Online advertising in 2021 is an essential activity for any business online. Even though old school marketing tactics are still relevant for some industries, Customer Acquisition is be the backbone for any company that is looking for growth. At this point, it’s not even a competitive advantage, it’s really just table stakes and if you’re not building out a funnel that leads to profitability, you’re at a major disadvantage.
Online advertising offers many possibilities, but every business is different and all channels might not be the right fit for your product or service. Unlike old fashioned marketing strategies that could eat a massive part of your planned budget without verifiable returns, online advertising provides flexible testing actions where you don’t need to invest much to make an informed decision about the benefit of the tested ads.
The most significant players today when it comes to paid online advertising are Google Ads and Facebook Ads, but Snapchat Ads and Pinterest Ads are starting to make inroads into the day-to-day advertising budgets for our clients and especially for the general media buying industry.
Well, it’s really not that simple, and it might take some time to decide which will be the best solution for you, and it might even be both. The process involves a series of testing, A/B tests on each of the platforms until you find the right target audience or keyword combinations. When you do find the right people, you still need to test creative and messaging.
It’s all about testing and learning. And, yes, the two platforms have a lot of things in common, but there are some significant differences that you need to know before you decide what will be the best fit for your business.
How does each advertising platform work?
The first and most prominent difference is the advertising model and the way a user or customer engages with the platform. On some websites and platforms, you are browsing and clicking away vs. others where you are searching for something specific or even at a broad level. So, what are these? This is where the “discovery” vs. “intent” based platforms comes into play.
Finding Out The Purchase Intent
People behave differently on Facebook and Google and knowing these behaviors can help you tremendously. It’s important to understand how buyers behave before they are ready to make a purchase. Do they go and search their product on a search engine first? Do they browse Instagram and enter your purchase funnel directly that way? Or, are most purchases through an email later in the funnel.
For example, if you have a water leak in your kitchen, you would immediately want to find a plumber to fix your problem. Therefore, there is a great possibility that you will search for a plumber in your area on Google first. Or, if you are looking for a pair of “gucci sunglasses”, you might look on Google Search or Google Shopping for the pair you want and the best deal for it. Search ads will place an ad from your business in front of a potential buyer right when that product or service is needed. Someone who needs plumbing services won’t remember an ad from Facebook they saw a month ago and decide to buy the service, they will Google it.
If you are a women’s apparel company though that wants to reach new customers or audiences, you would be better off building out your funnel by targeting audiences on Facebook or Instagram and trying to get people to discover your brand in the feed. By reaching them while they are looking to discover new things, you could guide them directly into a new purchase funnel with new styles, new collections, seasonal specials, etc. OR indirectly get them signed up to email so your brand is top of mind when they are looking for that cool comfy new pair of leggings.
What is a discovery ad platform?
The best way to explain this is that Facebook (and Instagram alike) are both what we call “discovery platforms”, meaning people are browsing, scrolling, and clicking away while they discover new content. While they are doing that and scrolling through their feeds, they will come across ads that are interesting, engage with those ads, click on them, visit and website and either purchase a product or sign up for a service. Or, they see ads that are interesting and the brand/company sticks with them until a later date when they act upon it via retargeting ads OR some form of a trigger based email marketing funnel.
Facebook is a social channel and is similar to display advertising model with ads on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and in their audience network partners. Snapchat and Pinterest are much of the same, a model where people discover content and become interested in it. That’s why we call these “discovery platforms.” There are various placements within each of these platforms from news feed to stories and much more. All of these Social Ad platforms allow targeting based on various demographics and interests.
What is an Intent Based Ad Platform?
On the other hand, you have “intent based platforms”, Google being the most prominent and frankly it dwarfs Bing in every possible way. (that’s why you hear everyone say “I googled” vs. I “searched for”). In an Intent based ad platform, people are searching for a product or service and are generally looking to act upon the intent they have. This means they have “intent” to purchase something, sign up for a service, OR there are definitely tons of searches that are research focused but still can lead to a purchased. In an intent based platform, the search keywords are the intent. Generally intent based models have a much higher purchase rate or conversion rate because they are specifically looking for that product or service. It is almost always closer to the bottom of a conversion funnel.
Google Ads use pay per click models around keywords and display ads in the search results based on the promoted keywords. The targeting in Google Ads search is mostly keyword driven and not as robust as social ad platforms that target on based on user demographics. However, Google has other types of ads that are more flexible in terms of targeting, such as video and display ads. The great advantage Google has is the number of placements and types of placements in their Google Ads platform, with Google Search, YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, and their Display Network.
Building Your Goals Based on Audiences, Scale, and Funnels
Now, just knowing the above on “intent based” vs. “discovery based” targeting, won’t give you enough information to chose between the platforms. You will need to take it a step deeper in understanding how people interact on each and what product or service you are offering. Also, understanding the CPCs (Cost Per Click) and narrowing in on what your CPA (Cost Per Action) on either platform will be crucial. Usually, people use Google for conversions and Facebook for Brand Awareness and Audience growth. However, this is not a rule, where you place your ads will be dictated by the behavior and the presence of your target audience on a particular platform.
At a very basic example, we have a B2B customer we worked with at a CPA of around $100, which is a very profitable CPA for the client. Initially Google was performing best but along the way we found some broad targeting on Facebook that worked as we scaled, while we were limited in Google by the volume of searches being done monthly. So, while Google performed well initially it was limited by reach and Facebook brought us the major scale that we would have never reached if we focused only on intent based search ads, the discovery element allowed the brand to be seen by many and brought in new audiences.
This is not always the case for SaaS based products doing customer acquisition. We have had other B2B clients where a $100 Customer Acquisition Cost would be wildly ineffective. And, we have seen many that Google was way more profitable of a channel and Facebook was so expensive, it could not compete or wouldn’t be possible to maintain within the existing budgets.
Even though in the last couple of years Facebook has made great strides when it comes to this, the iOS 14 and overall privacy impacts have been seen across the board, and really remind us that the intent driving conversions is a large part of the marketing funnel.
E-Commerce bears the same burdens in a lot of ways, the ROAS is very effective on Google and much of the time we are limited to the scale of the keywords with efficiency for the specific company. Facebook has proved to be very valuable in driving audience growth through Prospecting and Awareness based campaigns that we convert through bottom of funnel behaviors. Things like abandon cart or other conversion behaviors that we are able to build through retargeting and email.
In general, Facebook ads have a usually been a most cost effective CPC and CPM then Google, however the purchase or sign up intent is not as high. You need to make your decision based on your defined goals. Each platform has its benefits and you need to find a balance of scale and performance in order to grow your audience and reach them.
Ultimately, you have to be flexible and test through all of this if you want to find ways to grow your revenue and do so profitably from online advertising channels. There is a seemingly never-ending set of experiments and new placements and channels with new challenges all the time. It’s important your customer acquisition programs are setup in a way to adapt to this and adjust based on the success you are seeing at any given time. By doing so, you are not only investing in your business but also in a scalable model that can improve the health of your company efficiently.
Even though, sometimes it’s challenging to invest more money in marketing, especially during the expansion stage, it is critically important to keep testing both and use this model to see where you will see the most efficiency. Understand where your buyer is, the intent behind their searches, and where they go to discover new brands. Don’t limit your company to one platform only, because you might discover that there are much better and cost-effective ways to increase your sales. Think of online advertising as a never-ending field full of possibilities, and you will always make the right decision.