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Portfolio Exclusive Resource

Why Paid Media

Special thanks to Patricia Nelson, a digital content and paid media expert, for her collaboration in creating this resource.

About Patricia

Patricia Nelson has over 12 years of expertise in paid media planning and execution, she currently serves as a paid media consultant working with Daffodil Digital, a leading digital communications agency dedicated to building and executing innovative social media strategies. Her professional journey is highlighted by roles such as the Creative and Digital Director for Andrew Yang’s 2020 presidential campaign and an instrumental early position at Vaynermedia, where she championed social media strategy for global brands like Campbell’s and The New York Jets. Her vast experience includes shaping paid media campaigns for industry giants like ServiceNow, Intuit, and Salesforce. A firm believer in audience engagement, Patricia consistently emphasizes that in today's dynamic paid media landscape, resonating and interactive targeted content holds greater value than mere static advertisements.

If you'd like to learn more about partnering with Patricia Nelson and Daffodil Digital, please contact the Lighthouse team at

Strategy Matters

If you build it, they won't just come! You can craft the finest brand, produce the best product, and create the most captivating content, but what's the point if nobody sees it?

Paid media is your megaphone, amplifying your message to expand your business. It paves the way for attracting new clientele, re-engaging with former customers, and elevating your brand visibility. Beyond just promotion, it offers a platform to experiment with messaging, solicit feedback, and fine-tune your audience targeting. While many companies heavily invest in branding and content creation, they often overlook the critical role of message distribution and amplification.

The typical marketing spend for companies usually sits at about 10% of revenue, as noted by Gartner. However, SaaS companies, especially those experiencing above-average growth, often dedicate around 14% of their revenue to marketing, as indicated by SaaS Capital. It's also worth noting that nearly 80% of individuals make buying decisions influenced by online or social media ads, showcasing the immense potential of paid media in acquiring new customers.

By leveraging paid media, you can grow your business much faster, allowing you to have more customers to test your product and help you grow market share. While investing in paid media can be challenging when budgets are tight, in today's digital world, you can learn a lot from small test spends and start growing your brand without breaking the bank.

Paid marketing often falls into 1 of 2 categories for businesses: an overlooked strategy or a perceived magic bullet for instant growth. However, a truly successful paid marketing campaign requires careful consideration of its multifaceted elements.

Understanding Goals

The objectives for a paid media campaign can vary widely based on the desired outcomes.

Key Objectives for Paid Media Campaigns:

  • Brand Awareness: Amplify your brand's presence and make it memorable.
  • Audience Engagement: Foster interaction and deepen connections with your audience.
  • User Acquisition: Expand your user base by attracting and converting new customers.
  • Lead Generation: Identify and cultivate potential customers or clients.
  • Message Testing: Evaluate and refine your messaging for optimum resonance and impact.

Identify Target Audience

Recognizing your target audience is often more challenging than it appears. It's essential to envision your potential buyer as a multi-dimensional individual rather than a simplistic stereotype. Take the example of marketing to 'moms': it's a broad category with diverse sub-groups, each driven by unique motivations. Thus, pigeonholing them into a monolithic group could make your targeting less effective and efficient. 

To truly understand and connect with your audience, consider these questions:

  • What does a day in their life entail?
  • How do they allocate their time?
  • Which hobbies or interests captivate them?

Answering these queries not only sharpens your message but also illuminates the most apt platforms and strategies for your outreach.

Different social media platforms come with varying targeting capabilities. Knowing these nuances can guide you to the platform most resonant with your audience. Moreover, use ad platforms to refine your targeting approach. Experiment with available options, interests, and build test segments aligned with your audience personas.

For a deeper dive into audience insights, tools like Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner can be invaluable. They allow you to uncover related interests and further refine your target segments.

Platform Targeting Options
  • Facebook and Instagram: Age, location, gender, interests, education level, financial or relationship status, whether they're parents or not, and more.
  • LinkedIn: Interest, location, job function, company, company size, company category and more.
  • Google search ads: Keyword 
  • Google Display ads: Age, location and interest category.

Competitor Analysis

Prior to launching your ad campaign, it's helpful to get an understanding of your competitors' activity in the ad space. Analyzing the types of ads your competitors are disseminating, and their chosen platforms, can shed light on their strategic focus. More importantly, it can hint at where your target audience might be most active.

