Digital Ads for SMBs with Director of Engagement & Growth at Allied Digital Strategies, Casey Wilson
[Editor’s Note] This week we are fortunate to have Casey Wilson, the Director of Engagement & Growth at Allied Digital Strategies join us for a Q&A on Digital Advertising. Casey has built her career in Paid Search media buying and optimization and at Allied, she works with advertisers and agencies of all sizes, providing strategic support and a managed service of the Skai omnichannel marketing platform. In previous roles, Casey has overseen Paid Search, Paid Social and Programmatic media teams that collectively managed millions in monthly paid media.
[MV] Given that SMBs don't have the marketing budgets of Fortune 500 companies, can they compete effectively against larger companies with digital marketing ? How can SMBs leverage digital marketing in a way that works for them?
[CW] The short answer is absolutely! When competing against larger companies with deeper advertising pockets, SMBs need to focus their budgets on bottom funnel tactics where they may capitalize on existing demand. SMBs should not allocate advertising dollars to generate more demand until existing demand is exploited. Brand recognition will occur overtime as organizations conduct business. When I say exploit demand, I mean meeting a user in the moment when they are searching for a solution. Be there and be the solution when they express intent. Spend ad dollars there first before spending in channels and reaching audiences where your objective is to convince them that they have a problem and therefore need your solution.
Advertisers can also have complimentary approaches to advertising where they have a tactic that drives high-intent site traffic or qualified traffic at highly efficient CPCs and then nurtures that traffic through retargeting efforts. Not all media needs to be devoted to driving a sale or lead in that moment, though eventually that is everyone's end goal. Additionally, it is critical that SMBs understand the landscape, what their competitors (regardless of size) are saying and offering and subsequently architect a marketing strategy that exploits competitive weaknesses and showcases the SMBs' strengths. For example, if you can't compete on price, can you compete on quality or availability/access? If you can't compete on a National level, are their markets where you can concentrate media to chip away at market share? Having a surgical and strategic approach will be required of SMBs, but it is more than possible. It is effectively done each day.
[MV] There is an oft cited quote that says "half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, the trouble is I don't know which half.” How do you ensure that advertising dollars are spent efficiently? How do you know when things are getting off the rails?
[CW] Much of this onus is on the company, specifically as it relates to tracking and measurement. Before spending on advertising, organizations must get their tracking and measurement houses in order, so that when the time comes to advertise, they will have a clear understanding of 1) the value of the acquisition or product sold and/or 2) the total value, or lifetime value, to the organization that acquisition delivers. This may take time and years of running a business before fully understanding. The other piece is really just to understand their cost of doing business and where they need to draw the line to be profitable. The good news is that the majority of digital marketing is highly measurable, which is half of its appeal. When advertising on Google, for instance, advertisers can see how much media they dispensed in order to sell a good or product or acquire a customer. Because they know, presumably, their cost of goods sold and value of a new customer, they can back into a return on ad spend (ROAS) or cost per acquisition (CPA) target against which they can optimize the media. Once known values are in place, the equation of making advertising profitable is that much easier.
[MV] How should an SMB decide which channel to invest in? Should you split your budget across multiple channels or focus your efforts on just one?
[CW] It depends on a few variables including the total budget, market saturation, competition and ultimate goal of the media. Assuming the aim is for the media to be the most productive and cost effective, then I would focus ad dollars in 'pull' channels like Google where an advertiser may present a product or solution to an end user who has expressed explicit intent and need through their search query. It is in these channels where advertisers will see the highest returns. Additionally, if the total budget is relatively small, then diluting that budget across multiple channels will limit advertisers' ability to glean statistically significant results. A safe approach is to exploit the bottom of the funnel channels first and then move up the funnel, testing new tactics and channels as performance and budget allow. Bottom of the funnel channels refer to the channels where end users' intent is the greatest. For instance, when someone goes to google.com and searches for therapist near me, the intent of that user is clear. The likelihood of this user taking 'action,' be it a form fill or phone call, is higher than if that same person is perusing their Facebook feed and is served an ad for local behavioral therapy. While this user may still be 'in-market,' their mindset is not the same as when they are actively searching for a solution and raising a hand.
[MV] New digital channels pop up frequently. For instance, now TikTok has gained a massive user base. When does it make sense to try new channels?
[CW] Having a small 'testing' budget is never a bad thing. However, before testing a new channel, a few details should be fully fleshed out. First, a clear testing objective should be articulated ahead of time, so that the advertiser knows if the test was worth it in the end. If the goal is to drive cost-effective site clicks or impressions, then CPCs and CPMs can be used as proxies to compare to other channels. Perhaps more importantly, however, is allocating a large enough budget to get a 'read' on results. Don't assume that a $100 or $200 test budget will deliver statistically significant results. Any budget too low to deliver statistically significant results is budget wasted. In short, don't test a new channel unless there is enough money to invest in it. Otherwise, it is the equivalent of throwing away money.
[MV] What are the best steps for creating a digital ad? Is it possible to do this as DIY? When does it make sense to hire a vendor to work with?
[CW] If advertising is intended to be a critical source of business growth and overall health, then I recommend working with an expert out of the gate. These days, there are so many options available to advertisers beyond large digital advertising agencies with annual contract requirements and where SMBs are small fish in large ponds. Now you can find expert support with flexible terms and rates suited for advertisers of all sizes. Exhaust due diligence and find the right fit based on the business' short and long-term goals. I recommend asking about verticals or niches that someone specializes in. I would ask about term commitments. If having flexible terms is important, then a partner who requires a 12-month commitment is not the right fit. I would recommend getting references as well. I would also use people in your own network to see if you can generate any prospective partners through word of mouth referrals.
[MV] Are there tools or resources that you would recommend for business owners to get smarter on digital advertising so that this process will feel less of like a black box to them?
[CW] Honestly, given how quickly the digital advertising landscape changes, I would recommend consulting with experts early in the process. Again, large retainers and lengthy contracts are not as prevalent as they once were. At the very least, find a good consultant and control the amount of time/money leveraging that consultant based on the associated value. A good consultant or consulting agency will more than pay for themselves in the long term.
[MV] Fantastic, thanks Casey!
[CW] My pleasure!