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2020 Paid Social Trends & Gearing up for the New Reality

August 12, 2020
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As an advertiser in the paid social space, the words ‘test’ and ‘learn’ are likely always top of mind. This could not be more true in the current landscape where uncertainty is everywhere, strategies as we have known them have flipped, and the unexpected have risen to the challenge while others have fallen. It’s important to reflect on what has conspired over the course of 2020 in the paid social world, and more importantly prepare for a very interesting holiday season ahead. Let’s dive in…


Shift in Products and Consumer Interests 

During these unusual times, consumer’s lives and shopping habits have seen dramatic changes. Stay at home orders have caused many stores to close which has caused an uptick in online shopping across all generations and a change in the way marketing is used to reach a target audience. In general, people are spending more time online and less time in stores. 

With many people experiencing financial hardship, their spending habits have changed. Consumers are now more focused on value, availability, and convenience and because of this are experimenting with new brands, retailers, and products. Brand and product switching is a new norm as availability is driving consumer choices. For the most part, discretionary spend has been reduced while people focus on essentials. However, the Lipstick Effect shows that even during economic downturns, people still spend money on small luxuries in place of bigger luxury purchases. So while consumers may have cut out vacations and other expenses, they have still found other ways to treat themselves to a little bit of luxury. Covid’s “lipstick” may take the form of facemasks and self care indulgences as consumers are at home and have the time to focus on self care, hobbies and entertainment. Products that have seen a large increase during this period include workout materials, skin care products, cleaning products, and even board games. Social media ads and an increased reliance on Amazon’s quick services have contributed to this increase in spending. Even if consumers aren’t taking that vacation or buying a new car, there is still a demand for smaller discretionary items. 

What’s Changed So Far 

The landscape has shifted quite a bit over the course of 2020, both online and offline. Many brick and mortar businesses have had to close doors for long periods of time, opening mid year with the uncertainty of potentially closing again looming in the not-so-distant future.

Businesses that have historically leaned heavily into the digital marketing realm have had to adapt, for better or worse, with the changing markets. Both the online and offline sides of businesses have had to react to one common thing – shifts in consumer behavior. 

There have been a few key shifts that have taken place on social platforms specifically that have impacted advertisers around the country.

CPMs (Cost per 1000 Impressions) have decreased roughly 20% since the onset of shelter in place mandates around the country in early March 2020. This decline could be for a number of reasons but two in particular stand out; advertisers with weak business models or high COGS that cannot afford to pay the cost of sale on social falling off of the platform and opening up the auctions a bit, and more users than ever on the platform than before. Just think, more people using the platform means more real estate to capitalize on, and fewer advertisers to compete against. Generally, e-commerce businesses that have held strong through the changing landscape have benefited greatly with lower platform costs and increased ROI as a result.

Although the platform costs are lower, it is equally important if not more important now than ever to leverage a well-crafted marketing strategy. With users spending more time on the platforms, they are consuming more content than ever before. While we may not be competing with as many advertisers we are definitely competing for consumer attention. Focus on eye-catching, engaging creative that truly speaks to your audience where they are at in the consumer journey.

What we anticipate coming / gearing up for Q4

How to stay competitive with other brands 

Staying competitive during the Holiday season is crucial to your company’s success. Think of it as preparing for a football game. You watch footage from the previous game of your team. Then you watch footage of the other team and you think of a strategy (or game-plan) to bring home the W. This approach is very similar to Holiday success and how to one-up your competitors in engagement and sales.

Step 1

Holiday planning should start NOW! Don’t just focus on the actual sale during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Think about how you are gearing up for the big holiday weekend. Are you reaching new audiences? Are you testing different placements of the promotion whether it’s in ad copy, creative or even your landing page experience? 

Now is the time to start testing micro-promotions to increase traffic being sent to your site so you can build your retargeting audiences. If you do not have a large retargeting audience or audience of past purchasers – you run the risk of not engaging with users that are familiar with your brand and could lose out on revenue to your competitors who are already engaging with your target audience. 

Tips for Holiday planning now:

Look in Ads Library to see what ads your competitors are currently running! You can use their ads as ideation for your promo, creative and messaging!

Look at what promotion you ran last year, what was your spend, duration of sale, top performing audiences and creative based on your KPIs.

Lean into the top performing audiences and creative style you saw strong performance from last year and integrate into your marketing strategy this holiday season

Step 2

We highly recommend having someone keep a pulse on what promotions competitors are running at the moment as we head into the holidays. We’ve seen ‘Black Friday came early this year’ promotions which is a great way to generate interest right away and drive new users to your site, while increasing revenue. 

