Remove Bias in Digital Marketing - How to Create Ads that Speak to all Audiences
I’m going to break down why marketers have a tendency to use anecdotal evidence to dictate their campaigns - by telling you an anecdote.
Growing up, I was one of six children. Every time I tell people that, they gasp and ask me, “How did you ever get any attention?” The answer is, of course, that I didn’t, which explains how I got into a career where the very definition of my job is to do anything possible to get that attention.
The thing about it, though, is I’ve learned very valuable things about humans and their interactions because of so much exposure to it (quiet time wasn’t a thing, as you can imagine). And even though we were all raised the same - the same parents, the same activities, the same forms of punishment and reward, the same bedrooms (triple bunk beds!) - we all turned out wildly different. Every personality type and life trajectory was expressed by the six of us - no one being like any other. We all have our own ways of communicating, interacting with the world, and responding to stimuli.
Most Marketing Campaigns Forget the Simple Fact that Every Person is Different
If my siblings and I saw an ad for a new pair of shoes focusing on, for instance, a discount, it might interest two of us. If we saw an ad showing celebrities wearing them, one might feel influenced and be compelled to buy. An ad talking about the practicality and comfort might trigger a response in me. And the remaining two wouldn’t respond to the ad regardless of your message - showing the budget was wasted by targeting that group.
But most marketing campaigns we see or inherit from other marketing companies seem to have one message, one deal, one target audience. This would make sense if you were a company and had one television spot to fill - you do research and hope to run the one most likely to succeed. But with digital media, no such limitation exists.
The problem with most digital ad campaigns we see is that they target only one type of stimulus. The solution is running ads to target each type.
Our Principle for Creating Ads - Value, Relationship, Scarcity
The beauty of marketing in a digital landscape is you can properly test, track and analyze ads on a very minute level. We can run a rotation of ads on Facebook and track the data to see which ones performed best. We can run several ad varieties on Google based on the same keyword query and determine which one worked the best. We can segment out targeted audiences by demographics, location, behavior and more to really dig into the data and craft a story.
What I’ve found, over the years, is that all successful ads fall under at least one of three categories:
Every clothing store in the mall has a sale or a rack with marked down items where you can really get a “steal.” The thing is, a lot of these sales aren’t sales at all, but rather just a marketing trick to compel shoppers to feel good about their purchase. And it works. Certain people respond to the feedback that they got something out of the transaction that they wouldn’t have elsewhere. Some examples of value-type ads include:
- Buy one get one free
- 20% off
- Special value proposition like “getting the best service in the industry”
Often, we buyers really like to feel good about what we buy. We like to know that a purchase we made, or a contract we sign, sits well and our conscience is clear. Sometimes we make a decision on whom to hire just because we liked one person more than another. Humans are inherently social, so relationships are important to us when we make decisions. Some examples of relationship-type ads are:
- Made in the USA
- A portion of proceeds donated to charity
- Our company’s values are stellar so support us
- We’re your friendly neighborhood business
- We’re the highest rated
- Meet our team
Every furniture store in the country seems to be going out of business at some point - until the next one moves into the same space, with the same staff and the same products, under a different name. As humans, the scarcity principle can be a strong motivating force in our decisions - act now before you miss out. And this is seen in practice in plenty of ad messaging such as:
- Limited-time offers
- Timed sales (Black Friday being the biggest example)
- Time limit countdowns in ticketing checkouts
- Limited seats (inventory) available
- Realtor “SOLD” signs
How to Choose Which Kind of Ad to Use for Your Campaign
I mentioned before about the beauty of digital marketing being in the ability to control it at any scale. When we setup our ad campaigns, we make sure to use an ad from each of the above categories, and then track performance. We’re not limited to choosing what we hope will be the best ad - we use them all!
We’re going to make up a company, say an accounting firm called Full Service Tax Planning, that services the Lexington, KY area. This firm, while fairly established, has just begun marketing itself with social media to gain leads and exposure. The obvious time to run ads would be during tax season, but we’ll pretend we’re running ads in July - a time where leads will be slower. Here are some quick examples of ads we’d look at running:
Value - offering free planning and resources. Since it’s not peak season for taxes, the firm has extra bandwidth to create resources and offer free consultations in order to generate leads.
Scarcity - by reminding their potential customers of the hectic nature of tax season, they hope to trigger a response from people wanting to get better attention and consultation before it’s too late.
Relationship - With Lexington, while the urban core might be more business-focused, the outer communities are more rural and more apt to want to form relationships with their various business providers. We may find this is a powerful motivating force in decision-making.
For any campaign we’d run, we would run all three of these ads at the same time, rotating, to see which ones garner the most interest and generate the most leads. From there, we may decide to focus our budget on only one type, or find that each has its merit and continue to run variations of each. By running the three, we can cast a wider net and hope to trigger a response in potential customers of all types.
Removing Our Own Bias, as Marketers, from Advertising
Planning out a campaign
The first step in creating a campaign that’s bias-free is to plan out a few things. What are the goals you’d like to achieve - is it awareness, lead generation, web traffic, sales, or something else? Write it down and don’t forget it so you can always work your ads towards meeting the goal. With digital campaigns, you may find yourself limited to one since there’s only one call to action available, so determine the most important.
Make sure to work out the structure, budget, timeline and other important factors of the campaign, so the ads you create and target can fit in contextually.
Internal focus group - ask what’s most important
One exercise we’ve found to be helpful is to bring a team into the ad creation process. Often, we’ll find ourselves unable to think of ads that will fit into each of our three categories, but someone else on the team will. This is a direct expression of our personal biases limiting our creativity - certain things just don’t appeal to us as individuals.
Even if you don’t have a team around you, take some time to poll others about the things that are most important to them in relation to the campaign you’re creating. In our tax planning example, survey others as to what they think is the most important aspect of hiring an accountant. You’ll find some will say price, some will say expertise, some will say references, and so on. By listing these out, you’ll begin to see patterns and categorize each item into your different ad types.
Set up tracking properly
It goes without saying that the key to running a good digital strategy is having good data. If you’re making advertising decisions based on feel, you’re falling into the same bias trap we’re trying to avoid.
So, set up several things with each campaign you run. Track impressions, clicks, conversions, goals, engagement and more. You may find certain ads get large numbers of clicks, but relatively low numbers of conversions, versus the opposite with other ads. By having good data with large enough sample sets, you can make informed decisions while removing your own idea of what should succeed.
Be willing to fail
I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve run ads we thought were surefire winners, only to find that they didn’t engage the audience how we expected. Don’t think that an ad not converting means you failed - it’s all part of learning your audience, their expectations and needs. Since you thoroughly tracked your data, you can pin down where it went wrong. Maybe it was targeted incorrectly, or maybe the messaging didn’t line up with your audience’s intent. Either way, you’ve got the tools to learn and improve to eventually find that “sweet spot” with your campaigns.
If you’re an agency, just make sure to communicate clearly with your client ahead of time that this is all part of the process. You hate to waste budget, but in the early days, learning an audience is key to long-term success. Don’t promise that an ad will be effective just because you think it will. We’ve seen ads that are nearly identical to previous campaigns, run for nearly identical companies, fail miserably because the customer base is wildly different in their market. Remember - we’re doing this process to remove bias - and prior experience is a form of bias itself.
Adjust and test again
Whether or not the ad was a thrilling success or an abysmal failure, you can always improve. Take what you learned and make adjustments. Changing out ad text, photos, calls to action, landing pages and more will allow you to test and target what really matters for your audience.
By setting up your campaigns and removing your personal bias to cover different sorts of triggers, you can have a successful long-term digital strategy with a foundation in clean data.