Here are all the things we thought about and did
to 4X+ our spend on cold Facebook traffic.
A “hard no” was what we were up against.
But I’d helped less beloved companies profitably reach new audiences on Facebook, so our lobby team of two kept pushing.
It was nearly Black Friday, and my partner in this endeavour Angela Stojanov, another acquisition lead here at Copyhackers, was determined to convince our colleagues – our very skeptical colleagues – to advertise on Facebook.
Ange floated a casual: “hey, we should run Facebook ads for Black Friday” during our daily zoom standup.
To which I replied with a resounding “f*ck YES we should!”
To which Jo and most of the Copyhackers team replied with a very lukewarm, very beige, very plain wonderbread “meh.”
So as you can see, we had our work cut out.
But coming from a company that specialized in growing emerging eCommerce brands on cold Facebook traffic, I knew we could do it.
So we gathered up our stats and passion and hope and threw ‘em all into a pitch deck.
And it worked. We got approved to “test” Black Friday ads for our premier offer Copy School.
We even got our own Slack channel called “big-facebook-experiment.” (And spoiler alert: that channel’s now called “paid-ad-updates.”)
Here’s what we didn’t do.
Nope. We went for The Big Kahuna of Facebook Advertising – the paid conversion. And we made back well, well over 4X what we spent. And we contributed to the biggest Copy School launch ever. A launch that closed with my doorbell ringing to a fine scotch delivery.
It triggered a new optimism around Facebook ads in Copyhackers Land. So we decided to do the same thing for our big launch of the new Copy School in April.
While many gurus tell you to
do more lead gen, traffic campaigns and top-of-funnel nurtures play it safe, I’m here to tell you the opposite.
Go for the cold conversion. There’s no reason to believe it won’t work. If your offer is solid. If you have a deep conversion copy-esque understanding of your prospects. And if you’re willing to put in the work to do it right.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not here telling you to use cringe-worthy tactics to convince people who aren’t ready to buy, to buy something they don’t need.
I’m here to show you that Facebook is a powerful tool to connect what you’re selling with those ready to take you up on it today. (Or tomorrow, or in three days, but we’ll get into that later.)
And I’m not standing on my soapbox alone. Here Social Media Examiner interviews ads expert Amanda Bond who says: “think of targeting cold audiences on Facebook as an accelerant for your ads buy.”
Meaning, if you can lock down new customers in one fell swoop, why would you spend time slowly nudging folks towards a sale in a complicated lead-gen funnel that depends on them choosing to open your email in their long, long, long list of unopened emails? (Although, if that’s your strategy, we’ve talked plenty about it.)
But, wait. This doesn’t mean you should grab your CC and slap something – anything – onto Facebook right now.
Being successful on Facebook requires:
- Thoughtful strategy
- A 101 understanding of how the platform works
- A deep understanding of your ideal customers
But wrap your head around this: there are 7.64 billion people in the world. There are 2.80 billion monthly active users on Facebook.
Your audience is on Facebook. This is how we found ours. And how you can find yours, too.
Prior to settling into my place at Copyhackers, I worked for a performance marketing agency, spending my days writing ads, landing pages and optimizing funnels.
Quite literally, the success of our company hinged on our ability to win on Facebook. And we spent much of our time focussed on cold audiences.
We obviously weren’t alone.
Threadheads owner Ace Reunis who generated $1.8M in revenue from $200K in ad spend on cold audiences says: “go for it.”
“Facebook you need to set up a prospecting campaign, and that means a campaign where you’re going to try and get cold traffic. These are people who don’t know about your brand, who don’t know about your product. You’re trying to get them to your website, you’re trying to build brand awareness. Ultimately, you still want that cold traffic to convert and that is dependent on having a good website with all the stuff that it needs to convert.”
Bang on, buddy. Facebook is a growth tool. And when done right, it’s a damn profitable growth tool.
But read this, and read it again: when you meet new audiences on Facebook, you must be ready for them. It’s not good enough to have a killer Facebook funnel and mediocre everything else.
Facebook introduces new customers to your ecosystem, which includes – at minimum – your landing page, checkout page and homepage. And only healthy ecosystems can support new business.
At my previous job, we measured everything.
And we tested everything.
The media buyers and the copywriters and the growth strategists all rode that ‘coaster together, hands gripped tight, collectively cheers-ing from the craft beer tap in the kitchen when things looked like fire. And then quieted right down when they didn’t.
