Small business digital advertising bakeoff

What’s working today for small budget advertising? For my book, the biggest social network of all: Facebook.

leading-innovation-cspenn-portrait-book-cover.pngOver the last week and a half, I’ve been busy launching my new book, Leading Innovation. In my normal duties at SHIFT Communications, I have access to budgets in the thousands of dollars or more for clients who have objectives other than pure direct-sales ROI.

When I’m doing my own work, I pay as I go; pre-orders fund the first round of advertising, and I only add budget as I earn it. Why? This methodology keeps me laser-focused on ROI. Neutral or negative ROI gets the ax; like many small businesses, I can’t pay for more advertising with money I don’t have. This is a key point: my strategy is to sell as many books as possible at the highest margins achievable. Not every author has the same strategy or goals, nor should they.

What did I do to launch my book? I had earned enough in pre-orders to sustain a week-long ad campaign on three different ad networks: Google’s AdWords, Twitter, and Facebook.

  • To maximize ROI, I focused my ad campaigns on all three networks to my existing audiences only.
  • I’ve had retargeting tracking bugs on my website for several years, tagging every visitor for inclusion in product launch campaigns.
  • I also used Customer Match on AdWords, Tailored Audiences on Twitter, and Custom Audiences on Facebook, using my email newsletter list as the data source.
  • I used the same copy and/or images for all three networks. Facebook’s campaign also included Instagram.
  • I also included email marketing for comparison, since I’m an avid user of WhatCounts Publicaster, still the greatest email marketing software on the planet.

How did the testing go? Which service did the best? The results:

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Of the ad networks, Facebook thus far has done the best – but still has negative ROI. Twitter did the worst by far, with incredibly high costs and lackluster performance.

Some caveats:

All campaigns capped their budgets daily. It’s entirely possible that they could have performed better with additional upfront investment; whenever an ad campaign caps its budget, you’ve left audience on the table. However, like any other small business, I could afford what I could afford.

Email isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison because it’s a monthly fee, rather than a media buy. Keep that in mind.

AdWords was search plus display retargeting only.

None of these campaigns did any kind of outreach or brand building to net new audiences. These campaigns only focused on monetizing existing audiences. For larger brands, net new audiences and brand building matters. For the small business / sole proprietor, we rely on organic methods to grow our audiences and paid methods to monetize them.

What should you take away from my testing?

The most important lesson you can take away is to run a similar test. My audience is unique to me. My results will be unique to me.

Set up a similar test for your own marketing with the budget you have, with the audience you have, with the copy and creative you have.

Find out what works best for you. Keep an eagle eye on ROI. Do more of what works, less of what doesn’t work.


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Top Marketing Trends of 2016: Traditional Digital Marketing Methods

In this multi-part series, we’ll look at upcoming trends in marketing in 2016 you should be prepared to address. Today, we’re looking at our stalwart marketing methods and how they’re faring.

Some digital marketing methods are as old as the Internet itself. Search engine optimization, or SEO, has been around since the first search engine in the late 1990s. Email marketing is arguably older than that. How will these traditional methods fare in the upcoming year? Let’s look at the chart!

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Our traditional methods aren’t going anywhere. Above, I’ve charted out 5 topics using Google Trends.

  • The blue line represents email marketing. Email is the ultimate reliable trend – steady since 2005.
  • The red dotted line represents the topic of SEO. SEO commands the highest share of attention.
  • The yellow dotted line represents the topic of affiliate marketing. After a decline in the late 2000s, affiliate marketing has remained a stable field of interest.
  • The green line represents display advertising, or visual ads. Very few people search for it.
  • The purple dotted line represents Google’s AdWords product. AdWords peaked in 2012/2013 but still remains a huge interest of marketers.

Why do Google Trends matter? Trends charts out searches over time. The more people search for something, the more interested people are in that topic. For example, our fellow marketers are likely the ones doing most of these searches. If our profession has started to search less about affiliate marketing, we might have started to give up on the field. We might also call it something different.

What do the above trends mean? Search as a whole, when you combine AdWords and SEO, is the dominant channel marketers are curious about. We want to be found. We know our audiences are looking for us.

The greater point is, when you read an article proclaiming any of these marketing methods dead, take that article with a very large grain of salt. These methods are still relevant, still useful. The details of what SEO is or how SEO works change daily, but the desire to be found is constant. Affiliate marketing has far more regulation today than it did 10 years ago, but affiliate marketing still works.