Fortunately, a few platforms have rolled out tools to streamline this research:

For Facebook and Instagram ads you can search the Facebook Ads Library and for Google ads you can check the Google Ads Transparency Center.

While it’s beneficial to know what your competitors are doing, just because they're advertising in a particular way doesn't automatically make their campaigns successful. Use their tactics as a reference, not a template. Your goal should be to craft a message that not only resonates but also sets you apart from the competition.

Not all Channels are Created Equal

The success of your marketing efforts hinges on the alignment of your target audience, product, and objectives with the right paid media channels. While Search, Display, and Social Media ads might seem similar at a glance, their functions, benefits, and targeting capabilities differ markedly. Here's a basic breakdown of these ad types and their associated platforms:

These ad units serve different roles throughout the marketing funnel. 

Importance of Marketing Funnel

Understanding the customer journey is paramount in marketing. Rarely does a consumer encounter a single advertisement and immediately commit to a purchase. More often than not, they require education about the product and a persuasive ad—or several—before deciding to buy.

A robust paid media strategy recognizes this journey, laying down multiple touchpoints that engage, educate, and eventually guide the consumer towards purchase. Regrettably, many companies miss this holistic approach. They channel their investments predominantly into acquisition ads, sidelining the vital process of brand building.

This is where the marketing funnel demonstrates its value. On average, it takes around 8 touch points before a customer is primed for purchase, though this number can fluctuate based on the product's nature and its price. Every stage of the marketing funnel plays a critical role in moving the customer closer to that final buying decision.

As you cultivate your brand identity, consistency is key. While each ad should be optimized for its specific platform, they must retain a unified tone, voice, and theme. It's essential to review all ads collectively, considering their position in the user's journey. Together, they should weave a cohesive narrative that enriches your brand's story.

This is also where organic media comes into play and supports the efforts of paid media. Paid media combined with organic content helps to reinforce brand awareness. A recent study from TikTok's data shows an 18% increase in users who say a brand's organic content is relevant after being exposed to an ad first. Bringing consumers into your community is essential for continued engagement and brand building. It allows you to have continuous communication with them over the long-term without having to pay every time you want to engage with users. 

Crafting Engaging Ad Content

When conceptualizing ad content, consider these pivotal questions:

1. Does it resonate with my audience? 

Having identified your target audience and their interests, the content should cater specifically to them. For instance, if promoting a carpet cleaner to dog owners, featuring dogs in your ads is a surefire way to pique interest.

2. Is it reflective of my brand? 

Ads should seamlessly extend your brand’s identity. This consistency not only builds recognition but also fortifies brand value.

3. Does it feel native to the platform? 

Understand the inherent user behavior on each platform. On Reddit, for instance, where memes dominate, an ad fashioned as a meme would seamlessly blend in.

4. Does it highlight the product's benefits? 

While product features are essential, the core message should center on the tangible benefits a customer stands to gain. Emphasize how the product can enrich their life or business.

Remember, in the fast-paced world of social media, capturing attention is a fleeting opportunity. On platforms like Facebook, users might spend merely 1.7 seconds with mobile content and slightly more on desktop. Hence, your ad should be sharp, succinct, and visually arresting.

Moreover, the visual and textual elements of your ad should work in tandem, accentuating one another. Always incorporate a singular, unmistakable call-to-action, tailored to the specific goal of that ad.

A common misstep I observe among brands in the early stages of advertising is an excessive emphasis on product features, often overlooking the benefits for the audience. In my experience with numerous SaaS companies, initial messaging tends to delve deep into product specifics, sidelining how the product can catalyze business growth and offer tangible advantages. To address this, I collaborate with these companies to formulate varied message iterations that underscore value. We then allocate a minimal budget for A/B testing these messages, using the insights to inform our primary focus going forward.

Optimizing Ad Copy

Ad copy isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition. Different platforms demand distinct approaches to maximize effectiveness.

Social Media Ads

In the realm of social media, ad copy should blend seamlessly with organic content, avoiding a hard-sell tone. Key strategies include:

  • Using a conversational tone: Use casual language that aligns with everyday conversation to resonate with the audience.
  • Evoking emotion: Strive to connect with users on an emotional level, encouraging sharing and engagement.
  • Incorporating statistics: Data-driven points can lend credibility and capture attention.
  • Using social proof: Testimonials or endorsements can reinforce the value proposition.
  • Creating urgency: Prompts like "limited time offer" or "only a few left" can propel users to act swiftly.
Google Search Ads

Due to its intent-driven nature and strict character limitations, Google search ad copy should be concise and laser-focused. Essential elements include:

  • Clarity: Present your message clearly and succinctly. Avoid fluff.
  • Keyword Inclusion: Embed campaign-specific keywords to bolster relevance and performance. This not only aids in ad rank but also assures users that the ad aligns with their search intent.