But that’s when we always looked at why.
- Why (oh why 🙄) did a landing page beheaded of its problem-agitation section lose to the variation that “got to the product quicker?” (Ahh, feel the redemption of a 1,000 copywriters who’ve been told their page is “too long.”)
- Why do video testimonials taken by sincere people with cell phones in messy basements consistently outperform slick, branded everything, always? (Because user-generated content works.)
- Why did that rando thumbnail of bbq’d sausages convert like gangbusters? (Long story that doesn’t really have an answer other than “because Facebook.”)
And in the process of asking why (and then testing hypotheses), I learned. A lot.
About what can work and what might not on cold audiences. And I soften that sentence because there are no absolutes on what works and what doesn’t on Facebook.
You can follow best practices. You can develop hypotheses. But until you put your offer in front of those you want to buy it, it’s impossible to say what will work. You must test.
“Testing lets advertisers uncover what works best for their ads so they can iterate on that to generate more business or increase their leads—getting better results for less money,” Michael Stelzner notes in this Social Media Examiner article on Facebook testing in which an online marketer watches her cost-per-acquisition drop from $100 to $25 – as a direct result of testing.
So when Ange was like “sooooo…. Facebook ads?” my ears perked like a dog at dinnertime.
Which – before I get into what happened after Ange and I linked elbows and marched right past that cool reception – brings us to the elephant in the room.
Soooo, ‘bout that elephant...
When I first heard marketers doom-predicting around iOS14, I kind of shrugged my shoulders. Since being in the industry, there have been countless foreboding “big Facebook shakeups.” Like the post-Cambridge Analytica algorithm changes. Or the removal of the 28-day attribution window. And they all just sort of fizzle like a wet sparkler on New Years Eve. (Ahem, Y2K.)
Or, to be more precise – they’re what savvy marketers just, you know, adapt to.
But iOS14 feels different.
Now if you’ve been vacationing on Mars, or like, just not paying attention to digital marketing news at all, iOS14, in a nutshell, is an Apple update that forces users to say “Yep, I’m willing to be tracked across the far-reaches of the internet.” Or, “nope.”
Currently, these permissions are just assumed, though anybody can go into their settings and turn them off. The concern is that ain’t nobody’s going to agree to that. And Facebook will lose a swath of its tracking and attribution capabilities. Which will make ad performance suffer and advertisers question why they’re even using the dog-garned platform anyway.
As Ange and I ramped up our “big Facebook experiment,” iOS14 was a whisper. But that whisper just kept getting louder until it reverberated all around the world then straight outta our boss’s mouth: “So what are you two doing about iOS14?”
We did all the things Facebook tells advertisers to do to minimize impact. (And you should too, if you haven’t already.)
All that said, at the time of writing, we’re currently advertising to cookied audiences. And things are fine.
But like, actually fine. Good, even. Like let’s-keep-it-running good.
But now marketers are crystal balling about scary things like the death of the cookie. And that might be an inevitability.
And although targeting cold, new audiences is safer than retargeting website visitors (“If you have previously shown retargeting ads to people who visited your website, iOS 14 users who opted out will no longer see these retargeting ads,” states this Periphery Digital blog), the whole situation remains a giant question mark. (Though you can still retarget video viewers, page engagers and email lists – with minimal iOS14 impact.)
So the future of Facebook advertising may look like crazy-optimized cold offers that incentivises people to “act immediately.”
Or the future may look like lead-gen where you meet ‘em and close ‘em in the same meeting.
But – take a moment. Breathe in. Breathe out.
However the dust settles, Luke Marr in this WooCommerce blog points out something we’d all be wise to remember:
“The key for marketers is an open mind toward adapting practices to the new world…
The digital landscape is in a constant state of change and this is no different. Though many platforms have expressed concern, new solutions will arise.”
In fact, our Facebook ad rep Colin tells us that, in the wake of iOS14, Facebook now recommends large, broad, cold audiences.
Phew. Now that’s out of the way, we can get to the fun stuff, like…
7 things to do to set up your cold campaign for success.
With a gigantic caveat that every offer is different, there are certainly what I’ll call green flags when it comes to assessing whether an offer may work on Facebook.
#1) Nail the ol’ direct-response trifecta of success: list, offer, copy.
