I am a search marketer. I always do keyword research before launching any marketing campaign, I can’t help myself.
When I hear that we got press coverage for something, I immediately look to see if we got a link and what page it pointed to.
Search is literally in my blood.
But, unfortunately, as a search marketer, I have drastically devalued the importance of building impressions for my brand.
Everything I learned, practiced, and watched as I entered this industry, taught me that your sole job as a digital marketer is to drive traffic, leads, opportunities, deals, and revenue.
And, if you want to be the best, you should be able to track it all. If you can’t track something it can’t be trusted or valued.
This is the culture of search marketing in today’s marketplace and it’s wrong.
We Forgot About Awareness
As advertisers, we have the best targeting we have ever had available to us in the history of mankind.
We can literally advertise to our exact persona.
Yet, we insist on trying to drive leads and interest before we ever build awareness. It’s like we all somehow forgot the first part of the funnel.
I know am guilty of this.
I went five years without ever giving advertising for brand awareness even the slightest bat of my eye.
Brand? Awareness? C’mon…I drive leads and revenue. Those ads don’t even get clicks, how could they be valuable. Seems like a waste of money. My client has limited budget, why would I take money away from revenue driving campaigns to drive awareness?
That was my approach.
We have literally been brainwashed by our industry, clients, and managerial environment to think like this.
The reality is that you need to be taking at least a small percent of your advertising budget to build awareness for your brand.
My Journey From Revenue-Only to Brand-First
So how did a guy who is obsessed with tracking, attribution, financial modeling, and lead generation become smitten by brand advertising?
I became smitten by brand advertising because I succeeded at lead generation… and still failed.
It goes all the way back to last year. I was working diligently to figure out how we could drive leads from paid social.
We knew who our exact persona was and we wanted to turn them into leads so that our sales development and account executive team could turn them into opportunities, deals, and revenue.
Here’s what we learned.
Enter Our Sweet Prince, LinkedIn
We had experience with the major paid social channels, but knew that the targeting (for B2B) had become greatly limited since certain targeting was removed from Facebook. Because of this, we decided LinkedIn would be our best starting point.
We also knew that our lead generation efforts would start and end with the quality of the asset we were promoting.
So, we started by creating assets that we thought resonated with our audience. The first big asset we created was a guide to B2B marketing and demand generation.
It did OK. Nothing special, but we were converting at around 14%.
And of recent, we were running lead generation ads so that we could remove the friction of a landing page, but we knew we could get more out of the platform.
So we dove into the LinkedIn pixel and found that certain job titles were performing much better for us (lower CPA) than others.
This is when we took a concept from our paid search campaigns, single keyword ad groups (SKAGs), and came up with the idea of building SPAGs (singe persona ad groups).
We took the asset above and took it from being a generic asset, “The Guide to B2B Marketing and Demand Generation“ and turned it into a personified asset, “The VPs Guide to B2B Marketing and Demand Generation.”
Seems simple, but it took our conversion rate from around 14% to over 60%
One small tweak, SPAGs, that required us to change only our creative and cover page of our asset allowed us to target all of our personas: VP, Director, and Manager, without having to increase content resources.
We were ecstatic.
But it failed.
Now you might be thinking, how in the world does a campaign targeting your exact persona that converts at over 60% (them giving us their contact info) fail?
Math. Sometimes it’s a real buzzkill.
You see, we ran all of our data through our customer acquisition cost (CAC) model and we found out that our sales development team and marketing automation campaigns were unable to monetize our campaigns effectively when compared to buying the same lead for $1 from ZoomInfo.
Why is this?
We got some tough, but insightful feedback from our sales development team:
“Every time we call one of the leads they have not read the asset yet so it’s really hard to get them to a meeting or even to move them down the funnel. How much are these leads costing anyway?”
We answered that the leads were costing us around $20.
Sales development was shocked. $20 for a lead that has no intent? Why?
This is when my brain started to go crazy.
Why did I feel like it was my responsibility as a marketer to drive leads to sales development if I could not infer intent from social media?
Everything I had been taught, read, and experienced said it was my job to drive leads, opps, deals, and revenue.
Could that be in jeopardy?
Well, partly, yes.
You see, our sales development team, made a great case.
Why should we pay $20 for a lead that has the same intent as a lead we could buy for $1?
I could not think of one good reason. If it’s not about marketing getting credit as a contributor then I couldn’t see how lead generation (without intent) makes sense when modeling the data out in a financial model.
So what do we do?
Should we just not run social media and display ads?
It felt like such a waste to me as a marketer. I was desperate to discover a better way to advertise to our personas that made financial sense.
Enter Impression-Based Campaigns
At this point in our story, I think it’s important to point out the strength of our marketing: discoverability.
My company is very discoverable at the bottom of the funnel when there’s purchase intent.
We show up well organically for purchase-intent keywords and on third-party review sites that rank well for terms that our buyers searches when they are at the proposal stage.
That’s great and all, but what about the percentage of our total addressable audience that doesn’t search?
And, even if people do search and find us (amongst other competitors) would they favor us over other options if they have no awareness of our brand?
I figured that these questions warranted testing.
So, I went to our team and worked with them to come up with a brand campaign whose whole purpose would be to drive brand impressions on our exact persona.
We knew people wouldn’t click our ads and we didn’t want to turn them into leads.
We simply wanted to drive awareness to our exact persona (or people in the market for our services)
We were able to drive around 1.8 million impressions on LinkedIn for about $1,000. But we had to learn a few things to get there.
As you can see below, we launched with in-feed ads. These were prohibitively expensive. So we explored different ad units and landed on text ads.
We first ran these on a CPM basis. I mean we are trying to build impressions, right?
Luckily, we split-tested CPM bidding against CPC bidding. Boy, am I glad we did that.
We found that because LinkedIn struggles so much at driving clicks for text ads that if your goal is impressions you will get a much lower CPM on LinkedIn by doing CPC based bids.
This is because LinkedIn accelerates your impressions trying to drive clicks, but because they have such a poor click-through rate (CTR) you end up getting more impressions then if you simply targeted those in the first place.
OK, this is great and all, but what was the ROI?
The answer, I have no clue.
I wish that I did, but unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult to track ROI from impressions at this date.
What I can tell you is that since launching, every one of our core KPIs has increased and we are talking with the brands we always dreamed of working with who we were not able to consistently drive form fills from before.
Most of these in our attribution are being attributed to direct.
Coincidence? I think not.
I would encourage you to take some of your budget from your ad campaigns and start building impressions for your brand. It’s worth the money.
It doesn’t matter if you are a local donut shop who spends $10 a day driving awareness to people within walking distance of your shop or if you are a global conglomerate who needs to drive sales across the world.
Brand awareness matters.
At a CPM of $0.15 on Google’s Display Network and $0.60 on LinkedIn, I can not think of one good reason to not build impressions on people looking for what you offer or who fit your exact persona.
I hope this story helps you. Give it a shot and let me know your experience in the comments!