“Failing to plan is planning to fail”
– Benjamin Franklin
“We want to advertise on Facebook, how do we get started?”
This is the question I hear time and again, day after day. Unfortunately the very people who could benefit the most from paid media often fail to understand how to properly plan and prepare. Having explained this countless times one-on-one, I thought it would save everyone a lot of time to write this down.
Good News: Everything you would ever need falls into one of the boxes on a simple diagram
Now, let’s break it down and explain the importance and the role of each phase.
Phase 1: Qualification
The first question anyone should ask is whether a project is worth doing.
How big is the business now? What are your growth goals? Do you have the resources to pursue these goals? Are you able to allocate the time, the money and the staffing to properly manage a new marketing program? Do you understand the value of paid media?
This always comes down to placing the value on solving the problem and evaluating what is feasible and what isn’t. Once there is a shared understanding of the expected outcome, it is possible to properly allocate the investment and design the performance incentives.
In most cases, qualification phase is greatly aided by ROI Calculators, that allow running simple what/if scenarios. We have developed such tools for most common business models.
Phase 2: Diagnostics
“We are ready to start. Let’s have the new ads running by tomorrow”
The projects starting with such words are usually doomed. You couldn’t possibly know which ads or pages you should be running on Day 1. You need to do the homework. Compile and analyze the insight from past campaigns. Research the current industry best practices and the tactics of your competitors. Review your Customer Journeys to identify the bottlenecks. Put together all the insights to set the priorities.
You cannot possibly do an adequate job of this in just a few days. Any problem you miss or get wrong at this phase will only get costlier as you move further. You wouldn’t get a surgery without a proper diagnosis. Don’t skip diagnostics for your marketing!
Only fools rush in. Do the homework! Budget time and money to find out what you need to fix.
Phase 3: Build-Out
Once you have done proper diagnostics you will typically learn how many things are missing or broken
Maybe you need to build a few more landing pages? Implement an email program? Develop a messenger bot? Rethink your marketing angles and creative strategy? Or completely redesign your offers? Or maybe fix the broken tracking and analytics?
You might choose NOT to do any of those things. But at least you would do this with a clear understanding of the cost/benefit and what you are missing. We recommend looking at the Build Phase through 3 parallel tracks:
- Marketing Strategy: This track is about general planning without technical deliverables. This includes market & competitive research, persona development, creative and targeting strategies, as well as a few other modules, for example the testing strategy.
- Journey Redesign: This is where you rethink the stages and flows of your Customer Journeys and figure out whether you need to add or change the steps, the touchpoints or the offers. Tracking, analytics and data are also handled here.
- Touchpoint Implementation: Finally you may need to close some gaps with the systems you have in place. Development or changes to websites, pages, subscription programs or apps all go here.
Bottom line: The ads are just the tip of the iceberg and their success depends on the entire Customer Journey backing them up. With ad prices and customer expectations constantly rising, ignoring the proper Build Phase is no longer optional. Worst of all, skimping here would undermine your confidence in the use of paid media
Run from anyone who is selling just ad management, instead of integrated marketing
Phase 4: Execution
With the proper foundation in place – you can start iterating on your campaigns
The most important concept here is to develop a testing mindset. There is the word we use for “when the campaign works on the first try”. This word is “miracle”. In reality, it usually takes several iterations of running tests, collecting insights and refining tactics to get your desired metrics dialed in. Countless advertisers have missed out on the “pot of gold” by stopping the testing too early.
What is critical here is knowing the difference between sound testing and just wasting money
Good tests always follow a plan to collect missing insight or build up data assets. This could be about evaluating new angles, offers, copy, audiences, targeting, segmentation, budgeting, bidding or any other factor. On the flip side, if you are running at a loss and NOT learning anything new – that is the time to cut the losers and move onto the next test. That’s why every test needs a documented plan.
Testing properly takes hard work and dedication. Be sure your ad managers have proper performance incentives aligned with your goals. You want to give them every reason to push harder.
When Can You Take a Shortcut?
“OMG, this is so complicated, why couldn’t we just get the results without doing all that?”
In the modern age we expect instant gratification. Advertising is no exception and many people expect to get leads or sales without putting in the work. We also see numerous marketing vendors promising “results without any hassle”. Are they for real? How is that possible?
The answer is simple. Any time you see anyone pitching a “complete system for generating leads for X”, this just means they have gone through these “4 Phases” on their own and pre-built all the answers and strategies. Someone has done the necessary work and it is just hidden under the hood, for better or worse. This type of a “packaged solution” might be a viable option, however:
- Your business might be too different from any available package
- A package that seems like a fit might not work for you at all
- Even if it does, it might not leverage your unique strengths
- You would typically not have the full control of the solution
With shortcuts “Your Mileage May Vary” (YMMV). You may either glide through or get stuck in a ditch.
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