It’s interesting to note how SEO and AdWords march in lockstep together. As each rises or falls, so does the other. We can conclude that marketers are likely trying to do both.

I do want to point out the rock solid steadiness of email marketing, the blue line above. Email has been proclaimed dead every year, yet email marketing still works. In fact, it works better today than it has in years past; some analysts believe the spammers have switched gears to social media marketing instead, cleaning up email marketing as an industry. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but we can safely ignore any claims about email being dead. What’s changed over the last 10 years is how we consume email: on our smartphones.

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What else do we do on our smartphones? We search the web. We use social media. We text. Is it any wonder our stalwart marketing methods still generate results, when our usage of the Internet on our phones still intersects with these methods?

For traditional digital marketing methods, where should you be planning your 2016 focus?

  • SEO requires your attention. Learn what’s changed and what you must do to keep up.
  • AdWords should be a key part of your overall mix.
  • Email marketing isn’t going anywhere. Become expert in its use.
  • Affiliate marketing may make sense for your business. If it does, master it.
  • If you have the budget and skills, display advertising should be part of the mix, but not a huge portion.

You now have a clear idea of what’s important in 2016. You’ve read about traditional methods that still generate results. You know which new methods to bet on and which to be cautious. You’ve learned about Accelerated Mobile Pages, Virtual Reality, and machine learning. Go make some marketing magic in 2016!

Top Marketing Trends of 2016 posts:


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Top Marketing Trends of 2016: New Marketing Methods

In this multi-part series, we’ll look at upcoming trends in marketing in 2016 you should be prepared to address. Today, we’re looking at new marketing methods and how they’re faring.

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What’s worth paying attention to in our buffet of new marketing methods? Stay on top of influencer marketing, and be cautious of content marketing.

Above, I’ve charted out 5 terms or industries using Google Trends.

  • The blue line represents overall digital marketing. It’s still ascending, still trending upwards.
  • The red dotted line represents the topic of influencer marketing. It’s just beginning to seriously trend.
  • The yellow dotted line represents the topic of social media marketing. Trendwise, it’s reached peak and has plateaued.
  • The green line represents Facebook marketing specifically. Note that it’s trended as well, but is almost synchronous with social media marketing.
  • The purple dotted line represents the topic of content marketing. Its curve shows that it may have already peaked as well.

Why do Google Trends matter? Trends charts out searches over time. The more people search for something, the more interested people are in that topic. For example, our fellow marketers are likely the ones doing most of these searches. If our profession has started to search less about content marketing, we might have started to give up on the field. We might also call it something different.

What do the above trends mean? Digital marketing as a whole isn’t going anywhere. In fact, as a field, as a general search category, it is just beginning to trend. We can see this from the ever-steepening slope of the blue line.

The yellow and green lines for social media marketing in general and Facebook marketing in specific appear to have trended. They peaked, and now they’re more or less holding steady. Social media marketing has reached maturity. It’s still relevant; these two search categories are the highest by volume of individual new marketing methods. They’re not going anywhere. However, your chances of “getting in early” in social media marketing are obviously long over; you would have needed to get in early in 2009, when the trend first took off.

The purple content marketing line appears to have peaked as well. We are struggling with content marketing – not because we don’t know what it is, but because marketers have flooded the Internet with content. Mark Schaefer calls this content shock; we have far more supply than demand. Should content marketing be part of your digital marketing strategy? Yes. Should it be what you spend every last dime on this year? No.

The red influencer marketing line is the one I’m paying most attention to. Mathematically, it’s just getting going. Influencer marketing began to trend as a search term, as an area of focus, in 2015. People – presumably marketers and influencers – are searching for it in increasing volume.

We should not be surprised by the ascendance of influencer marketing. Facebook and Google both change their algorithms with great frequency and opacity. Influencers are a form of insurance against those changes; a well-run influencer marketing program creates a critical mass of loyal audience by transferring loyalty from influencer to us. If what we have to offer engenders loyalty, then our influencers plus our loyalists keep our digital properties popular despite algorithm change.

For new marketing methods, where should you be planning your 2016 focus?

  • Digital marketing is where the action is.
  • Social media marketing should be a key part of your overall mix.
  • When we say social marketing, we really mean Facebook marketing.
  • Content marketing is important but not an all-in bet.
  • If you’re not good at influencer marketing, get up to speed as soon as you can.

In the final post in this series, we’ll look at how the stalwarts of digital marketing are faring.

Top Marketing Trends of 2016 posts:


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