Modern brands have a lot on their plate.
Not only do they have to compete for market share, they also have to compete for advertising presence on platforms like Google and Facebook.
Rand Fishkin, Cofounder & CEO of SparkToro, is a proponent of diversifying where your ad dollars go.
He argues that when you build ad equity in smaller alternative spaces, it benefits you on the big channels, too.
So where can you go to reach your audience beyond Google and Facebook?
As part of our Wynter Games virtual event, Rand explained where to go to get the most mileage out of your ad budget.
Using Google & Facebook ads is like pushing a boulder up a hill
Many marketers have tunnel vision when it comes to advertising. They dedicated their budgets to Google and Facebook, and they never looked back.
Rand argues that to make the best advertising headway, you have to break up with Google & Facebook - or at least turn it into an open relationship.
Why you have to break up with Google & Facebook?
You simply can't build a true competitive advantage from Google and Facebook alone.
As you attempt to improve ROI and increase conversion rates, you spend more on targeted ads.
The competition is doing the exact same thing. And this can take you back to square one like a perpetual groundhog day.
“You spend more on your ads, you target those ads better. It's counteracted by more competition doing the same thing,” said Rand.
“And whenever Facebook or Google need to show wall street, more growth, boom. They just turn up the dial on how much all of us pay.
Each time you aim to grow, it’s harder
It's very frustrating. It's kind of what I call boulder pushing marketing. It feels so Sisyphean.
Every step of progress requires the same amount of effort. And so there's no gain in efficiency over time.”
Sure, in the short-term you might build up advertising ROI. But in the long-term, that ROI almost always gets reduced again by external market forces.
Each time you aim to grow by 10%, it’s harder than the last time.
The value of building an advertising flywheel
The alternative is to focus your energy on building what Rand calls an advertising flywheel.
While this model might take more up-front energy, it starts gaining momentum over time.
“The idea is that it scales with decreasing friction. I put energy into it. Yes, it's difficult. But over time it gets more and more efficient and runs on inertia,” Rand said.
“All the work and effort that I've done in the past makes it more effective the next time I want to turn the wheel.”
Advertising flywheel example
Imagine that you are a guest speaker on a podcast. You then boost the reach of that event by amplifying it.
You post about your podcast appearance, you get likes and shares, you grow your audience.
People download the podcast and visit your brand’s website. They sign up for your email list.
Next you improve your algorithmic signals. Because you were a guest on the podcast, the podcast host linked to your website.
Now you rank higher in Google.
Twitter starts to recommend you as someone to follow. And in slow but steady increments, your ROI grows.
“I'm building this competitive advantage over time,” said Rand.
“It'll be very difficult for someone new to come in after several years of me building up my flywheel, because they're starting from scratch.”
Alternative advertising channels = less competition
Rand described Google and Facebook as a monopoly. Because they have dominance in the market, they can set the rules - and the prices.
But if you explore alternative channels, you might find yourself in a space with few competitors, or even none at all.
And ironically, once you can swim free in channels with less competition, you actually become better equipped to take on competitive spaces like Google.
“When you go to these niche publishing sources, these new sources of influence, and you build your brand there, Facebook and Google themselves become better channels,” said Rand.
“So even if you're skeptical about me selling you on like going and doing all this other stuff, and you think, hey, my clients or my firm is always going to use Google and Facebook, that's fine. You can make them better by being everywhere else.”
An example of advertising on small channels
As an example, Rand described the incredible success of Nuova Marmotecnica, a small Italian company that makes marble mortar & pestles designed for making pesto by hand.
When Rand, an avid pasta lover, first encountered the product on Serious Eats, he was unconvinced.
Could a $220 “rock and stick” really be worth it?
But soon, he started seeing advertisements everywhere. Site and site and food blog after food blog were recommending Nuova Marmotecnica.
“The thing that happened here is that this brand, Nuova Marmotecnica, is like a little family run shop where they make their own mortar and pestles in Italy,” said Rand.
“They built up this brand equity across all these different sites. They had a great product, but they also had great brands ending in great marketing to reach into all these places.”
You can start to see how getting noticed repetitively on smaller channels where your target audience hangs out can be even more valuable than trying to compete on Google Ads from day one.
And the more effort you put into those alternative channels, the better the duopoly of Facebook and Google actually perform.
Five steps to better advertising
Rand recommends that brands look at five things when they begin their advertising journey.
- Figure out who your customers are
- Find the messages that resonate with them
- Uncover the sources that influence them
- Discover where those audiences engage
- Amplify messages that work in places they pay attention to
At the heart of this process is customer awareness.
You aren’t just trying to rank on Google for the world to see; you’re trying to get in front of your target customers on the channels that matter to them.
“You find the messages that resonate with them,” said Rand. “You find out where those audiences engage and go amplify the messages you know will work, in the places you know your audience pays attention.”
To that end, you can begin this process by interviewing customers and buying audiences that you think might be a good fit for your product.
You have to pursue the type of conversations that allow you to get a sense of your customers one-on-one.
As you continue your advertising process, you can also pursue feedback in the form of customer surveys.
“You can do this whether you're B2C or B2B, surveys are great,” said Rand.
Customer knowledge increases conversions
At SparkToro, one survey question Rand’s team asked was “how would you describe SparkToro to a friend.”
The responses actually led them to revamp the home page of the website, which in turn resulted in a markedly better conversion rate.
“Now we have audience attributes, right? We know how people describe themselves. We know what they talk about. We know things they pay attention to,” said Rand.
“Some of them, we know interests, hobbies, passions, job titles, all that. And so we can now go plug that into a tool like SparkToro.”
Once you start finding opportunities to pitch content contributions, sponsorships, and co-marketing, you’ll notice the benefits of ad diversification.
Tools like SparkToro and SimilarWeb are incredibly helpful for allowing you to hone in on new advertising channels.
Just input keywords and hashtags used by your customers, and out pop recommendations for places your audience congregates.
Prioritize email and (non-Facebook) social media
Capturing customer email addresses is also highly beneficial. In fact, email open rates are nearly 252x higher than average Facebook page engagement.
“I would take an email over 500 new Facebook fans,” said Rand. “One email address is worth that much more to me.
And emails convert, by the way. Emails still convert.
Despite the prevalence of things like Gmail's promotions tab and all the filters, emails work really well.”
Social media can also be a treasure trove when it comes to broadening your channels.
Non-Facebook platforms such as Pinterest, Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and webinars can all provide value.
“These sources rock, I get incredible amounts of value from them,” Rand said. “And I know that other brands do too, because I'm talking to marketers from all sorts of places.”
The concept of “Digital PR” is that you need to start by finding one source that already reaches your target audience, such as a podcast or blog.
Next, you earn that audiences’ attention by providing a unique value.
Then, you drive them to visit your website (ideally using a non-promotional call to action).
“You try and turn their audience into your audience with your own episodic content series or free tools that capture an email address,” said Rand.
“Then you repeat this process. This can be incredibly effective and help you break out of the duopoly.”
Watch Rand's Wynter Games talk here!