The first flush of starting a business is incredibly exciting but can just as quickly give way to frustration and doubt.
You can spend a ton of time trying to perfect a product, only to realize after launching that people don’t have anywhere near the same enthusiasm.
That’s why you always want to start small. Get a product and put it in front of customers as soon as possible. Pay attention to how they respond and listen to their feedback.
Facebook is an incredible tool for anyone who wants to grow a business because it offers you the chance to test out an idea for a new product, put it directly in front of the people you care about, and improve it over time.
With our 6-week Kings County Threads Facebook Experiment, we’re putting this methodology to the test.
We’re starting with just one shirt and one ad campaign. With the information that we get on the ad’s performance, we’ll be able to get a deeper understanding of the kind of audience our product resonates with. We’ll be able to figure out how we might improve our product line to keep providing that audience with value. And with that in place, we’ll—hopefully—take the relationships we’ve built and start turning this little project into a brand.
It would be a mistake just to think of Facebook Ads as a sales tool. It’s a tool for building companies.
Here are 3 ways we’re using Facebook ads to start learning about what our market does and doesn’t like, which products do best, and how to turn what we’re building into something that could thrive in the long-term.
1. Create Buyer Personas You Can Use, and Re-Use
It’s difficult to develop your product in its earliest stages when you have few (if any) customers. If there’s something wrong with your product, the best way to learn is to find out directly from the people you hope will be interested in it.
Buyer personas are idealized people who have the traits and behaviors of your key audience. They need to be as rich and as fleshed out as imaginary people can be—you need to know how they like to spend their weekends, where they live, what they like to watch on Netflix, and how they prefer to watch it.
You need to have a kernel of an idea of your ideal audience, but once you have that, Facebook ad targeting can help you conceptualize and refine your buyer personas. The more details you can bring to your buyer persona, the more options you can experiment with as your product line grows over time—and the deeper your understanding of your audience.
If the audience you’re picturing for your product shows interest, don’t just use that information to get better at selling your product. Use it to build up an audience for your next product, and the one after. With lookalike audiences, you can make your buyer personas actionable, by automatically finding and reaching out to more people who resemble your most interested customers.
Find Your Audience Through Targeting
For our experiment, we had a very specific audience in mind: young people who lived in areas affected by the L train’s impending shutdown in New York City. Obviously, targeting by geography was a good place to start. We initially decided to target people in all five boroughs.
To narrow down your potential audience, however, it helps to get more specific than location. Facebook lets you hone in on specific interests and behaviors. Precise interests include what users “Like” and the information they list on their profiles, while behaviors track what they do—whether they’re living in a place or just visiting, or what devices they use to browse Facebook.
In this case, we wanted to take our NYC audience and split it up by interest. We needed people open to a little bit of silliness. You can’t just target “people prone to silliness,” of course, but you can target the interests that they might have:
We had our demographics (New Yorkers with a sense of humor) but our audience was still a bit wider than we wanted for this first experiment. To narrow it down even further, we selected for those zip codes specifically affected by the closure.
That brought our potential audience to about 15,000 people: not too small, not too broad. We set a modest budget for our first ad test: $20 dollars per day for 4 ads, or $5 a day per ad. It doesn’t take much to see useful results: even $1 a day can get your ad in front of thousands of people. With our spend, we were expecting to get our ads in front of between 800 and 2000 people a day.
With Facebook, we could quickly put real, defined qualities to our buyer personas—what kind of humor might motivate them, and where they specifically lived. With that information, we could start to run tests to see whether our product fit our target audience.
If we got positive results from that audience, we’d know exactly where to turn when we were ready to roll out new items on our line. We could also expand using lookalike audiences to find a whole new range of people who would be interested in our new products as we grow.
2. Iterate to Improve Your Products
The great thing about Facebook ads is that you can get almost instantaneous feedback on who’s interested in your product, and why. Your Facebook ads aren’t set in stone: everything that you can design or target is testable.
For your ad design, you can test things like:
- Headlines and text
- Placement (newsfeed, sidebar, mobile)
Testing these categories can tell you what sort of marketing drives your potential customers, helping you to refocus your language and imagery in more captivating ways.
But you can also test different target audiences to see whether there’s a particular group that is more interested in your product than another. That means testing by:
- Behaviors (relationship, purchasing behaviors, recent travel)
Combine these, and you have a huge range of conceivable options for how to market your product.
Now you might want to experiment on every aspect of your ad, but even with just 4 ad images, 4 headlines, and 4 different specific interest targets to test, that means testing 64 ads—and that’s expensive.
