This is part of an ongoing series in how we’re scaling up our brand (Pela Case) from 0 to 7-figures and now from 7-figures to 8-figures. If you haven’t read anything else in the series, I suggest you go back to the beginning before carrying on with this post. It really helps to have an understanding of our brand and how we view it at a higher level before you can dive into the strategies and tactics we deploy to scale it.
Here’s why we chose to Leverage Facebook and Instagram:
- We knew our ideal customer was more easily identified & targeted on these platforms.
- We were building a business with social purpose, so visual media was our theme for all content and media.
- We were going to leverage user generated content as much as we could, and these two channels are great for distributing / sharing user generated content.
All that aside, we’ve also been at this eCommerce thing for long enough to know that Facebook and Instagram were really only going to take us so far on their own, especially organically. We needed to think in terms of platforms and leverage. In other words, how do we build multiple platforms and how do we have each of those platforms create leverage for each other?
Facebook & Instagram are amazing channels on their own, but they are only part of the picture if you intend on growing a meaningful eCommerce business.
This article is going to be broken up into three (3) main focus areas that we’ve found to be absolutely critical in ensuring that we maximize the sizeable investment we’re making into Facebook and Instagram.
Organic (the hustle + the platform)
This was hands down the most painful part of building our social platforms for me. Only one reason, it’s a slow grind. We sort of look at things like we’re creating a new market for Pela Case and because of that, we had this super slow grind at the start to prime the social pumps.
Rewind a year ago. We had just hired Sunta Sem as our Demac Media Merchant in Residence to come on board and drive growth for Pela. Her first order of business was to grind it out on Instagram and start building our organic audience there. There was no fancy tool or app for this. It was just her in the app digging and scratching about looking for our customers. Hashtags, photos, comments, all of it.
1. Human Connection First
Why bother with this at all? Why not just spend the money on ads and force your way in front of your ideal customers? I’ll get to why this doesn’t work as well below, because my own impatience had me trying so many variations of this approach that almost all failed.
There are a bunch of reasons why you want to grind this process out and almost all of those reasons are grounded in one simple concept: social proof.
Let’s dig into this social proof concept and why it’s core to a strong social platform that drives commerce revenue.
During this process I kept referring to the goal as “becoming a real brand”. What this means is that we have real fans that engage with our content regularly. They talk to us and we talk to them. We communicate…you know, like humans. This is where we made our bet because this is where most large brands we were going to be taking market share from are falling down.
This is almost universal across all large, established industries right now as well. Big brands mostly suck at building connection with their customers. They suck at this because they have a transaction first mentality that focuses on getting the orders instead of building relationships.
We wanted our target audience to know more about us and our purpose than we did about our products. The best way for us to do this was to use Instagram and share content that we liked and likely identify folks just like us. We lead with our “why” and did the hard work required to create a small but loud following of people that engaged with us frequently. This made us human (duh?).
2. Target Micro-Influencers
There are endless amounts of people trying to build a personal brand in pretty much any niche you can think of. There’s also a lot of overlap between the niche you’re in and other niches that are “1 hop” away.
Reaching out to influencers, engaging with them, participating in their conversations…this is just work. Another one of these things that just takes time on the calendar before you start to see return. It was months of work to start to get some traction with influencers in our niche. There’s no secret sauce here, just work.
One really key lesson we learned though is that (disclaimer: broad stroke statement) the bigger the influencer the worst their engagement and the lower the potential ROI. Yup, all those hundreds of thousands or millions of followers some of these shiny looking influencers have are probably worthless to you.
We found far more success with influencers in the 2,000 -> 25,000 follower range than we did in the 500,000+ range. That includes Facebook media pages/companies and large Instagram accounts alike. Perhaps it’s because the smaller ones still seem more like real people? They participate and respond to their audiences more (cause they can)?
We’ve built some muscle here now in that we have a regular cadence of reaching out to influencers and seeing if we could do a collaboration. We have an affiliate program that many take us up on and we also aren’t against paying for some influencers if we really like their engagement numbers and their audience seems to be our people.
Paid (the leverage)
Ok, so you’ve been hustling your butt off to build up some organic social presence on Facebook / Instagram. Now what? Once you have those several thousand precious followers you can start to really see how paid advertising can be even more effective than if you had zero platform to build upon.
I mentioned above that I was impatient and tried Facebook ads really early on in our life. This wasn’t necessarily a mistake, but it was definitely a costly one. We hadn’t done the work to figure out who our best audience was AND we didn’t have a big enough following on our own accounts to pass any kind of “real brand” test. At least that’s how I looked at it, because now that we have some presence and social proof, those same ads we used to run work a hell of a lot better today.
There are tons and tons of Facebook “experts” out there. There’s even a few I know personally that are downright rock stars with the platform. I don’t pretend to be some kind of Facebook wizard, far from it actually. Members of my team at Demac know the platform a heck of a lot better than I do, and I know we’re fortunate to be able to leverage these brains when we need them.
All that said, the only way you’re going to get the results you want out of Facebook is to do a TON of testing. In other words, you’re going to burn a lot of cash you don’t want to be burning.
Since there is so much great content out there on exactly HOW to work with Facebook’s ad platform, I’m going to skip all that stuff and just give you our strategy and approach. Our principles if you will. I’m going to break this up into three (3) sub-sections:
1. Top of Funnel Conversions
This is obviously the best case scenario you’re chasing with Facebook ads as an eCommerce business. First and foremost you want to make a profitable return on your ad spend (ROAS) as much as possible. This is also the area that most brands and retailers tend to fall down the most. They don’t test enough to ever find out what makes for a great performing ad and even worse, they don’t know what a customer is worth to them and aren’t willing to even have the conversation. I have been in this industry long enough to know a lot of eCommerce entrepreneurs that won’t spend a $ unless they can make money on the first order from a customer…MASSIVE MISTAKE.
