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5 Ways to Use Facebook Ads to Take Down Your Competitors

I’m willing to wager that at least one of Facebook’s 5 million (and counting) advertisers is your direct competitor. Even if Joe’s HVAC or Asics or exceptionallypungentcatnip.org don’t know what the hell they’re doing, they’re siphoning your share of voice.

What exactly does that mean?

If you’re not advertising on Facebook yet, prospects (Newsflash: Facebook has 2 billion users) are already growing familiar with your competitors’ brands. This doesn’t bode well for the bodies circling the top of your sales funnel, but it’s especially concerning when we consider folks with wallets already in hand.

facebook competitor ad strategies 

Fortunately, usurping your competitors across the trifecta of Facebook, its hype-saturated Messenger application, and Instagram, is a cinch: if you know what you’re doing.

In the event your gorgeous creative and irresistible CTA’s aren’t already floating around THE social network, do yourself a favor: open another tab and sear our how to advertise on Facebook infographic onto your brain. It’ll give you a fundamental understanding of what makes Facebook ads valuable to your business (and more importantly, how to get them off the ground).

All set? Perfect. Competitive advertising on Facebook is the next frontier.

Let’s kick those training wheels to the curb and dig into the 5 ways you can use Facebook ads to take down your competitors.

#1. Leverage Interest Targeting to Sway Competitors’ Biggest Fans

In AdWords, competitor campaigns are like checkers; in Facebook, they’re closer to 3D chess.

Competitor campaigns in AdWords are easy to establish but in most cases, they aren’t particularly effective. This is because the underpinning mechanics of Google’s auction make it difficult (and pricey) for an advertiser to rank for keywords for which they have low Quality Scores.

The components of Quality Score (distilled: Expected CTR, Ad Relevance, Landing Page Experience) are such that it’s difficult to do competitive advertising effectively because, guess what: you aren’t your competitors. That truth is reflected in your ad copy and your landing pages; you can’t leverage trademarked terms belonging to other companies, so you’re forced to talk around them, lest you risk the wrath of Google’s ban hammer. That means you’re doomed to lower CTR and Quality Scores for competitor brand terms.

google adwords ban hammer competitor trademark infringement 

In the event you have unreal brand recognition or your CTAs are so compelling that, historically, your ads receive a disproportionate number of clicks, you might end up with an “Average” expected CTR for competitors’ branded keywords; of course, if that’s the position you’re in, you probably don’t need to be running competitor campaigns in AdWords, as you’ve got what the kids call “dominant market share.” Congrats.

Switching gears, while Facebook doesn’t explicitly allow you to target fans of your competitors’ pages, you can target prospects based on their “interests.” Facebook defines interests based on the things someone explicitly likes and closely related subject matter. This means that if your competitors or their customers are active on Facebook, you can use stated brand affiliation or fandom to create brand recognition and, eventually, sales.

Let’s say you’re a craft brewer looking to put your product in the hands of folks who appreciate a nice hefeweizen in the summer months but haven’t yet strayed from the six packs on the shelf at their local Shell station. At the Ad Set level, under “Detailed Targeting,” search for the names of some well-known craft breweries…

facebook competitor ads interest targeting 

Searching for smaller, more localized competition might not yield adequate audience sizes. You should also be aware that Facebook may surface different audience estimates based on factors like capitalization and use of domain vs. brand name. My point is this: you’re going to have to play around a bit to get your competitor interest targeting just right.

Since the businesses in the audience we’ve started building above are all well-established, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a large pool of interested Facebook users to target…

 facebook competitor ad strategy audience defnition

If you’ve got a taproom, you might want to layer geographic targeting atop your competitor-centric interest targeting in order to drive physical traffic; in the event you’re simply looking to generate interest in your brand, try using one of Facebook’s creative ad formats to teach, awe, and inspire prospective consumers. Next time they’re in the package store, they’ll skip right over the Boston Lager in search of your briny Gose.

#2. Beat Your Competition to the Punch with Lookalike Audiences

Net-new prospects come in all shapes and sizes.

 facebook competitor ads lead nurture conversions

Sometimes they’re ready to convert RIGHT NOW – in search, this is conveyed through a high-intent query like “buy men’s running shoes size 13”.

But in most cases, it takes a bit of lead nurturing (more on that in a minute). Through Lookalikes, Facebook allows you to skip over some of that nurture process before your competitors even know a prospect exists. With the help of the infinitely useful Facebook Pixel, lookalike audiences allow you to take two pieces of information—a source audience and a location—and create a brand-new audience of prospects whose demographic and psychographic makeup mirror that of your source audience.