At the beginning, you want to stick to a smaller budget and see what works. Precisely defined tests involving demographics, creative elements, or interests will keep your experiment focused and give you results to start iterating on.
Learn From Your Tests
We’re A/B testing our 4 ads using two categories: one ad design category: headline, and one targeting category: age group.
- One ad set is going to college age people (16-23) and another to those in their early-to-late 20s (23-29).
- One ad set has the headline “Freaking Out About the L Train?” while the other has “The L Train is Shutting Down!”
This first test is about getting data on a crucial piece of demographic information. Does our product resonate more with one age group? If it does, then that will give us a good sense of where to go as we come up with more ideas for shirts. If no one over 23 is clicking on this ad, then we’ll know that we should be skewing younger, and vice versa.
Even without running split tests, we’re already getting immediate feedback from people who clicked through our ads. Breaking down people who clicked through to our site by interests shows us some clear relationships between clicks and internet humor preferences:
It seems like we might have a niche for people who appreciate the charms of Lolcat, since we had a great Click Through Rate (CTR) of almost 9% with them. With fans of The Onion, Funny or Die, and CollegeHumor, however, we couldn’t crack 3%.
This doesn’t mean that we’re going to start throwing Lolcat memes on shirts, but it does give us an idea of who we should be learning more about as we design more. With a simple Facebook search, we can start looking for ways to capitalize on this trend and potential fanbase emerging in our data. Maybe we’ll put a Lolcat in the conductor’s chair of the L Train—so cute!
Combining the information we get from clicks and A/B tests will drive our product closer to the right market. We can create new shirt ideas based on the interests of people who clicked on our ads, then target them to the demographic groups where we had more success with our A/B tests. It’s early days, but we can already use the information we’re gathering to choose the direction our company will go in.
3. Build Your Company Into A Brand
Whether you’re selling art or an app online, you should always be thinking beyond just selling one product, one time, to one person. You should think about how you can be a company that people remember and buy from in the future—a brand.
Just showing the same kind of ad over and over won’t get you that positive familiarity. The trick to building a brand is to give people something of value. If you can get valuable content in front of people who have demonstrated some interest in your product, then you’ll slowly build the kind of relationship that you need to get them down the funnel and make some sales.
Monster Energy understands this and devotes almost all of their Facebook content strategy to putting out videos that are going to grab peoples attention. Go to their Facebook page, and you’ll see post after post of videos like this:
There’s nothing in this ad about the taste or caffeine content of Monster Energy. Just two guys, a can, and a flying roundhouse kick. That’s the sort of content that people will immediately want to share, because it adds a ton of value for them and their friends. Of course, it also gets Monster Energy in front of thousands of more people. That’s important. When you’re browsing the convenience store, that brand reputation means you’re going to skim over the lesser-known energy drinks.
Use Content To Build a Brand
Videos aren’t the only way that you can produce valuable, engaging content for your Facebook audience. Infographics, blog posts, funny GIFs: you have a ton of options when it comes to building a presence on Facebook that goes beyond just advertising.
The idea is to become something more than just a company selling a product. When people see that you’re doing something like giving away an eBook that addresses some relatable problem, they think about you differently—they see you as a trusted source of information.
Since we’re aiming at an NYC-centric audience and started off with a shirt that bemoans the shutdown of a public train line, making content around that seems like a natural decision.
Blog posts may not be the most obvious way to grow your business, but they’re a great and easy way to nurture an audience. If you can write posts about something you’re passionate about, all the better. Legitimately interesting content will not only show your Facebook audience that you’re in it for more than the money, it’ll increase the chances of a link to your site being shared with friends.
If you can keep up a blog and generate a steady stream of visitors, you can take that information and retarget to them on Facebook. Because you have a real relationship with people now—they see you as a brand—getting them to click into your store and look around won’t be like pulling teeth.
Taking the Long-Term View
Facebook is ubiquitous in its users’ lives. It’s the rare app that truly becomes something more than a tool—instead becoming an integral part of the way most people interact with the world. People who joined Facebook in high school or college have added hundreds of new friends, switched jobs, gotten engaged, or had kids of their own. Every step of the way, they’re documenting what they’re doing on Facebook.
We’re taking all that information to refine and improve our product. The granular demographic and interest-based information that people have shared on Facebook over time can help us to improve our company at a much more rapid pace. We’ll share how what we learn from our ads and brand building blog posts shapes our products in upcoming articles.
But first, in our next article we’re going to take a step back. We’ve shown you how to start garnering insights for your company on Facebook, but we haven’t shown you how to go about setting up a company to start running Facebook ads in the first place. In our next article, we’ll show you just how we set up our own company, and how easy it is for companies to integrate with Facebook.