Optimizing ad copy is a blend of art and science, and understanding platform-specific nuances is fundamental for success.

Creative Assets and Best Practices

There are 5 different types of ad creatives that you can utilize when you’re creating ads and options vary depending on the platform. 

1. Videos Ads

2. Image Ads
3. Carousel Ads
4. Document Ads
5. Link Ads

When deciding on the type of ad creative to use, it's crucial to consider the overall goal of the ad. Recently, there's been a noticeable shift towards video content. However, video isn't always the most effective medium for driving conversions. A key point to remember is that the average view time for in-feed videos is around 3 seconds. Consequently, relying on an extended product video might not be the most effective way to engage audiences on platforms like Facebook or Instagram. To ensure brand recall, it's vital that the brand is either visible on screen or mentioned within the initial moments of the video, so viewers recognize it even if they don’t watch the entire ad.

Both image and carousel ads can serve as powerful tools for both brand awareness and conversion. Carousel ads, when used to narrate stories and captivate users with the first few images, can significantly boost engagement.

For B2B advertising on LinkedIn, document ads are a game-changer. These ad formats enable users to download valuable content such as guides or playbooks. By doing so, B2B buyers are equipped with insightful takeaways, further enriching their understanding of a product or technology's benefits.

This past year I helped an API company launch their first advertising campaign. We started with a mix of image and video creatives, simultaneously developing content tailored for LinkedIn's download ads. Since our primary target was the B2B demographic, we adopted a multi-platform strategy, with a special emphasis on LinkedIn's download ads. Our image and video campaigns performed well, with cost per lead below platform averages. However, the game-changer was the introduction of our document ads, which outperformed our image and video ads with a staggering 279% decrease in cost per lead and a 21% uptick in click-through rate. This underscored a pivotal lesson: delivering tangible value to our audience and identifying the right ad products based on your goals is a potent strategy for attracting high-caliber leads.

A classic case of a company struggling to craft persuasive ads and utilize precise targeting is the startup, Quibi. Despite securing substantial funding and spending millions on pre-launch advertising, Quibi faced numerous challenges, with their marketing campaigns exacerbating the issue. The promotional content failed to carve out a unique identity for Quibi amidst a sea of competitors. Additionally, their advertising approach lacked precision; they opted for generalized messaging promoting bite-sized video content. A more strategic approach, leveraging hyper-targeted campaigns tailored to the unique preferences and inclinations of specific demographics, might have yielded a better return on their substantial ad spend.

Proper Tracking and Cost Allocation

At the heart of any successful ad campaign is the ability to monitor and measure its impact. Without effective tracking, you're essentially navigating in the dark, unable to refine your strategy or gauge your performance.

Why Tracking Matters
  • Optimization: Real-time insights enable you to tweak your ads for improved performance.
  • Measurement: Understand the effectiveness of each ad, allowing for better resource allocation.
Implementing Tracking Mechanisms
  • Tracking Codes & Pixels: Most ad platforms provide specific tracking codes or pixels. By integrating these into your website, you can gain invaluable insights into traffic sources and pinpoint which ads are driving conversions.
  • Event Tracking: This advanced feature allows for more granular analysis. By setting up event tracking within your chosen ad platform, you can monitor specific actions, be it lead generation, completed purchases, or instances where carts are abandoned.

Incorporating these tracking mechanisms isn't just about collecting data. It's about deriving actionable insights that enable you to fine-tune your campaigns, ensuring that you're leveraging the most effective platforms and strategies for your brand.

Cost and Budget Allocation

"How much should I spend?" is often the first question on everyone's mind when preparing to launch an ad campaign. While various factors influence this decision, there isn't a definitive right or wrong answer.

Here are some crucial considerations when determining your initial budget:

1. The Primary Goal of the Campaign

For instance, if your B2B company is running a user acquisition campaign, the cost of acquiring a single lead might range from $50 to $300 or more. If you allocate just $500 to this campaign, you might not generate any leads as you navigate the learning and optimization phase.

