What Did You Say Your KPI Was? Think Again

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We’re often faced with the question: What defines the success of a paid social campaign? Too often, we assume that success is very much dependent on the level of coverage we achieve at the lowest cost possible. But when we are asked to run campaigns with reach as the main objective, we approach paid social with the traditional way of media buying, without taking into account the rules of programmatic and real-time bidding. Do we really understand what reach means in a real-time bidding environment?

Even in traditional media buying, not all impressions cost the same. The only difference in offline media is that inventory pricing is predetermined and you know what you’re getting for the investment you’re making, whereas in real-time bidding, advertising inventory buying is auction-based and automated.

But what does reach mean in real-time bidding?

Genuinely? As raw as it may sound, all you’re getting by running campaign activity optimized toward reach is simply cheap inventory. Does this work? It depends on various factors, macro and micro, such as your existing brand, product awareness or how specific your target audience is. But more important, the first question you should ask yourself before deciding on whether reach is your key performance indicator is: Which stage of the marketing funnel are you currently trying to cover?

What part of the funnel are you trying to cover?

It would be great if you could do everything at the same time, but sadly, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Reach is typically a top-of-the-funnel tactic often used in new product launches in order to raise awareness within your already-known target audience, or to discover your potential target audience during initial brand awareness steps.

Reach campaign, then what?

Even if programmatic reach is your ultimate business objective, low-cost inventory doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting the best value for your money. Paid social inventory is priced in real-time, through numerous algorithmic calculations, and factored by the way a certain audience interacts with a brand and standard supply-demand laws.

If you do go for a reach campaign, make sure you have a purpose behind this tactic. By that, I mean, for instance, test how audiences engage with your ads, even though you’re after the cheapest inventory (on which audiences are least likely to perform an action) to determine if this audience has potential for your future plans. Specifically, test running a reach burst targeted towards multiple audience groups and observe which of these are interacting with your brand and then invest on these for more mid-funnel activity.

Follow the funnel and don’t try to skip steps

This is the usual recipe to success. You can’t optimize toward more than one objective at the same time, but this shouldn’t be a reason for concern. The way you approach your awareness, top-funnel marketing phase can determine your future performance in the long-term. Expect to pay more for impressions that matter but invest carefully in the audiences that can prove vital for your brand.

Reach as a campaign objective is not that bad, the same way cheap inventory is not always bad. But it needs to be used consciously and has to be the right fit for your business at the right time. In addition to that, a reach campaign alone cannot help you maximize paid social “efficiency”; it needs to have a purpose and be the means to an end.

The original article can be found on Adweek SocialTimes.