Diversifying away from social ads is essential for SME survival

We live in a world where it’s never been easier to create a brand. Every day, businesses are being built on digital platforms, creating a curious social audience, and amassing followers from moment one.

These direct to consumer brands often thrive, and on the surface they begin to scale quickly with high follower numbers and repeat customers, resulting in decent sales and cash flow. To this point they will almost certainly have relied heavily on social advertising, but there comes a time in any growing business when there is a need to diversify the ad strategy.

There are two major problems with sticking to only performance media advertising  – such as social, search and retail media. The first is developing a dependence on one platform for customer acquisition. The likes of Meta, Google and Amazon often move the goalposts without warning, making targeting and measurement updates, changing their newsfeed or search algorithms, or increasing costs due to peaks in demand from other advertisers. These changes can ruin a business model overnight if margins are tight.

The other big reason to mix up your marketing spend is to avoid – or respond to – a plateau in scale. All brands will reach diminishing returns in performance media if other channels aren’t being used to increase reach and fill the customer acquisition funnel.

But for any founder making changes to a tried and tested advertising model can be daunting so, to help with that process, I’ve outlined the four main things to consider when adding new channels and scaling up out of social media. 

Make it measurable

Whether you decide to scale in audio, out-of-home (OOH) or multi-screen TV, you must ensure the results are quantifiable. But rather than relying on these channels to drive direct-response and tracking to an offer code or URL, ensure there are other ways of isolating the effects of adding a new channel with exposed and controlled experimentation.

Regional test and control is one such method. Pick one location and commit to that area - which could be a city or region depending on budget. Choose the location based on where your current audience over-indexes and continue advertising there for a year or more to prove the case. Often by ‘winning’ an urban heartland, word-of-mouth can spread to other regions.

You could also try working with a platform that offers customer data match-back. Some broadcast VOD services, such as Sky or Channel 4, require customer’s email addresses at registration, and are able to record (using anonymised customer data) which ads have been viewed by each login. This can then be compared to email addresses used at point of purchase, marrying up the two to show who bought your product after viewing an ad.

Re-evaluate your KPI metrics from short-to-long

Ensure you have the ability to track long-term metrics and perceptions. Awareness will likely be your number one aim at the outset but by having a consistent brand survey you will be able to diagnose your brand challenge over time. Nationally representative, quantitative surveys include consistent key brand metrics and can be done periodically throughout the year – ideally before and after new channel activity – so are a great way of measuring how your brand or product is being perceived.

Create distinctive brand assets

Testing hundreds of ad formulas in social media may have fed the algorithm and opened new audiences but if you’re at the diversification stage of your marketing it’s crucial to stick to a consistent brand look, feel and tone of voice. Constantly changing creative look and feel in above the line channels will limit your chances of building important memory structures, so now is the time to review your brand positioning and commit to brand assets; logos, colours, sounds, songs, straplines and voiceovers need careful thought. 

Make the leap to multi-screen TV

The typical start-up-to-scale-up journey involves layering channels such as digital audio (such as podcasts, Spotify, and streamed radio on connected devices) and OOH first, but most scaleups see their largest growth when moving to TV advertising.

There has never been a greater divergence in TV between young and old so it’s important to fully understand your audience’s AV media consumption. Whilst you can still reach 80% of 55+ adults on linear TV in the UK, this drops to less than 55% for 16-24’s – the first campaign for one audience may start in linear, day-time TV and for another it could be YouTube.

Over time make it a multi-channel AV plan to optimise reach and frequency - our AV planning tool Seen&Heard finds the optimum reach and frequency for the five hero formats of AV: Linear TV, Broadcaster VOD, Cinema, Connected TV, YouTube. These channels have high scores for viewability, video-completion rate and sound-on rate which means you can make the most of audio and visual in the creative asset.

These are the hero formats when compared to social video, such as TikTok and Facebook which score lower across the three main metrics.

Many SMEs are put off by the perceived cost of TV advertising, but don’t rule it out on price alone. The absolute cost of TV advertising does not have to be prohibitive, especially if you consider regional campaigns. Look at the cost per target audience reach, which can be different for different channels based on targeting capability and cost-per-thousand of the channel.

When and how a business moves on from its initial ad strategy will be unique to them, but the point at which it absolutely has to happen is once the product is working well and an optimised customer journey has been achieved, but before growth plateaus. It’s at this point that founders can and should look at the four key considerations and take that leap of faith into a new, diversified, advertising strategy.