Social advertising is powered by data to generate, target and deliver relevant brand messages. When done right, social ads can be extremely effective, enabling retailers to build campaigns around their specific goals and drive high ROI. But that’s easier said than done: although digital ad spending hit $209 billion in 2017, brands sometimes struggle to yield positive results from their social ad campaigns.
Why is that? The answer can be found in how retailers approach paid social.
Following is a look at where businesses are focusing their social advertising efforts as well as the different components of a social ad, and how retailers can maximize these to be more effective with their social ad campaigns:
The Social Ad Funnel
Data from the Pattern89 Data Co-op, which contains millions of anonymous data points from hundreds of brands and hundreds of millions in advertising spend, shows us where brands spend the most: Conversion is the goal for 72.5% of ads (bottom of funnel). Only 17% of ads focus on consideration (middle of funnel), and just 10% are built to drive awareness (top of funnel). Brands that skip top-of-funnel advertising can lose out on opportunities to educate new prospects, drive website traffic, offer relevant content or engage existing customers.
The typical retailer’s Facebook funnel is built using the channel’s three main ad objectives and starts with Awareness, followed by Consideration and ends, ideally, with Conversion. The data above tells us that Facebook advertisers focus most on the bottom of the funnel, while all but neglecting top-of-funnel messaging. Focusing on bottom-of-funnel conversions can also lead to audience exhaustion: targeting the same people with the same, or similar, messages will eventually turn them off.
Instead of focusing on conversion-only campaigns, retailers should plant top-of-funnel audience seeds which, with the right tending, can grow into new retargeting audiences. The fuller the top of the funnel, the more chances an ad has to convert near the end of a customer journey.
Also, brands should create ads that speak specifically to each stage of the buyer’s journey. Focusing on the entire funnel can save retailers money: the fewer unsuccessful conversion-goal ads a brand runs, the more they can spend on ads that engage users at other stages. In addition, a balanced funnel should lead to better, more segmented audiences. Retailers should experiment with exploratory audiences, lookalikes and retargeting, and match creative and messaging to fit each target.
Ad Elements Dissection
There are many elements to a social ad that can be used at each funnel stage. Following is a close look at three.
Creative: Video vs. Images
Creative is one of the most critical parts of a social ad’s success. And video can have a larger impact on an ad’s performance than a simple image: a 2017 Buzzsumo study revealed that videos are the most engaging format on Facebook, with posts featuring videos performing slightly better than images. And in late 2017, eMarketer reported a surge in Instagram video engagement: numbers for videos from top media publisher accounts worldwide increased by 53% year over year in May, 7% higher than the growth rate for photos over the same timeframe.
Video is an established mainstay among social media users, but data shows that brands are woefully behind in actually delivering the video content their audiences want. There’s a list of perceived barriers to creating engaging video content — equipment, cost, time, quality — but even smartphone-shot video, edited with readily available software, can help deliver brand messaging in an authentic and captivating way. An investment in video doesn’t have to break a marketing team’s budget — in fact, there’s a growing number of mobile apps designed specifically to help retail marketers create images and videos for social media ads.
The most important part of a social ad is its call-to-action (CTA). An effective CTA pushes its reader to act: whether that’s driving traffic to a site or buying a product, the best CTA is the one that works.
Retailers must choose the right CTAs for each ad. Identifying recurring themes in how audiences react to CTAs, as well as other parts of an ad, can help point toward ways to improve future ads and campaigns.
Emotion: Ad Sentiment
An audience’s reaction toward an ad can be shaped by any of its attributes, but sentiment can have a surprising effect as well. Pattern89 Data Co-op data shows that an awareness ad with neutral sentiment — an ad that doesn’t purport to be better or worse than a competitor, for instance — gets a return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) more than twice that of a negative ad. And during the conversion phase, neutral ads outperform negative ads by as much as 65%. With results like these, it’s easy to see why the body copy of an ad can carry so much weight: the attitude of an ad can change that viewer’s attitude as well.
Social advertising requires a balanced, full-funnel approach: successful retailers create social campaigns that engage potential customers consistently, from awareness to conversion. And, every component of a social ad can impact performance so needs to be well crafted for each funnel stage — and modified when appropriate.
To be most effective, retailers should take the points above into consideration and test their social ads at scale to identify successful patterns and refine ads as needed. Just as the channels and objectives of social advertising constantly change, retailers must embrace experimentation as the best way to stay competitive. By learning how to improve each element of social ads, brands will be able to deliver better messaging, attract more customers, build better relationships and drive more conversions.
R.J. Talyor is CEO and Founder of Pattern89