How to get the best from your Facebook ads

Facebook, DIY


The Facebook Ad platform is an increasingly popular tool for entrepreneurs and startups because of its relative ease of use, accessibility and customer reach. However, it can quickly become a drain on your all-important finances if your ads don’t perform the way you need them to. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get the best from your Facebook ads without breaking the bank.



Understand your customer’s pain


Before you even think about placing – and paying for – an ad on Facebook you need to know who your customer is and what “pain” they are feeling.


I’m not talking about the kind of pain that is solved by popping an aspirin (unless, that is, your company sells aspirin). I mean what excruciating problem is your customer facing that your business can solve – what is your customer’s “pain”?


Have you done enough customer research to really get to grips with your customer? How do you know it’s enough? Quick tip, it’s definitely not enough if:


  • Your customer research is based on feedback from friends and family
  • You are your own target customer so assume everyone “like you” has the same pain
  • You’ve asked “a handful” of potential customers
  • You have relied solely on desk research


To get the best from your Facebook ad you’re going to want to know more than just simple demographics (ie gender, location, age). While those things are important for your targeting (more on that later), your ad message needs more refinement based on the things that stress your customer out, what annoys them, what makes them happy, what do they need help with, what they are searching for?


You’re a startup founder with limited cash to throw around, don’t waste it pushing ad messages that don’t resonate with your customers. Spend the time doing your research at the outset and get more bang for your buck.



Image over text


Okay, so you’ve done your research and you know that your customer is desperate to find a product that can help them with x, y and z. Lucky for them, x, y and z is exactly what you offer.


So, you design a graphic, including your brand name, with some bullet points about features and benefits of your awesome product. It’s perfect – it has all your brand messages and it looks great, really professional. Your customer is going to love it – you’ve even tested it during some of your face to face customer interviews and people have told you they love it. It’s a sure thing, right?




Facebook is pretty specific about what kind of content it likes, and what it doesn’t. You may have noticed when adding some of your images to Facebook’s Ad Manager that a little exclamation mark appears beside them warning you that the content may limit your ad’s reach.


This is down to Facebook’s 20% rule. Previously, if an ad image contained more than 20% text then Facebook would reject it and the ad wouldn’t run. That rule has relaxed slightly in the past couple of months, with Facebook now generally approving the content but restricting the number of times the ad is shown. Either way, if you want to get the best out of your Facebook ads, keep text to a minimum.


If Facebook decides your ad contains too much text it will restrict the amount of people who can see it.




Target carefully


It’s all too easy to fall down the rabbit hole when using the targeting tools in Facebook’s Ad Manager. You’ll probably have an idea of the demographics you want to reach regarding location, gender, age group, income bracket etc. However, there is so much more to choose from and instinctively you’ll want to add as many interests and behaviours as you can possibly think of which may be relevant to your business. Be careful.


Facebook’s default setting is for your target audience to be interested in AT LEAST ONE of the options you tick. You probably start off with the best of intentions – let’s say you are Moonshot and you want to target entrepreneurs, so you tick the “entrepreneurship” box. So far so good, right? But then you continue to target lots of other interests you think are relevant to your customer: “startups”, “investment”, “Dragon’s Den”, “Marketing”, “Recruitment”, “Sales” …


customer insights Facebook targeting
Keep your audience relatively broad to begin with and use your results to increase focus.


Do you see what’s happened? Now, I’m not only targeting people who are interested in “entrepreneurship”, but also anyone who is interested in “recruitment” (and possibly NOT entrepreneurship). My train of thought has led me down a path that looks like I’m increasing the size of my relevant audience, but actually I’m just targeting people who probably aren’t my main customer.


One way around this, of course, is to change the settings to include everyone interested in “entrepreneurship” AND one or two other things. However, be careful not to go too niche too quickly or you risk missing out an entire audience who would be interested in your product (for example, if I’d chosen “entrepreneurship” and “Dragon’s Den”, I may miss all the people who are interested in one and not the other).


The best target audience for your business is specific to your business (funny that). Keep your ad targeting relatively broad to begin with – selecting those who have an interest in AT LEAST ONE of two or three very closely related topics. Run the ad with a modest budget for about one week and, once your ad has finished, review the data and find out more about those who engaged. That way you can refine your target audience demographics specific to your business based on solid data.



Beware the Boost


I’ll delve into this in more detail in another blog, but suffice to say Facebook Boost is to Ads what McDonald’s or KFC is to gourmet cuisine. It’s fast and easy, but not necessarily good for you and you may not like the results.


A Boost can be useful if you’re trying to encourage more engagement with one particular piece of content (for example, you’ve developed a great video and want to encourage more shares, likes, comments etc).


However, if you’re trying to drive traffic to your website or encourage customers to submit a form (or some other means of lead generation) then it’s important your run a specific ad.


Not only is an ad geared to deliver on your goal (ie lead generation, website traffic, ecommerce etc), but it also allows you to be more targeted with your content and there’s no need for it to be shown to your existing customers (especially useful if you are running an introductory promotion suitable for new customers).


Facebook Ads with specific action buttons are better for encouraging customers to visit your website, while Boosts are used to increase engagement with specific content.


Facebook is fast becoming one of the most powerful advertising platforms in the world, but it’s not a magic wand. Do your research, understand your customer, test your ads, check them against Facebook’s own guidelines and beware of lazily boosting your content hoping it’ll generate leads. Your marketing budget is precious, avoid wasting it as much as you can.



Startup life lessons from Arsenal football club


Ok, here’s a wee exercise for you. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and tell me the first word that comes to mind when I say “Arsenal football club”.


