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:


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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Tinkering is innovation

Not everyone is a creative genius. Not everyone can pull a rabbit out of a hat, create something from nothing, dream up fantastical new inventions. Believe it or not, I’m in that boat, just like most of you. I am less inventor, more tinkerer.

Tinkerers are different to inventors. Tinkerers take things and, ideally, make them better. The tinkerer looks at a plethora of different ideas and disciplines and finds ways to bring them together. A tinkerer is an innovator.

Over the weekend, I built a new desk for myself out of PVC piping parts I had laying around and an old door.

new door desk.jpg

I saw instructions for the project on Instructables, then tinkered with the recipe until it worked for me. I reduced the height, changed the placement of the legs, and drilled cable holders and power straight into the door.

That’s innovation: I didn’t make anything from scratch. Instead, I took what I had and adapted it.

In my new book, Leading Innovation, we’ll discuss how you can build similar successes in your life. This isn’t about mimicking me — to quote Oscar Wilde, you should “be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.” That said, my goal is for you to learn to apply ideas I’ve discovered to your own skills and aptitudes, then take these into your organization.

Discover how to build on your strategic position and architect a plan to infuse innovative practices throughout your organization.

I’ve called my innovation path the Plus (+) Path. When you use it, when you find it in your own life, you’ll unearth a clear path to career and organizational success.

Leading Innovation will show you the path to building a scalable, innovative organization and a dynamic, successful career.

Buy your copy today!

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Sneak Peek: Leading Innovation Framework

My newest book, Leading Innovation, debuts on Monday. Here’s a sneak peek about implementing innovation as a framework.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a bubble. We need others to embrace it. We need an innovation cookbook, a set of recipes — of tactics — the rest of our team can read. How do we create an innovation cookbook?

We use something I innovated: the LEAD framework.


Innovation is a question of risk. If our executives choose poorly based on a strategy we’ve suggested, their career is at risk — and so is ours. To mitigate that risk, our stakeholders need to see our strategy and how we’re going to put it into play.

“Let’s give it a go” and “trust me” proposals are a direct pathway to failure. Remember: your plan isn’t going to be perfect. Part of innovation is remaining open to new possibilities.

That’s where the LEAD framework comes in. Working through this framework will help you build your innovation plan. Use it as the basis for choosing tactics to fit your strategy. Use it as the starting point, the model for explaining how innovation will fit into your organization.

Pre-order your copy here!

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