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3 Things Marketers Get Wrong With Expansion

It's time to expand your marketing efforts past the behemoths of Facebook and Google. But beware, don't make these mistakes.

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Ask any Chief Marketing Officer if they want to keep most of their advertising spend and resources within the twin-tower ecosystems of Google and Facebook. My guess is that nearly 100% of them will give some sort of "no," even if those are the only channels where they're currently spending.

Expanding advertising channels beyond those monopolies is an established best practice for a few good reasons — the biggest being that high-value customers can be engaged for lower costs elsewhere, online or otherwise.

That said, most brands that come to me for growth strategy haven't successfully diversified their marketing portfolios beyond Google and Facebook. Some have tested other channels without success; others haven't attempted to expand.

So what are they getting wrong? Why are they over-relying on the most expensive platforms and putting their growth at risk of massive market shifts like iOS14?

Related: Top 5 Not-So-Obvious Social Media Marketing Mistakes You Must Avoid

They don't test at the right point in their growth journey

Google and Facebook are popular for good reasons: they have incredible scale, and their advertising capabilities are more refined and proven than their competitors. This alone can make it hard to justify taking the time and money needed to give other channels a genuine chance to shine.

That said, if you have one or two of these conditions in your current ad campaigns, it's past time to diversify:

  • The value of your engagements decreases with each impression;
  • Creative testing isn't moving the needle on scale or performance;
  • Users outside of your core audience are converting at above-goal CPAs;
  • Your audience is finding new favorite channels (if Gen Z is important to you, and you're in retail, test TikTok pronto);
  • Your data clarity is or could be affected by privacy regulations (iOS14 alone should have been a warning sign for disproportionate spending on Facebook);
  • You're shifting your business goals out of alignment with your current channels.

You may have already gotten to this point of recognition and tried a couple of new channels to no avail. That brings me to the second mistake I often see regarding channel expansion.

Related: 10 Marketing Strategies to Fuel Your Business Growth

They don't test the right channels to engage high-value users

Channels outside the Google and Facebook monopoly have a lot of new variables to consider: scale (basically the size of the available audience), audience composition (compare the demographics of, say, Reddit and Pinterest) and audience intent (why is the audience engaging on that channel, and what kind of content appeals to them?).

Very few channels will approach Google or Facebook in size but do your research (quarterly earnings calls are a good source of information on engaged users) to figure out the current and projected size of available audiences on platforms and take into account any growth trends (e.g., TikTok and CTV are growing more quickly than most platforms). It's basically boilerplate to say, but in marketing, channels emerge, grow and shrink fairly quickly, so make sure you're referencing the most up-to-date data sources to help you make a decision.

As far as audience intent goes, do a bit of research as a user on those platforms to get a feel for content (both organic and sponsored). Make sure you're matching your goals for the platform to the user behavior you can expect to find there — for instance, Amazon ads will elicit clicks and conversions, but Reddit ads, even in the most niche and relevant sub-Reddits, may find users looking to consume information, not shop for products.

With your shortlist of new channels identified, you're down to the nitty-gritty: avoiding the last mistake marketers frequently make in channel expansion initiatives.

They don't measure the tests conclusively

Expectations, KPIs and targeting, are essential to nail if you're going to provide a testing environment that will show you with certainty whether your new channels are viable.

First, consider as part of your expansion mix how long you should expect new channels to take before they start paying off. Essentially, any channels that use first-party data and high-intent behavior will have a shorter time to purchase. In contrast, more awareness-based channels that serve to introduce your brand and products to customers in your target demographics will take longer to show a return.

For instance, email and push notifications should work quickly (if done well), and high-intent SEM terms and retargeting campaigns should be only slightly behind on latency. Paid social, influencer marketing, and CTV will be slower still, while OOH and direct mail, which don't generally leverage past engagement, should be considered long-term plays.

Misalignment of expectations and KPIs with channel size, intent and position in the purchase journey has curtailed a lot of prospects before a single dollar is spent. In other words, don't make the mistake of sinking a lot of money into OOH marketing looking for immediate KPI growth beyond brand search volume and site visits — or trying to use your email lists to build your retargeting audiences.

The last major piece of a good testing environment: setting the right targeting strategy for your new channels.

Essentially, you should start targeting broadly when the channel meets at least some of these conditions:

  • The data and segmentation levers are sophisticated and precise
  • You're relatively confident, based on audience/demographic/intent/goals., that the channel should work
  • You have healthy margins and can take some spending risks
  • Your media teams have the bandwidth, clear expectations and responsibilities for reacting as data comes in.

Conversely, start narrow if the following conditions apply:

  • Data and targeting are relatively primitive
  • You have slim margins and a very limited testing budget
  • You need to prove channel credibility with a small data sample
  • The new channel has similar attributes to the biggest channel in your portfolio.

If you follow the above advice, you'll run more successful expansion campaigns. That's not to say that every channel you test will be your next favorite, but you'll be able to say with much more certainty whether or not a channel worked and why — and you'll know when it's time to find another to test.

Related: 7 Tips to Enter a New Market and Experience Rapid Growth

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