2. Duration of the Campaign

The campaign's duration has a significant impact on your budget allocation. For example, if you're just starting out and decide to allocate $500 over a 30-day period, you might not achieve substantial traction because the budget gets thinly dispersed.

3. Size of the Audience

The audience's size is pivotal when setting your budget. If your audience is vast, a smaller budget may not generate enough impressions to drive conversions.

4. Number of Platforms for Ad Placement

For those with a limited budget, it's advisable to focus on just one or two platforms. This strategy ensures that your budget is substantial enough to provide meaningful insights. For instance, if you're initiating with a budget of $1,000, I'd recommend starting on a single platform.

The Importance of A/B Testing

One of the main advantages of paid media campaigns in today’s landscape is that they allow you to test and learn quickly. Even with limited budgets, you can A/B test various iterations encompassing audiences, creatives, and ad copies. This iterative approach gives insights into what resonates with your target audience and ensures optimal allocation of your media spend.

When planning your A/B tests, it's advisable to introduce 2-3 variations of both copy and creative components. This could encompass a mix of images, videos, and multiple textual options. Moreover, consider personalizing the copy to align with specific audience segments. Such tailoring could be based on interests or affinities to build a stronger contextual connection with your potential consumers.

Upon discerning your top-performing ads, streamline your campaign by pausing the underperforming ones. This ensures you're capitalizing on what works best, thereby maximizing the efficacy of your campaign.

Monitoring and Ad Optimization

One of the benefits of A/B testing is that you can make changes and optimize campaigns on the fly. I recommend monitoring campaigns very closely initially and checking on performance daily. You don't necessarily want to make changes every day because you need to give the ads time to run and garner insights, but you do want to ensure that you don't let ads with poor performance continue to run. 

If your ad campaign is not performing, there are multiple steps you can take to try and improve your results. To begin, you should start by looking at the creative and copy. If you've attempted multiple images and copy edits and your campaign is still not performing, it's time to check your audience targeting. Audience targeting can be the most challenging thing to get right. Start by making minor adjustments and keeping track of your changes to see what makes an impact. 

I recently worked on a campaign for a healthcare company. Based on most KPIs, our ads were performing well, but we weren't seeing strong conversions on Facebook and Instagram. We had a lot of success on Facebook and Instagram with our previous products and campaigns, but no matter how many adjustments we made, we still couldn't get the new campaign to convert. We pivoted and tried Google search ads for our new campaign, and we had much more success, achieving a 76% lower cost-per-acquisition. We then shifted our budgets to focus that specific campaign on Google only.

When a campaign isn't hitting its mark, numerous adjustments are available. It's crucial to remain agile, making consistent optimizations to maximize your budget's effectiveness.

Measuring Success

To determine if your ad campaign is effective, it's essential to review several key performance indicators. While the primary performance indicator might differ based on the goal of your ads, you should always consider the following metrics to help optimize and gauge success:

  • Impressions: The number of times your ad is viewed.
  • Cost-per-click (CPC): The cost incurred each time someone clicks your ad.
  • Click-through-rate (CTR): This measures an ad's effectiveness by calculating the percentage of people who clicked on it after seeing it.
  • Total clicks: The number of times users clicked on an ad.
  • CPM (Cost per Thousand Impressions): Cost for every 1,000 ad impressions.
  • Cost per Acquisition (CPA): The cost to acquire a new user.
  • Conversion Rate: The percentage of users who take the desired action after seeing an ad.
  • Cost per Lead: The amount paid for each potential customer.

When launching your paid media campaign, treat it as an exploratory phase to gather as much information as possible. The focus for the initial months should be more on learning and optimization rather than the ROI. You'll refine various aspects, from the creatives and messaging to the target audience.

As you progress beyond the initial testing phases, you can start assessing performance impact. Your primary KPIs will align with your business's overarching goals and the specific objectives of your ad campaigns.

For beginners, the primary success indicator will probably be website traffic. Important questions to consider include:

  • What is the CTR from the ad to my website?
  • Is the traffic high quality?
  • Are the visitors actively engaging with my site?
  • How much am I spending to bring each user to the site?

When a visitor lands on your website, it signifies product awareness. You can then initiate strategies to funnel them towards conversion. This might involve retargeting ads to maintain engagement. For conversion ads, you'd want to measure:

  • The CTR from the ad to the landing page.
  • The conversion rate from the landing page to sign-up.
  • The cost per lead or acquisition.