That said, Pela Case has an interesting challenge. Our Lifetime Value of a Customer is pretty abysmal. We sell iPhone cases and people tend to not buy new ones every 3 months…it’s more like every 2 years. So we actually do need to get our ROAS as profitable as possible to make the entire Facebook ad platform worthwhile to us. This is VERY important to understand when reading this article. We are trying to be as profitable as possible. Keyword, possible.
What this means in reality is that we will absolutely disable and shut off under performing conversion ads. If they can’t get us the ROAS we need to make money on orders, we shut them off. With one exception…
If a conversion ad isn’t getting us a ton of purchase conversions, but is getting us a lot of cheap traffic that comes with lots of people adding to their cart, then we’ll let the ad run as long as we can see the trend continue. This is part of our larger paid media strategy in that we want a profitable ROAS on the entire strategy instead of just the one campaign or ad set.
This one change in thinking, shifting to a focus on top of funnel demand generation instead of purely about commerce conversions has transformed our business. We’ve gone from spending $50 a day to $1,000 a day and doing it profitably because we have a much more Total Funnel view of our business than purely at a campaign ROAS level.
This also means that the next two sub-sections (Retargeting and Audience Building) are just as critical to the winning formula as this one. Keep reading…
2. Retargeting Conversions
The only reason getting a lot of Add to Cart actions can turn a profit for us is if we have a really great retargeting flow in the middle of our funnel.
Note: Just as a side note before we get into how we do this, we use a tool called Shoelace just for our retargeting flows.
Let’s talk retargeting and how to do this the right way. First, let me start by stating that I HATE having to spend money retargeting people I’ve already paid a lot of money to get in front of. It sucks, but it is the reality of our current digital world. We’re all competing for attention and that means spending more than we had to even 3-4 years ago.
We look at retargeting through the following filters:
- Showing people the product they have already added to their cart, but abandoned.
- Showing people a beautiful piece of imagery or video if they came to the site but didn’t add to their cart.
- Testing different time windows with different types of ads.
This third point is the important one. We’ve got a bunch of different retargetting ad-sets going that Shoelace setup for us that show different cohorts of visitors different types of ads for very narrow time windows.
For example, someone might see a dynamic product ad for the first 2 days after they add to cart and abandon, but then after day 2 we might show them more generic “about Pela” content to see if we need to get them back again for some more learning/looking.
Retargeting is a very important part of ensuring your total Facebook ad strategy has a profitable ROAS because it tends to be the highest intent buyer.
We also know and expect our retargetting flows on Facebook to capture lost sales from traffic that originated from other channels. This alone is a great example of channel leverage. Something I’ll dig into more in future posts in our larger Pela series.
3. Audience Building
No, I’m not talking exclusively about actual Facebook audiences, although that’s part of it. I’m talking about actually building brand awareness and staying top of mind with your target audience using Facebook ads as the platform.
This was one of those things that I had a hard time wrapping my head around, mostly because I’m an analytics driven type of person and attribution in eCommerce is a frustratingly broken topic. Here’s the basic idea. The more Facebook ad dollars we spent, the more sales we seemed to get through Google organic search and Direct traffic. Let that sink in for a second. I even got to the point where I simply turned the Facebook ads off because as far as I could tell in Google Analytics, we weren’t making any money from social. HOWEVER, shortly after we turned off the Facebook ads, our revenue from organic traffic and direct dropped. And there in lies my frustration with attribution in eCommerce.
Enough with what’s wrong, here’s the approach we take now and for us, this is right.
We use Facebook ads to amplify (promote) our user generated content as well as our own created/owned content. Most of the time we’re simply promoting photographs that our customers share with us of our products all around the world. As I mentioned above, this definitely leads to direct and retargeting conversions. And those are awesome. It also leads to building up a much larger audience that we can’t quite put our arms around.
Basically, we’ve gotten VERY ok with the idea that we’re spending money on a channel and we seem to be making that money back in other channels (i.e. – Direct, Organic, Amazon Marketplace).
We’re in a growth stage where acquiring customers is very important to us because we know that our word of mouth is incredibly strong. Our customers are fans, they love sharing our story. So why wouldn’t we spend money to get in front of more people with that story?
Instead of focusing just on commerce conversions, we look to instead use our ads in a secondary way by building this larger audience and we tactically do this by trying to get them onto our email list…which is the next section of this article.
Email (the accelerator)
I’m actually not going to spend a ton of time here today. I debated actually leaving this section out entirely since there is going to be another, deeper / meatier post on how we leverage email.
I decided to include a little bit on email since I think this is a really important piece of our larger strategy with Facebook and Instagram.
As I mentioned above, the secondary conversion we look for with all of our Facebook ads is an email signup. The reason for this is simple. Email is still a major sales channel for ecommerce companies. Not to mention it is hands down the lowest cost method to capturing future sales from your customers.
To give you a visual on what this might look like, here’s a peak behind the curtain at our data. You can definitely see where we started to really drive a lot of traffic and that we made a concerted effort to bare minimum capture an email address from those traffic generation efforts.
I call email the accelerator because it can be used to strategically throw gasoline on any fires (campaigns) that you launch. Most brands use email to batch & blast out discounts and promotions to their entire list.
We look at email a little differently. We’ll talk about it more in a future article, but for us email is a great way to share valuable content and information from our world and to also accelerate any larger campaigns.