Waaaay back in the heyday of direct response marketing – to which we should bow down to and learn lots from – a marketer named Ed Mayer put forth the idea that people will buy what you’re selling when you optimize these three things: your list, your offer and your copy.
In fact, he said, it’s actually a 40-40-20 rule, where…
“40 percent of the success of a marketing campaign is based on reaching the right audience, another 40 percent is based on the offer you are making, and the remaining 20 percent is [the copy and creative].”
Through Facebook you can create instant lists millions of people long: Copywriters. Chimpanzee lovers. Women in the South.
You can optimize your offer and instantly split test your good ideas.
And as a conversion copywriter, you can use your persuasive prowess to connect ideal buyers with that ideal offer. For example, by using excellent storytelling in the FB ad copy she wrote for Strategyzer, Sarah Sal was able to boost their ticket sales to an impressive ROI of 1,866%.
I don’t want to sound blase, but really, truly: voila.
#2) Be independently verifiably awesome.
Consumers do their research. According to this Martech article, they research for up to 45 days – depending on what they’re buying.
You will get Googled. Many of our customers travel through our Facebook ads funnels, but ultimately convert through our homepage.
When they throw Copyhackers into the ol’ search bar, they find a company trusted by Google, Entrepreneur and a bunch of other household names that prop Copyhackers up on the credibility pedestal.
Be like Copyhackers.
#3) Don’t optimize for clicks – optimize for qualified clicks.
Here’s what Flint McGlaughlin, one of my (and everyone at Copyhackers) favorite marketers on the planet‘ll tell ya: the sole job of a Facebook ad is to get the qualified click.
And this is actually good news if delving into Facebook ads feels a bit like entering the Bermuda Triangle.
Take it from this AdEspresso article that states: “If you want to grab the attention of an audience on Facebook, “Here’s my product, buy now!” isn’t going to cut it.”
A big mistake beginner marketers make is thinking they have to sell the whole shebang on first glance. Absolutely not true.
Your ad should be the link between what your prospect desires or needs… and what you can actually offer them.
Clicks for the sake of clicks is a waste of money.
#4) Have a thriving ecosystem.
The job of your ad is to push prospects to your landing page which is to push prospects to your checkout page which is to push your prospects to take out their credit cards and buy.
Or a million other variations of that.
According to that same AdEspresso article mentioned above:
“Converting cold audiences on Facebook commonly requires a sales funnel made of multiple stages and touchpoints, with different ad creatives, emphasizing unique value propositions.”
So if your Facebook funnel is slick but your .com presence looks shoddy and black-hat, your prospects will fly the way of the dodo bird.
Nothing exists in silos in digital marketing.
#5) Fit into the social space like a cool guy at a party.
Your prospects are on Facebook to argue with their uncle about politics and post baby pictures and finish the sentence: Last night I with predictive text.
They’re not at the mall. They’re not perusing shelves. They’re not looking to buy.
So meet them where they’re at.
Yes, you need to stand out. Yes, you need to grasp attention.
But you must do that within the parameters of the space.
Like this awesome ad shared in a Sprout Social article:
It works because it feels organic (and it’s a really, really cool offer).
But here’s the thing – even perusing “best Facebook ads” lists, you’ll find lots of slick, branded, product-forward information.
I’d argue – at least on cold traffic – to de-emphasize your product. And emphasize the “job to be done” that drives your prospect to use your product.
The author of this AdsFunnels article agrees, stating that your ads should look less like this…
…and more like this:
Value is the name of the game.
#6) Couple your messaging and targeting.
If you’ve ever felt the urge to pull out a bic and light your money on fire Alexander Supertramp-style, write an ad for women and target men. Write an ad for copywriters and target chefs.
It seems obvious, but oftentimes the person who writes the ads and the person who places them are different. Wires get crossed.
And when you’ve written copy for single mothers, but your media buyer is targeting early 20s college students, those ads will not perform.
So prioritize communicating with the person who actually places the ads. Include non-negotiable targeting parameters as part of your deliverable.
Here ads expert Sarah Sal takes this concept home in a case study where she sliced cost per action in half by ensuring messaging and targeting aligned.
Facebook agrees too, just not in so many words.
#7) Get obsessed with finding out LTV.
Settle in, and don’t you dare take your eyes off these words because this is where I talk about Lifetime Value for a loooong time to hammer home just how important it is.