The success of an ad campaign hinges on numerous factors. The crux is whether the campaign meets the predefined goals set before its initiation. Every startup has unique goals and requirements at inception; hence, ad campaigns are not one-size-fits-all. While acquiring users is a paramount objective, simultaneous brand building is crucial. Ad campaigns combining brand awareness with user acquisition are six times more effective than those focusing on acquisition alone. Brand-centric campaigns not only reduce user acquisition costs but also enhance long-term value. Even though brand awareness campaign outcomes can be elusive to measure, early investments in brand growth are vital, even if it means allocating a modest budget portion towards it.

The app Headspace is a great example of using paid media to grow and having measurable results to showcase the ROI. Once hitting a plateau in growth, they pivoted to paid media, as a means to supercharge their user engagement.

With a laser-focused campaign, Headspace divided their resources to attract both potential new users and reconnect with lapsed users. Their strategy was to create distinct, tailor-made messages, resonating with users based on their past interactions with the app.

Choosing Instagram and Facebook as their primary channels, they quickly saw strong results. Facebook alone delivered a whopping 15x ROI, emerging as the champion of subscriber acquisition and value delivery. Additionally, using A/B testing their remarketing campaign identified key messages to reactivate plans that had lapsed within varying time frames, cutting down attrition by an impressive 25%.

The Importance of an Optimized Landing Page

When the ad campaign successfully directs traffic but falls short on conversions, the landing page often becomes the primary suspect. A well-optimized ad can do its job of attracting the right audience, but if the landing page fails to resonate, engage, or build trust, visitors might leave without taking the desired action.

Landing pages are an important element of converting visitors to leads or purchase. High converting landing pages have the following elements: 

  • Clear Unique Value Proposition (UVP): Your headline and subheadline should immediately convey the unique value your product or service offers.
  • Compelling Call-to-Action (CTA): A clear, concise, and action-oriented CTA that stands out visually and tells visitors exactly what you want them to do.
  • Relevant Visuals: High-quality images or videos that are directly related to the product, service, or offer. Visual content should complement and enhance the message.
  • Consistent Design: The design, colors, and branding should be consistent with the rest of your digital presence to build trust.
  • Mobile Optimization: The page should be responsive and load quickly on all devices, especially on mobile.

The landing page should seamlessly follow the ad unit, incorporating similar copy and imagery to maintain consistency. Incorporating video on your landing page can substantially enhance its effectiveness. In fact, video landing pages have been shown to boost conversion rates by as much as 86%.

Ad Frequency and Fatigue

We've all been there: seeing the same ad repeatedly until it becomes more annoying than effective. As you're building your brand, it's crucial to find the perfect equilibrium between raising awareness and reaching the saturation point where your ads might start to irritate or become white noise to your audience.

Preventing Ad Fatigue
  • Budget and Audience Size Correlation: One common pitfall is mismatching your ad budget with your target audience size. Oversaturating a small audience with a substantial budget can be counterproductive.
  • Monitor Ad Frequency: Keep a vigilant eye on your ad's frequency. If the frequency for a particular campaign surpasses 10, it's a strong indicator that change is needed.
  • Refreshing and Diversifying Creatives: Instead of repeating the same message, bring in new visuals, tweak the copy, or change the ad format to provide a fresh perspective.
  • Expand Your Audience: To prevent overexposure, consider widening your target audience. This not only reduces the chances of ad fatigue but also introduces your brand to a newer set of potential customers.

Ad fatigue might not be a pressing issue with budgets in the lower tens of thousands. However, as monthly expenditures approach the hundreds of thousands, especially within specific target audiences, it becomes a growing concern. To mitigate this, ensure that your ad sets vary across platforms. Moreover, ads aimed at retargeting your visitors should convey a distinct message from the initial ones presented.

In the digital advertising landscape, more isn't always better. It's about delivering the right message at the right frequency, ensuring that your brand remains memorable without becoming monotonous.

Getting Started

Setting up an ad campaign might seem overwhelming initially, but it doesn't have to be. We've put together a straightforward checklist to simplify the process and help you create your first paid media campaign.

Utilize this checklist as your blueprint when preparing to launch your first ad campaign. As you dive into the world of paid media, remember that it's a journey of continuous learning and optimization. Every campaign presents an opportunity to gather insights, refine strategies, and grow your brand.


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