It’s important to do competitive analysis and check on a weekly basis with what promotions they are running to ensure your social marketers know which direction to take your paid ads in.

Start by looking at 3 of your biggest competitor on a weekly basis 

Step 3

Now that you know about micro-promotions, plan a promotional calendar to stay ahead of your competitors. Start tracking when your competitors launch campaigns, how long their campaigns are flighted, etc. Use these findings to your advantage and have a more compelling offer or extend the duration of your campaign to stay in front of these new users!

Changes in Promotional Strategies 

Having a concise paid social media marketing plan in place for Q4 this year will be pivotal to sales success. Especially given the fact that major retailers are shifting strategies for the holidays due to Covid-19. Stores like Target and Walmart have both announced that they will be closed on Thanksgiving Day – a popular trend for retailers over the years to jump-start sales after people enjoy their last slice of pumpkin pie. With a change in marketing as we know it, now is the time to focus on a new social media marketing trend that would best fit your client’s wishes. Social listening is key to understanding what the consumers are looking for now.

What We’re Expecting:

The cost to reach people will increase. With so many brands shifting their focus towards e-commerce this year, mainstream and social media advertising will be competitive and we’re expecting CPM’s to increase.  This is important to keep front of mind when forecasting sales; that brands will be reaching less people with a similar budget to previous years.

The competition will be fierce and the deals will be too. Brands need to realize that in order to combat the sales noise, they’ll need to offer competitive deals to stay relevant in the minds of consumers. We’re expecting larger than normal discounts and freebies in comparison to past Q4’s.

How Do You Combat This:

The early bird gets the worm. Knowing that CPM’s will increase, it’s important to launch campaigns earlier than normal this year. It takes time for social media ads to learn and optimize towards their goal. It’s crucial to launch your ads before this happens. That way, by the time CPM’s do increase to full effect, campaigns will have achieved the learning phase and will be fully optimized. This will allow budgets the potential to stretch further.

Run multiple promos. Having a sitewide promo will help brands stay competitive. But take that one step further. If your brand has top selling items with nice profit margins, we recommend offering even further discounts for those items. If a product is a top seller, then capitalize on that. Don’t give consumers any reason to buy a similar product from another brand.

Capture people’s attention with engaging ads. It’s easy to launch ads with an enticing promo code. But brands need to be thinking about taking their ad creatives to the next level. Combine a great deal, with a great product and then develop great creative to make social ads stand out from the crowd. It’s worth the extra time it takes and the production costs to increase overall ad potential. There’s going to be a lot of noise, we know that, and a great way to increase sales is with ads that resonate with your audience on all fronts.

Maximizing Digital Media Ad Spend to Grow Your Business 

This year advertisers need to be extremely nimble while managing digital media ad spend. To maximize success in 2020, advertisers need to react quickly to government orders and social movements affecting consumer behavior and plan strategically to best support marketing calendars. When stay-at-home orders are in place social media platform usage increases, making this the perfect time for brands to scale up ad spend to prospect new users, and nurture remarketing audiences. Advertisers should closely monitor cost-per-acquisition and return on ad spend to scale up ad spend when performance is exceeding KPIs, especially during promotional periods, and scale back spend or reallocate to a different channel when performance falls below this threshold. Since the economic downturn will expedite the rise of mega sales in Q4, it’s important to increase prospecting spend now to introduce new people to your brand and remain top of mind for self-giving and seasonal shopping through the end of the year. 

New Channels to Explore

Pinterest Ads

If you’re not already advertising on Pinterest, you should start ASAP. This visual search engine is the platform in which users are turning to to plan not just their everyday but even their holidays. That’s right, users began searching for holiday content beginning in April of this year. With the influx of users on the platform, the “looking ahead” mindset with which users are using the platform and the low cost of reach and traffic, this is more than enough reason to begin advertising. 

Pinterest’s targeting capabilities are essentially a blend between Facebook and Google – We can target interests and actalikes (lookalikes), retarget emails and website visitors, and target specific keywords. That coupled with the visual nature of the platform, we’re able to serve rich media ads to highly relevant users. With 97% of searches on Pinterest being non branded, users are constantly discovering new brands to try while they are searching for inspiration. 

TikTok Ads

Although the newest of the social media platforms, TikTok has easily become one of the most used apps in the world. They have surpassed 2 billion global downloads, with 315 million downloads in Q1 alone. More importantly, the users are highly engaged – users spend on average 81 minutes on the app per day per user.

That being said, TikTok also just released their self-serve ads platform, where ads are shown in-feed in between organic content as users scroll through the “For You” feed. With similar targeting capabilities as Facebook, as well it’s growing popularity, TikTok will easily become the next BIG advertising platform that you need to be on.