Forbes calls it the most important metric. So do these guys and these guys and hey! So does our very own Joanna Wiebe in this Tutorial Tuesday.
The reason being: knowing lifetime value means you can figure out how much you can spend to acquire a customer – and still be profitable.
For example, if you have a subscription product that renews for $19.99 every month, you really need to know that your average customer sticks around for a whopping 14 months.
Suddenly spending $24 to acquire a customer worth $279.86 doesn’t look so bad.
Had you focussed solely on the day-of-purchase cost, you’d have long abandoned your campaign.
If you don’t know LTV, or are working with a client who doesn’t know theirs, prioritize finding out. Software like Baremetrics and Segmetrics can show you LTV within seconds of integrating your payment platforms with them. We now use both Baremetrics and Segmetrics at Copyhackers.
Understanding LTV is the non-negotiable of a successful ad campaign.
Okay! Is that sufficiently tattooed on the inside of your eyelids? Good. Here’s a tidbit:
When we started advertising on Facebook, we had no idea what our LTV was.
We didn’t know our LTV because Copy School changed its pricing model. Prior to Black Friday ‘20, it was a one-time purchase (that lucky grandfathered cohort).
And because of a commitment to adding new roadmaps every month, and to making ourselves available live weekly, we moved to a subscription model.
But that meant, at the time of our Black Friday launch, there was no real LTV to identify. So we veered way, way, way on the side of caution, assuming our LTV was $97 – the sale price of just 1 month of Copy School.
Now we know y’all love Copy School and stick around for much longer. But still – just 6 months later, our LTV is an evolving story.
So we went into our big April launch still on the safe side – just with a bit more rope.
Interlude: LTV, CVR, CTR what? A glossary of Facebook buying terms.
Okay – it’s time to get into how we launched Copy School 2021. But if you want to properly nerd out with me, be sure you understand these terms…
- CBO – Campaign Budget Optimization. Selecting this lets the Facebook algorithm dedicate spend to the best performing adset. Just be aware that audience size can affect distribution, so group similarly sized audiences together.
- ROAS – Return on Ad Spend. This shows you, based on purchase conversion value, how much money you’re making back. If your product costs $97/month, and you spent $97 to acquire one customer, your ROAS is 1.
- CPA – Cost-per-action. This is how much it costs to do what you’re trying to do. In a purchase conversion campaign, it refers to cost of purchase.
- Checkouts initiated and add-to-carts. This metric, represented as a number, shows how many people initiated checkouts or added your product to cart. Compare it to the number of purchases to understand your checkouts-initiated-to-purchase ratio.
- Lookalike audiences. These are audiences Facebook builds for you. You input a list of purchasers, for example, and Facebook will find those who share attributes with them – broadening those you can reach. These are often the best-performing cold audiences. (But beware – iOS14 could impact the size of the lists you use to create those lookalike audiences. Standby on that one.)
- Dynamic creatives. This means something a little different on various ad platforms. On Facebook this means you can input up to 10 videos and/or images and up to 5 headlines, text options, link descriptions and call-to-action buttons. Then let Facebook find the best combination.
- Attribution. This refers to what Facebook Ads Manager considers a sale. The default as of May 2021 is 7-day click – meaning if somebody clicks on your ad, but doesn’t convert until day 4 (or up to day 7), Facebook attributes that sale to your ad, on the day they first saw it.
The Case Study: How we planned, executed on and monitored our Copy School 2021 launch on Facebook at Copyhackers.
Now before I get into What We Did at Copyhackers, lets hand the mic back to the Ace Reunis at Threadbare (who got that 9X return on ad spend from cold audiences):
“The first thing you do whenever you’re targeting someone with an ad campaign, whether it’s on Google or Facebook, is you’re thinking about what your target audience is. Then, within that audience, you want to think about which respective segments are going to respond to a given message or product.”
And that’s pretty much what we did in this one-step-at-a-time process.
First we planned the structure.
Once we lowballed our LTV right down to a mere $97, it was time to strategize.
Now, Facebook – according to our ad rep Colin – will tell you to set up your campaigns like so:
- Budget and objective is set at the campaign level
- Audiences are set on the adset level
- Copy and creatives are set on the ad level
This time, we were targeting three similar but distinct segments:
- the small business owner
- the freelance copywriter
- the in-house copywriter or digital marketer who writes copy
Each had a unique funnel. Which made our strategizing feel a little like this…
And look a little like this…
Now, because we wanted to control the budgets – and because we didn’t want to put our 10,000 person audience in with our 2M person audience (because CBO would hungrily gobble up the little guy), we ended up with a lot of campaigns.
