setting out to do.
Understand what your audience is trying to accomplish
Your potential customers may be a great fit for your brand, but if you’re getting in front of them at the wrong times, they’ll likely pass right on by. It’s critical to understand your audience’s behavior and to offer digital advertising that solves their problem. And since the Covid-19 pandemic began, consumer attitudes and behaviors have shifted.
Your existing customers are a great place to start exploring these new mindsets. Send them surveys or set up customer interviews to garner feedback on both current and future products and services. Their insights can help you focus your digital advertising. You can even share a few ads with them and ask which one resonates the strongest.
Google Ads offers fairly extensive research in the form of its Keyword Planner, particularly around long-tail keywords. You may find popular related searches you never would have thought of including in a campaign.
“Google is great if you have a product people are directly searching for, if it’s intent-driven and you can be found with that,” says Hurley. “People that are looking for clothing manufacturers on Google find us that way, both through organic search and ads.”
Remember the point of each platform, too. On social media, most users are in a browse-and-scroll mindset. On Amazon, people are there to buy products. Customers are using Google to search for more information on a topic. Consider those objectives when looking at audience behavior.
“I would say it’s more about who you’re targeting, rather than what you’re selling,” Branson says. “We see varying success depending on who we’re targeting. For example, if we’re targeting adults ages 18 to 30, we typically see more success on a platform like Snapchat. However, if we’re trying to reach adults 50 and over, we see more success on Facebook.”
Borrow ideas from your competitors
If inspiration isn’t hitting you, you can always take a look at what your competitors are doing.
You’ve likely been served an ad on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. What did you like about it? What could have been done better? Was there a line that really stuck with you?
Don’t be afraid to borrow an idea or two from your competitor. That doesn’t mean copy their ad verbatim. Rather, try to evoke a similar emotion from your customer that will inspire them to take the action you want.
You can also apply that knowledge to the format of your advertising. If your brand is more visual, a display or Instagram Shop ad would make more sense than a text-heavy Facebook post.
A tool like Ubersuggest can show you the “keyword gaps” between you and your competitors. You’ll plug in your website and see your strongest keywords, but you can also discover areas where they’re ranking and you’re not. When you’re putting a Google or Amazon campaign together, you can use those keywords to make sure you’re getting in front of the right people—and ahead of the competition.
Over on Amazon, research products similar to yours. You can see what categories they’re selling in, check out their descriptions, and read customer reviews, which will highlight key features that your potential customers will also likely find important. Then, you can weave those components into your Amazon Ads campaigns.
There are even niche tools for specific verticals. For example, Publisher Rocket focuses on books and e-books. If you or your brand is planning to release a book, you can see what keywords your competition is ranking for and build a strategy on how to overtake them.
Remember to diversify
Digital ads should certainly be a part of your marketing strategy, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus. While Facebook, Google and Amazon are receiving the most money, there are plenty of other viable choices for advertising to your customers.
Alternative digital options, like programmatic ads on platforms such as Spotify or Blip Billboards can introduce your brand to new audiences. Radio and podcast marketing are alive and thriving, too. Don’t discount the power of print advertising, either. For the right targets, hyperlocal newspapers and magazines or cool mailer campaigns can still make a strong impact.
“Digital is, and has been, the future, and Covid-19 showed us just that,” says Branson. “There are so many people online in this day and age. It’s such a great way to reach your core customers. That said, I don’t think it’s a solid strategy to rely solely on Facebook or digital ads. It’s important to have a very well-rounded strategy that includes digital, social and traditional media.”
Invest in Digital
Understand what each campaign type offers, too. Are you trying to accomplish something with a Facebook ad that could be better achieved with a native display ad? Moses emphasizes the importance of having the right expectations around any digital efforts and using a mix of tactics to get the results you need.
“Social ads get a bad reputation for being too passive; if someone is browsing Instagram or Facebook, they’re not usually actively shopping,” Moses says. “The benefit isn’t that you capture someone and they want to purchase right then and there, but does any advertising genuinely work like this? It’s about gathering insights on your individual audience and then being able to show them again and again, until you’ve got them hooked on your brand.”
A clear objective for any advertising campaign is a must, but it’s especially critical for digital ones. Be willing to invest the time and effort to research your audience and understand their behaviors, and you’ll see the results.
And as Covid-19 has taught us, things can shift quickly. What worked last year probably won’t work again this year but discovering that new success is half the fun.