How to Leverage Paid Social at Every Stage of the Customer Journey

Opinion: It isn’t just for top-of-the-funnel efforts

Social media advertising is an expected—almost welcome—distraction Murat Göçmen/iStock

With U.S. digital marketing spend climbing its way to a predicted $119 billion by 2021, marketers are tasked with determining where to spend that budget. Forrester Research foresees that digital advertising options, like social media and display ads, will represent 46 percent of all advertising in the next three years.

Social media continues to thrive, and deploying targeted ads on social platforms is one of the most cost-effective methods of digital marketing. Leveraging social to promote your brand is a key tactic for competing in today’s dynamic marketplace.

Although paid social is sometimes relegated to top-of-the-funnel marketing efforts, it can be used throughout the buyer’s journey—and that’s powerful.

For instance, once an audience has become aware of a brand, paid social can more easily be used to promote specific materials and products, and then to retarget before and after the purchase decision. This serves to guide and reinforce the buying decision.

Social media allows a customer to warm up to your brand in a comfortable setting. Unlike other forms of advertising, in which ads can be seen as an interruption of the primary content, social media advertising is an expected—almost welcome—distraction. Consumers tend to trust what they see in their social feeds because that’s where their communities are. Shoppers who might otherwise suffer from decision fatigue are motivated by their social networks, where recommendations feel more personal and relevant to them.

Social ads are also interactive. A customer is empowered to engage with a company, such as by making a query via direct message. This can start a chain of small interactions (reading a company newsletter, watching a product demo or instructional video, etc.) that funnel the customer toward a purchase and, just as important, create a new bond with the brand.

In the process of funneling customers with social media, paid social ads take center stage. To make the most of this channel, you have to think strategically in terms of the stages that potential customers go through before they commit to your brand.

Consider the following important stages in their journey and what you have to do at each one.

Awareness: Identify and engage your audience

The power of paid social lies in how it can specifically target the right audiences and amplify your efforts. Beyond placing ads in the appropriate media, social takes this targeting to a new level. Users are not only actively seeking out information that pertains to them, but they’re also sharing what they find with those who have the same interests.

You can use these sites effectively to seek your audience based on particular characteristics. For example, LinkedIn allows the targeting of potential customers through location, job title or other aspects of their profile.

Yet it’s not always clear how to get the right ads delivered to the right audience. Digital marketing agency Elite SEM recommends new ways to enhance paid social, such as with Facebook’s Dynamic Creative Ads tool, which can do all of the experimenting and performance analysis for you.

As Jihane Jeanty at Elite SEM writes, “Basically, it’s A/B testing on autopilot, which means increasing efficiency for the marketing team and getting overall better campaign results.”

Consideration: Promote material to your primed audience

Visitors captured during the awareness stage are now in your buying funnel and ready for advertising through retargeting. This is an opportunity for additional promotion, including new content—not just sales offers.

This is also another chance to focus your targeting demographics. Fortunately, most social sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, allow you to continue to apply these customer targeting filters through this stage and beyond.

One cost-effective tool is Facebook lookalike audiences, which allow you to reach out to new people who share traits with a source audience, typically a chosen subsample of your current buyers. You can also guide this process by paying attention to the Facebook Relevance Score for your ad, aiming for higher numbers like seven to nine.

Decision: Retarget with paid social ads

During this stage, your customers are ready to buy. Using cookies, you can retarget them at this point based on which pages they visited, and then show ads or other content relevant to buying.

Now is the time to offer the most immediate incentives to push them toward the purchase decision. These can take the form of sales or discounts for the products they’ve viewed, of course, but don’t rule out new content entirely. Sometimes a demo, interesting visuals or additional facts about your product or service can be enough to push someone from being an interested shopper to an active buyer.

Retention: Stay foremost in their minds

Finally, remember that the sale is not the end of the customer journey. You need to keep your brand in the customer’s mind.

Using data acquired from the attribution process, you can aim to increase social marketing wherever you’re seeing the most return on investment.

Alison Latimer Lohse, co-founder and chief strategy officer at Conversion Logic, underscores this point: “When you know, for example, what creative, as part of what campaign, is outperforming its cohorts on a specific channel, you can move budget accordingly.” She adds that in some advertising campaigns, this can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.

By integrating a robust understanding of these four stages into your marketing strategy and deploying social media content at the right time, you can increase conversions and build serious momentum for your brand.

Social media sites are releasing powerful tools to hone this approach, allowing you to quickly zero in on your strongest base of support. These core customers can serve as brand advocates, which is the best kind of promotion. The companies that make the most of these options will be well-positioned to thrive in our digital future.

Chirag Kulkarni is chief marketing officer of digital pharmacy Medly, and he has helped companies like Expedia with digital marketing.