New Tactics to Explore

Instant Experience Canvas Ads 

Many clients we work with have a fantastic product range, but then suffer from having a poor site for user experience and navigation. We call this the ‘blockbuster dilemma’. Remember going to Blockbusters to rent a movie, and you’ve even decided what genre you want to watch. You’re all set! Tonight’s a sports movie night. But then the unthinkable happens, again. You’re stuck with a plethora of 100+ options of an identical front cover with identical plot lines. So what do you do? Well you do what you did last month, and you opt for that good ol’ favorite of yours you have seen 20 times because hey, now there’s no decision to be made.

Instant experience canvas ads is your way of taking this headache away from the user! Simply pull your top 5/10 performing products, or 5/10 new releases and build out an instant experience canvas ad. The user will then, upon clicking on your ad, be shown what looks like a mini landing page optimized specifically for mobile. There they can scroll through the products you want them to buy with minimal effort on their end and each product sends the user straight to the landing page of said product. It is a sure fire way to consistently drive users to your site and purchasing at a high conversion rate by putting your best foot forward and helping to guide the users purchasing decision.

Dynamic Creative Ads

30 primary text variations, 20 headline variations, 10 images and 5 videos?! Great. You’re all set to start testing. But wait? You don’t have the time, bandwidth or knowledge of when these ads should be trialled against one another. Should this be an A/B test, or an A/B/C/D test? At what point should a third best performer be swapped out for a new variation?

Thankfully Facebook have built an amazing new feature whereby you can add up to 10 creative variations (images or video), 5 headline variations and 5 primary text variations all into one ad! Mass testing may now ensue. Then simply wait for the results to come in as the algorithm continuously optimizes for the best performing combinations. At which point, you can pluck the best performing headlines, primary text and creative combinations out. Build them into dark posted ads, and post across your campaigns.

Dark Posting

Dark posting is the key to scaling your Facebook ads account. Why? Let’s look at the following example of a very basic funnel:

Prospecting Campaign:

Ad set: Lookalike audience of purchasers

Ad set: Lookalike audience of FB/IG page engagers

Ad set: Interest based audience 1

Ad set: Interest based audience 2

Retargeting Site Traffic Campaign:

Ad set: Viewed content or added to cart in the past 30 days

Ad set: Viewed content or added to cart in the past 31-180 days

Retargeting Purchasers Campaign:

Ad set: Retargeting past purchasers – excluding the past 30 days

Yes, it is important to break out these areas of the funnel to provide messaging and creative specific to the users stage in the consumer journey. However, let’s assume we were building an identical ad for these 7 ad sets. This would mean 7 totally different ad IDs, all uniquely building their own social proof elements (read: comments, likes, shares etc). Conversely, by dark posting the same ad across these ad sets, the post will generate not only 7 times more social proof, but due to the law of compounding, even greater social proof than one would expect!

Consider dark posting a few evergreen ads across ad sets to take your social media strategy to the next level, and see sky high social proof as your retargeted users build up the initial social proof on the ad and prospective customers follow suit, essentially creating a free brand ambassador or two in your campaign strategy!

Messaging Strategies for Paid Social in 2020 

As we all know, simple, catchy and engaging messaging sells in the advertising world. As Paid Social advertisers, our main goal is to connect and resonate with our current and potential clients. Messaging has always been key and is always being tested whether it is eCommerce, Lead Generation or Brand awareness. 2020 has been a wild ride, especially in the digital marketing space.

Things to consider for 2020 messaging strategies are, being mindful of how you position your brand during the Pandemic, and how your brand will look post Pandemic.

During the Pandemic, as social distancing becomes the norm, more users are spending a great deal of time online and across different social platforms. As some companies pull ad dollars, this opens the door for others to take advantage of decreased CPMs (Cost Per 1,000 Impressions) and a less cluttered feed to reconnect with current customers & connect with potential new customers. While bottom funnel conversions can still be useful and important, brands should look towards pivoting their messaging strategies and moving up the funnel to drive product discovery and increase brand awareness. This can allow brands the opportunity to play around more with messaging and not have to necessarily worry about a conversion. The aim should be building a relationship through meaningful messaging and social ads that could one day turn these engagers into loyal customers.

Messaging strategies should rely on the following when communicating to your current and potential users. Be useful, mindful, compassionate and real. 

Summing this all up, as we move further through and hopefully soon – out of the Pandemic. Utilizing these messaging strategies should help your brand or business come out the other end with new customers, appreciative current customers, and a larger audience to continue to connect with. Be engaging with your audience, but be mindful of the world around you as we all navigate through. 

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