Keeping our lookalike and interest audiences in separate pools let us assess performance and duplicate winning campaigns during launch.
And it’s worth mentioning that, within each campaign, we had to exclude similar audiences to avoid overlap and competition against… ourselves.
Next we planned the copy and creatives.
Because of our research process, we had a pretty good idea about what messages would resonate.
But read that again: a pretty good idea.
If you want to set yourself up for success with Facebook advertising, test, test test.
Here’s a big ol’ guide to testing on Facebook from our friends at AdEspresso.
I tend to lean on the algorithm to find the best combination. Which means I create headlines, text and headline variation packages that work together.
And I lean on our research, hard. That’s where you find common themes. And that’s where you find sticky messages. Without research, creative strategy is but a boardroom sitcom.
I’ve seen consistently good results planning creatives in this way:
- Using text overlay on images to convey your most impactful message.
- Using the ad text (above the image) to provide context.
- Using the headline to drive action.
So that’s what we did. Then created two types of ads:
- Ads that led with a problem
- Ads that led with an aspiration
Both did well, but the problem-focussed ads generally performed better. And a disclaimer: when I say problem, we always approach the problem in a genuine, empathetic way.
Because we know freelancers who follow Copyhackers are driven to be really, really, really good, our aspirational-focussed ads looked like:
And we know there’s usually an event that leads the small businesses owner to realize they need marketing help.
So that’s where we met ‘em in our problem-focussed ads.
You’ll notice that for this one, we actually didn’t use the headline to drive action. Because our research showed them to be earlier in the buyer journey than the other segments: they suspect they have a marketing problem – but they’re not necessarily aware that li’l ol’ copy could help solve it.
For video creatives, we followed a problem-agitation-solution framework. (PS – have you bookmarked this beautiful beast of a blog?)
That ended up looking like this:
And AIDA for the aspirational-focussed ones, like this one here:
Both were among our best performers.
It also helped that our prospects love Jo, and that Jo is so willing and skilled with the camera stuff.
Finally, we created a buying plan.
Ange and I are like a teeter totter.
She leans a bit closer to caution. I lean a bit closer to risk. Together, we made the perfect buying team.
We had a strategy before launch: a nice, clear, “if-then” document that, in a perfect world, would serve as an easy blueprint.
But Facebook is a bit less like Pleasantville and a bit more like, well, Pleasantville with all the color.
Buying is an ever-evolving analytical situation that balances risk with potential gain, trust with skepticism. There’s an art to it. And a science. Kind of like conversion copywriting itself.
We basically have to be willing to lose everything on Day 1. Day 1 is the day we touch nothing. Day 1 is the day we let the algorithm do its thing. And no matter how great or horrible things look, we don’t touch it.
On Day 2, we look at ROAS as our #1 guiding metric. And we look at Unique CTR and Checkouts Initiated as our secondary guiding metrics.
The Copy School launch started strong out the gate. High ROAS that had Ange and I wishing we could physically high-five each other through Zoom. And then the weekend hit, and things slowed right down.
ROAS kept ticking down, and we had to share far-less-enthusiastic ad updates with the team.
On Sunday, we even turned a bunch of campaigns off.
But we kept keen eyes on CTRs and Checkouts Initiated. Those stats were fire. So we watched and waited. By Monday, sales were rolling in, nearly all our campaigns were back on, and ROAS was on an upward trajectory that wouldn’t falter through the end of launch.
And that’s how it went.
We got results that changed minds and hearts ’round here.
As mentioned, our ROAS was 4. That means we quadrupled what we spent in revenue.
But, here’s the most fun caveat in the world:
Remember how I mentioned we didn’t have an accurate LTV figure yet, so we imagined LTV at the ultra-conservative $97? (The sale price of one month of Copy School?)
In fact, this is monthly recurring revenue. And the vast majority of our new students stay. For a long time. So what we’re really looking at on return is more like 20X+.
But we’ll keep that little tidbit buried deep in this blog – until we can state it as fact.
Needless to say, eyes light up a bit more around here when we talk Facebook. Optimism abounds.