Now whilst I’ve been a Gooner from a young age, there’s no way I think many of your words are positive in light of current events. Lifeless, gutless, pathetic or embarrassing are all adjectives I’ve heard around London over the last fortnight.


So what has gone wrong at a club with a world class stadium, unlimited finance and a rich and vibrant history?


Profit-itis. The same virus infecting startups all over the country


Arsenal have contracted a virus. Pure and simple. Sadly for the UK, this is the same virus infecting startups all over the country. Profit-itis.


Being a startup is great, you have access to trendy co-working spaces, free beer on tap and all the digital content you could ever desire. You are a trail blazer, you are your own boss and you will set this market alight and write your own legacy. Investors are throwing themselves at you, money is growing on trees and you are the lord of startupland!


your vision begins to narrow


You take on your first £150k investment and something strange happens, your vision begins to narrow, you close your eyes and all you can see is £ signs. Creativity levels slowly begin to drain as voices begin whispering phrases in your ear like “payback period” and “cost reduction”.


You are captain of this ship


Investors want a return on their investment, and rightly so. Their views should be listened to and can often add invaluable advice. However, do not bend over. Do not pander to their every whim and request. It’s their money, yes, but they have invested in your vision. You are captain of this ship but unlike you, they will relentlessly drive for an increased ROI, maximum EBITDA & reduced COGS. No thanks.


they strove to be extraordinary and blow the competition away


The Arsenal team of invincibles had no such problem. They were not content with merely aiming to win the league, they strove to be extraordinary and blow the competition away. They did not want to just win and increase the bottom line, they wanted to win in style. A class above the rest. It’s this relentless drive to always be extraordinary that set them and Wenger apart, to inspire those around them to raise their game and become better.


As soon as you begin to settle for mediocrity, disaster is never far behind


Profititis has the opposite effect. Money becomes an all-consuming driver like a spell cast upon you, leaving you devoid of your lateral thinking and creativity. Turing you into a zombie football club or worse yet, a zombie startup. As soon as you begin to settle for mediocrity, disaster is never far behind.


To avoid Profititis and maintain your long term health, keep the faith in your vision and never shoot for anything less than being truly extraordinary. Growing your vision, mission and team come above all else as long as you are delighting your paying fans along the way. And to those needy investors who demand you sit up and pay them attention, simply ask them to take a look at the dejected figure of a once great Arsene Wenger and his beloved Arsenal football club.


Listen to your customers – don’t get trapped on Fantasy Island

Corkscrew roller coaster


Boss, the plane, the plane!!  Yes it was these immortal words from Herve Villechaize aka Tattoo to Mr Roark on the programme – Fantasy Island – that I always knew would lead to a good story.


At a luxurious, but remote tropical island, the enigmatic Mr Roarke would make the dreams and fantasies of well heeled guests come true.  Money was no barrier and what the guests thought would be a terrific fantasy on many occasion turned out to be anything but.  Usually, as with all fantasies they had not thought it all through, so different circumstances and outcomes would pop up and surprise them.  This then got me thinking about people who start businesses from a laptop and a spreadsheet and create their own fantasies.


this is where the conversation became a little strained


I once had a guy  – who we will call an ‘entrepreneur’ as he told me he was one so I had to believe him – tell me his business was valued at £20 million.  Great news I thought as I studied him.  Can you tell me all about it and how many staff you have.  Tell me about the profit you make and your plans for growth.  And this is where the conversation became a little strained.


He pulled out his MacBook Pro and opened it up, where I was presented with a spreadsheet.  Now, I’m not a big spreadsheet fan, but I sat and had a good look at it all the same.  The spreadsheet outlined a £4M profit in year three.  It showed explosive growth in customers using his mobile App.  I must say it all looked good and most plausible on a laptop screen.  But, when I asked him some questions about the £4M profit, I ended up with more and more questions.


With not one customer at that time, this ‘entrepreneur’ had created his very own fantasy that would have fitted well into an episode of Fantasy Island.  He was convinced beyond reason that his early adopter customers would jump at the chance to use the App and that the money would tumble in thereafter.  I could see Mr Roarke and Tattoo shaking their heads behind the scenes as this fantasist in front of me was living in a world of make believe.  I suggested that he go out to a friend of mine who would be a model customer for his App.


the grim reality of facing a customer asking hard questions


A few days later I got two rather interesting phone calls.  One from my colleague who told me that the ‘entrepreneur’ was deluding himself and one from the ‘entrepreneur’ telling me that my colleague had been rude and did not understand how the App worked, so dismissed it.  Oh dear, I thought, the grim reality of facing a customer asking hard questions of your wonderful spreadsheet that is in fact, a fairy story or fable.  Suffice to say, the ‘entrepreneur’ with the £4M profit business in year three is no longer and in fact had disappeared into a black hole, despite me suggesting that he keep talking to customers to get more feedback and insight.


the best way is to co-create the business with customers and be prepared to pivot


This approach is typical of many who startup and get seduced by spreadsheet madness.  A zero here and there is easy to add into the spreadsheet and this is where it moves from reality to fantasy.  I’m not going to stifle anyone who wants to start a new business – far from it.  But, I would suggest from experience that the best way to do this is to co-create the business with customers and be prepared to pivot and swap out staff.  As I tell people who apply for the Moonshot Academy, there is no point in starting out with the wrong people taking up precious seats in the spaceship.  It only adds to the load.


Co-Creation with real people who you believe will buy your products really helps with product/market fit.  It is very different from the Fantasy Island approach on a spreadsheet, where Mr Roarke and Tattoo will allow you to live out your fantasy of being an entrepreneur for the day.  There is nothing wrong with talking to people about your idea.  Trust me it is where you gather your best insight…