A mini sales funnel for when you (or your clients) didn’t plan ahead and need sales, AB testing & retargeting ASAP.

Plus, a reason to put that brand activation video to good use.

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

In a dream world, we’d all have our marketing plans ready a year in advance and have every quarter mapped out.

Sounds amazing.

Except, the world doesn’t always work that way.

Things change in a flash. Funding comes out of nowhere, or a new client needs help NOW for a project they should have contacted you about weeks or months ago.

I see it often with startups, it’s a brutal combo of inexperience and shaky funding. Either the team’s a bit bare on the marketing side and don’t realize they need an ad strategy until it is late in the game, or the funding for an ad campaign isn’t a sure thing…until it is.

This will leave you in the lurch, and while marketing should never be an emergency, if you ask yourself if the launch can wait long enough to map out a fully realized marketing plan and the answer is no…it’s time to lean on methods that are tried and true.

I’ve tried them, and they work (it’s true). You’ll get enough insights to dictate future advertising strategies, and enough results to justify the efforts.

If you can scrape up budget, a decent video of your product/service/brand, and a week of time, you can do the following on Facebook & Instagram using the Facebook Ads Manager interface:

  • make sales!
  • raise awareness for your brand
  • A/B test captions for a winning brand tagline
  • narrow down an audience of people based on assumptions you’ve made about who to target (test those personas!)
  • create a functional retargeting audience of warm leads on Facebook & Insta
  • build a lookalike audience of new leads and A/B test them against the audience targeting you assumed from your personas
  • make sales!

While there are many nuanced ways to test a funnel and gently warm up your leads, sometimes all your client needs is a basic 2 part campaign to get them started.

Is this method as elegant as can be? Not always, but it gives you insights on your audience, and still gets you ROI while you’re testing assumptions.

Phase 1: Awareness

This is a great time to put that brand video to good use. For all the money spent on these 30–90-second spots they rarely get a lot of airtime. For organic reach they’re usually too “me-centric”, with the “me” being your brand or company. If it is “feel good”, or just plain cool, now is your chance to use it.

Typically, video sucks for converting prospects to sales. It’s really only good for awareness.

Most people (if they even make it through the first 10 seconds) aren’t going to convert on a video alone.

This is rough, I have seen clients drop major cash on brand activation videos, event recaps and other video content only to get dismal results once shared.

Video is cool, absurdly popular with content creators, and a great way to communicate a message, but we’re looking for dollars and cents here.

If you’re getting the sense that I’m not a huge fan of big spend for high-end produced videos, you’re right.

The conversion junky in me cringes when I see people spend $3,000 on a video when they could have tossed half of that on an ad campaign on social and reached way more viable leads.

So… you already dropped the cash on a video, let’s put it to good use as a killer way to test the interest of a wider audience.

Start with a FB & Instagram ad campaign with the ad objective of video views.

Yes, this ad objective is getting you brand awareness but, more importantly, it will allow you to divide your targeting by people who show interest in your brand.

You’ve got your personas and some vague ideas of targeting by now, and if you don’t…this is not the article for you. Start here, do your foundational work, and don’t look at running paid ads until then.

Got your targeting ready? This is where we begin.

Create your first ad and target it to the geographic locations you sell to & narrow the audience as much as possible. Optimize for views of 15 seconds or more, Facebook ads manager currently calls these “ThruPlays”.

I only place these ads in feeds, marketplace, and stories on Facebook and Instagram. Audience network may get a lot of low-cost views but they are rarely quality.

I ignore audience network ads when I watch videos and other users do too, hence the low cost. I’m happy to pay a bit more for someone to view my ad in a location where they are more likely (and able) to interact with the ad and explore my brand pages.

Target wisely

For targeting, say I’m launching a new virtual reality dance game. I’m going to target users in Japan & the USA with interest in virtual reality, VR gaming, VR headsets and the behavior of buying a game in the last year or so.

Use your head here, don’t just target people because you want them to buy. Lean into your personas and buyer behaviors.

I didn’t include China when they have the 3rd highest percentage of VR headset owners because my persona research showed they tend to pirate their games rather than purchase. US & Japan VR users BUY games, and don’t just torrent them, so I’m narrowing my audience to the people most likely to hand over their cold hard cash.

Use hard logic when you narrow your audience. Even though it’s technically an awareness ad, you don’t want to waste time showing your ads to people who won’t convert.

I can’t narrow it down to VR users who love dance games because Facebook doesn’t give me that granularity, but one of the goals of this first part of the ad is to narrow down this huge audience. Pick the best behaviors & interests you can for this phase.

Learn something while you’re at it.

If you’re interested in testing captions or taglines (and you should be), set up an A/B test using the same video but different primary text.

You don’t have to do this part, but if you’re already in there…split your budget and learn something!

What’s in it for me?

Why start with a video views campaign when you could just dive straight into sending traffic to your sales page or shop?

It’s all about the insights and creating assets you can continue to use in the future.

Your goal with this first phase is to use a portion of your overall budget (maybe ¼ a ⅕ of your total) to create an informed retargeting audience from the people who watch 15 seconds or more of your video (a ThruPlay).

The bigger your budget on this part, the better, but you still want to reserve a big chunk for your phase 2 push (since that is where you make money).

For my VR dance game, I had a budget of $2500 for the entire launch.

I used $500 for the first part of the ad. It’s big enough to get good reach, but saves most of my budget for the ad that is targeted to make sales.

That budget of $500 on a recent video views campaign in the gaming industry netted 15,000+ ThruPlays, your mileage may vary based on the industry you’re in but keep in mind that skimping on budget here makes it harder to get a well-informed audience for phase 2.

