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In our piece last week, we looked at the initial things you should consider when optimizing your digital channels, and there were a few key takeaways that you need to get right at the beginning of this process before you can advance in your optimization.

Firstly, you have to understand your objectives at a campaign, channel and business-wide level. Then you need to ensure you are measuring success in the right way and can look at this holistically across all channels. Finally, you should strive for budget fluidity and cross channel consistency to support your activity across the marketing mix. Once you have sussed out the above points, you are ready to move on.

Step 4: decide on the level of control you need

Brands looking to forgo the heavy lifting that often comes with campaign creation and optimization see features like smart campaigns, automatic optimization features or tech that dictates budget mixes as a godsend. Why spend time and effort setting up campaigns a certain way when you can just give the platform your assets and it will do the rest? In some cases, this works well and will in fact lead to better results than manual optimization. You just need to be clear as to when and why to hand over some of your control. 

Facebook’s Budget Optimizer (a handy little tick box that allows the campaign to put budget in the ad sets with the best performance) saves a marketer time splitting out daily ad set budgets and adjusting them based on previous performance. This is awesome when you don’t favour one audience over another and you are optimizing based on a Facebook metric, such as Thruplays.

However, if your measure for success is ROI and that is being measured outside of Facebook (via GA or Adobe, for example) then Facebook will spend the budget on the ad sets it thinks best using Facebook data, which might not necessarily align with what you’re seeing with your tracking provider. Budget Optimizer also means that you can’t easily move budget to a poorer performing ad set if an optimization requires it, for example a retargeting campaign might heavily favor spend to a basket abandoner ad set over a recent converters ad set.

So if you have an offer on for existing shoppers you would need to remove Budget Optimizer and manually increase the recent converters ad set budget, sending the campaign back into the learning phase. 

Step 5: research and test

Prior to launching a campaign, retailers can optimize their activity with good old-fashioned research. Historical sales data gives a clear indication of what tactics have or have not worked in the past, while demand and seasonality data tells you when to launch and how much to spend. For the big campaigns, survey and focus group data is a goldmine of information, allowing you to get a better understanding of what motivates a potential customer and thus feeding into the audiences you go after and the message you use. 

From your objectives and your prior research, you can outline a few different hypotheses you want to test. Optimization becomes a lot harder when you have nothing to test. No matter the size or the complexity of your digital marketing mix, testing gives you more optimization triggers to play with and lessons you can take forward or share across channels. 

More complex tests, like running brand uplift studies, will require more forethought – especially around the objectives and the measures of success. But testing doesn’t always need to be complicated. A/B testing creatives and copy can be done with relative ease. Testing audiences only requires that you are granular in your set-up by splitting out audiences rather than lumping them all together. 

Step 6: give it some time

There are some optimizations that can be done almost straight after a campaign has launched, such as excluding certain placements not already in your block list, or minor adjustments to CPC bids. However, too many changes straight away will strangle your performance. Think of your digital activity as a living, breathing organism. In its early days, your activity is still trying to find its feet, so changes like swapping out creative or introducing lots of new audiences will only elongate the time it takes to get up and running. 

The likes of Google and Facebook have always recommended you wait until a campaign is out of its learning period before making big changes, and historically this was an arbitrary ‘wait 7/14 days and see’ kind of recommendation. But in the last two years or so, both platforms have started to alert users when a campaign is in the learning phase and when it has come out – a very useful feature for understanding when to start optimizing.

If your campaigns are struggling to get out of the learning phase you are probably spreading your budget too thin. Look to consolidate where you can and pull budget forward in order to get out of the learning phase. 

Don’t just set your campaigns live and forget about them until they are out of the learning period; use the time to ensure everything is being tracked as it should be, that spend is flowing at a steady rate (you’ve not spent the daily budget by 2am) and your audience are beginning to complete the desired outcome of your campaign, whether that’s a click to site, purchase or store visit. By the time your activity has come out of its learning period, you should have a statistically relevant level of data available. 

Next week we will share our final few tips on how retailers should be optimizing their digital channels, from how to best analyze campaign data and what changes to prioritize, to looking back at the campaign and checking your activity managed to achieve that very first step (check out our last post if you missed step number one). If you would like any more information on anything you have read above, contact our Summit experts at info@summitmedia.comand have a chat with them today. 

Laurence Cresswell is paid media product manager at Summit Media.