- It’s a tough market for paid advertising, but these marketers found a way to see results from it.
- Justin Fredlender, the VP of growth for vitamin brand Ritual, said to start with one ad channel.
- Katie Wilson of snack brand BelliWelli said traditional methods like billboards can pay off.
- This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.
It’s a tough economy for paid advertising these days. Ad prices are fluctuating wildly, technology changes have made it harder to target audiences and track results, and many marketers are grumbling that they just don’t see the ROI that they used to for paid online advertising. Meanwhile, cash-strapped small-business owners may feel like they should just rely on organic marketing instead.
Not so fast: There are still plenty of companies finding value in paid marketing to get in front of new customers, grow their brand reach, and increase sales. “Yes, there are opportunities to use organic social media and mediums that are free, but at the end of the day, you can’t find reach like you can with paid marketing,” Justin Fredlender, the vice president of growth for vitamin brand Ritual, told Insider.
Carrie Sporer, the cofounder of showerless shampoo brand Swair, added that the pay-to-play approach may have a lower conversion rate than more organic strategies, but she’s found it to be more efficient for getting in front of new customers with a relatively low time investment.
Sporer, Fredlender, and other small-business owners shared with Insider the strategies that have been helping them get results from paid advertising.
1. Start with one channel, iterate, and then diversify
Fredlender said growth marketing is “part art, part science,” meaning you have to be open to experimenting with everything from messaging and creative to which audience demographics you’re targeting, and diversifying where you place your efforts.
That said, if you find yourself with limited resources, Fredlander suggested establishing your strategy on one channel before moving on to another. “Keeping an eye on what the big brands are doing should hopefully help you to understand what’s actually leading to success today,” he said. One approach he shared is using Meta’s Ad Library to view all the ads a specific brand is running and seeing what you can learn from their tactics.
When it comes to optimizing any given channel, Fredlander said to experiment with different approaches using A/B testing, then do more of what’s working. “For example, if we see that a specific type of creative is working well, we may try to replicate that creative with a different product or do minor edits to see if we can improve the performance even slightly more. If we see an audience target that’s performing well on accounts, it could be an easy optimization to test parallel audiences,” he said.
That said, he warned against getting caught in the trap of over optimizing. Once they established a strong-enough strategy on foundational channels like Meta and Google, Fredlander’s team started branching out to less familiar outlets like podcasts, influencers, and affiliates — which is where they found the bigger wins.
He said they chose these new channels based on the audience they were targeting and their goals for how they hoped to reach them. The idea to try influencer marketing came out of a desire to try to emulate word-of-mouth marketing, which was always a strong growth channel for them. Given education is so important in their product category, podcast marketing felt like a good fit since it would give them more time to convey their value proposition than they typically have on social media. “Because of this, we’ve found that podcasts can be a proven source of high-value customers, with LTVs [lifetime values] that tend to be roughly 20% higher than our business’ average,” Fredlander said.
2. Consider traditional ad methods
As digital advertising gets more competitive (and expensive), a lot of small-business owners are looking to nondigital forms of advertising like direct mail, billboards, and posters as a cost-effective way to stand out.
Katie Wilson, the founder of probiotic snack brand BelliWelli, told Insider she spent $6,000 on a billboard campaign last year. “We didn’t have a lot of money, so I wanted to see where we could really make that money go far,” she said. “It was around the time the ‘hot girl’ trend on TikTok was blowing up, so I thought, let’s put ‘Hot girls have IBS’ on a hot pink billboard in the middle of LA.”
The bold strategy worked, she added: People who identified with the statement would pull over and take a picture, send it to friends who suffered from digestive issues, or post it to their channels — which the company estimated drove millions of views on TikTok and helped increase sales within 30 days of the billboard going up. “That was the magic, is that we didn’t have to amplify it,” Wilson said. Because of this success, Wilson added, BelliWelli has dedicated 20 to 30% of its ad spend to more billboards and plans to increase that amount in the coming months.
“I’m so grateful that we invested in another marketing channel early on and I’ve been able to build on that as digital has slowed,” Wilson said. “There’s generally a scrappier path, and I think the really interesting things tend to have less of a price tag.”
3. Treat customers the way you’d want to be treated
A little empathy for your customer never hurts, especially as we’re all getting inundated by more ads every day and they can start to feel the same.
“I try to treat customers like I want to be treated,” Sporer said. “We’re really cognizant of our frequency with online ads.”
Sporer said Swair tries to limit any given ad to target a customer only once or twice ever. (Customers in target audiences for multiple ads may see more, she added.) Not only has reducing the frequency of ads reduced her company’s spend, she said, she’s found it still gets ample conversions on folks who interact with their ads just a few times.
Wilson said that her billboard approach was also partially inspired by the customer experience. “I know that, as a consumer, I’m just tired of getting sold. But there’s something pleasantly surprising about seeing an advertisement out of place,” she said.