What to watch while the ad runs

Yea, it’s not Netflix (sorry not sorry)…you should be closely watching your results in ads manager as they run.

While the ad is running I am looking for a few specific things.

Performance of course, and making sure I am getting a good number of views that match my expectations. If performance starts to decrease or the cost per results starts to creep up, I need to investigate why. I’m looking for a steady decline in cost per result, and a steady increase in performance as the ad gains steam.

I’m also looking at the cost per result and comparing that to industry benchmarks. I’m trying to outcompete my industry, naturally.

Finally, frequency, I watch this metric obsessively on all ads.

Frequency is the number of times someone is shown your ad. You can push this number to around 2 or 3 on most campaigns and feel good about how well your audience size is matched to your ad spend.

If you exceed a frequency of 3, your audience is too small for your budget. If it hovers around 1 (which mine often do for this phase) it means your targeting is broad and you can add more budget if you have it, or narrow your targeting without exhausting your audience.

For an awareness ad, I’m happy with the value near 1 since I am narrowing this audience using the results of this ad for a follow-up ad. The more people the better, within reason.

I shouldn’t have to say it but…watch your comments too. You should respond to every single one, even the trolls. Kill them with kindness if you have to, and most of all… be human. People want to talk to people on social media, not corporate drones. Phrase your replies accordingly.

After your video views campaign, make an audience (or two)

After your video views campaign ends, create an audience based on the people who watched 15 seconds or more of your video. These people are the warmer leads from the group targeted in phase 1.

You can create and start populating this audience before the first phase of your campaign ends, it will keep growing as the ad runs.

Once that retargeting audience populates, create lookalike audiences from that retargeting audience. We’ll use these in the next ad we run. I usually start with a 1% match to test first, but you can benchmark this based on audience size. If it’s too small, make a few extra.

Setting Up Ad #2, Time to Send Traffic to Your Shop

Next up, an ad optimized for link clicks. It’s finally time to get humans to your store to buy your product (cha-ching!).

In this phase we not only test the effectiveness of our new lookalikes, but we also make sales. Win-win.

Is it clunky? Hell yea. This is not your refined, elegant six-part sales funnel, this is a slam-bam two-part retargeting funnel.

We’re getting insights, but they’re limited to what we can pull off in a week with little to no planning. I use these as a springboard to pitch more refined campaigns with clients once they see good numbers and results from this quickie campaign.

We’re aiming to learn something while still making sales, it’s good for tight budgets and short time frames.

Tight budgets when you can’t afford to keep running multiple phases with lower ROI to filter your audience, and short time frames because you (or your client) didn’t plan far enough ahead.

In this phase we can use static imagery, a product image carousel, or with my VR dance game example — a gif of gameplay.

Video is usually a bad call for conversions, but in some cases you must use your best judgement based on the product.

A dance game just doesn’t look as fun in a screenshot so a 6-second looping gif was a safer bet. Again, your mileage may vary with the creative you choose, so use your head here and match it to your product and industry.

Better yet…A/B test your creative. You’re running the ads anyways and they all go to your store, there’s no reason not to learn something from any campaign you run. Test something. Every time.

Learn something in phase 2…A/B test your audience

Here we’ll get to validate the lookalike audience we set up by testing it against the wide-open targeting you used in the first video views campaign.

We’re looking to see if the audience created from the people who expressed interest in your video will outperform the ones on the behavior-based targeting.

Set up this ad to optimize for link clicks to your shop and A/B test the audience you target. One will be the lookalike, and one will be the audience from the first ad.

What about your retargeting group?

For truly statistically significant results you’d leave them out, but I never want to leave out a group that has already been warmed up. This is marketing, not a science lab at MIT. I’ll often add the seed retargeting audience in with the lookalike group since they share targeting.

My undergrad lab professors would cringe at this sloppy experiment design but I’m here for ROI and insights, not publishing to a peer-reviewed journal.

You could also put them in a 3rd test variant, but with such vastly different audience sizes, you would need to balance the budget distribution to draw any conclusions from an ABC test.

Since this is a quick and dirty AB test, you can gain enough insights to validate your lookalike audience (even with them bundled with the retargeting audience) when your audience is 2.7million+ people.

I’d recommend combining your retargeting and lookalike audiences for simplicity, but know there are other ways to test if you choose to do so.

Ship it!

And now, we ship the second ad and see what happens.

You’ll be looking at sales, link clicks traffic, and if you can, your google analytics page to validate the traffic. If you have google analytics, never forget to add your custom tracking to each store page URL so you can see in the GA dashboard which ad is sending the traffic.

Now we wait.

While your ad runs you’ll get to track sales, and once its over will see whether or not your lookalike outperformed the loose targeting you used in your first phase.

I’m still watching the frequency metric (and responding to comments) on this one. Your frequency should be a little higher since your budget is higher and your audience size is similar.

Make money, learn something. An ideal goal for any ad.

Since we’re already optimizing for sales in phase 2, this campaign is a good way to get insights on a tight budget. So long as the traffic converts you’re making money while learning something.

These audiences are for keeps, and you can continue using them for future ad campaigns, and expanding to more lookalike audiences as well. Keep using them, keep testing them.

Yes, there are more detailed, elegant ways to funnel prospects, but this one-two punch of a retargeting campaign can be run in a week and set up fast.

For my VR dance game, it ran a mere two days for the video views, plus five-ish for the link clicks part of the campaign. This campaign model is a great fit for last-minute launches or new releases if you time the changeover between ads to your launch day.

Now it’s time for you to get out there, run some tests, and make money.

I’d love to hear in the comments below, what’s your go-to for last-minute ad campaigns?

*This article originally appeared on Medium

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