If your source audience is a list of recent website converters, often the resultant lookalike audience will contain prospects who are close to making a purchase in your vertical (or, at the very least, interested in learning more about what you do); all you need to do is convince these qualified prospects that what you’re peddlin’ is better than the alternatives.

This means that getting your products and services in front of these people before your competitors do provides your business with a distinct advantage. Let’s review how you can create your own lookalike audiences in Facebook.

facebook competitor campaigns lookalike audiences represent immense value 

After navigating to the “Audience” tab and selecting “Create Audience,” you’re given the option to create a lookalike audience or a custom audience. In the event you’ve never dabbled in audience creation, you’re going to want to select the latter; this will function as the source audience (mentioned above) for your very first lookalike!

Custom audiences can be created using:

  • Customer file (email addresses you upload)
  • Website traffic (provided the Pixel is on your website)
  • App activity (I’d wager this will be of little use to you: pretend it doesn’t exist)
  • Engagement (explicit action taken on either Facebook or Instagram)

To maximize the value of the lookalike audience(s) you’re going to create, I’d suggest sticking to source audiences created using either a customer file or site traffic from high-value pages only. A high-value page is one that indicates conversion or, at the very least, intent to do so imminently; for most advertisers, this means thank you pages and shopping cart confirmation pages.

Once you’ve got your source audience ready to rock, select it from the “Source” dropdown in the “Create a Lookalike Audience” menu and enter your desired location in the [drumroll] “Location” field. Facebook will immediately generate an estimated audience size for your lookalike using the following format…

 facebook competitor campaigns lookalike audience size 

Your new lookalike consists of the 1% of the total Facebook-having population in your chosen location that most closely resembles your source audience. Combined with interest, behavioral, and demographic targeting, you can whittle your lookalike down to the perfect set of prospects. From there, it’s all about creative, baby!

If you’re a more advanced advertiser, you can subdivide your lookalike based on ranges of similarity to your source audience by clicking on the phrase “Show Advanced Options.” Doing so will provide you with a few more audience-creation options, like so:

 advanced facebook competitor ads lookalike audience strategy

Think of the leftmost range in the image above as an identical twin and the broader, larger subset to the right as a second cousin who grew up two streets over. Both have proximity to your source audience that a random Facebook user selected from a hat likely would not. Just make sure to remember that the larger you make your lookalike audience, the less its members will have in common with your source audience.

In the example above, that 2% to 5% audience is made up of more than 6 million people; while your 1% audience will probably respond well to high-value offerings like product demos, the broader subset of the population should be served a top of funnel offering and remarketed to after the fact.

In either scenario, you’re advertising to audiences consisting of folks who bear some resemblance to your most valuable audiences, giving you a distinct advantage over your competitors.

#3. Build a Bona Fide Facebook Ads Funnel

When it comes to Pay Per Click advertising—regardless of channel—you need a funnel.

Hitting a prospect who just made a tertiary, informational query with an opportunity to BUY NOW or enter a free trial isn’t going to do anything except waste your advertising budget. That’s not true: it’ll also annoy the hell out of some poor soul simply looking for an answer.

 facebook marketing funnel intro

Through the near infinite, varying degrees of targeting mentioned above (plus a slew of others I won’t touch on today), Facebook allows you to create a full marketing funnel. Armed with this conversion-enabling tool, even if your competitors are competent enough to target the right audiences, your superior, hyper-relevant ads and offerings will garner more conversions than you can shake a stick at.

Let’s say you’re an advertiser selling a piece of software and operating with the following constraints:

  • An audience of 200,000 “prospects” with varying degrees of qualification
  • A monthly Facebook advertising budget of $ 5,500
  • An average close rate of 70% (killer product you’ve got over there!)

If you were to divide your advertising strategy into three distinct sections, it might look something like this:

the wrong way to build a facebook marketing funnel for your competitor campaign 

Your topmost offering—in this instance, a free trial—is being served to prospects who are totally new to your funnel; while your trial is killer and convinces a fair number of prospects to eventually demo your software with a sales rep, most people who see your free trial ads on Facebook either gloss right over them or click and bounce.

In the business we call this a Facebook ad fail.

Using the custom audience you’ve created to target anyone who begins a free trial, you’re able to pitch prospects an opportunity to chat with a sales rep; in the model outlined above, 50% of these prospects say yes to a demo. Assuming a 70% close rate after completing a product demo, you’d wind up with 35 net-new deals. Not too shabby, right?

Don’t answer yet. Just watch.

 the right way to build a facebook marketing funnel for your competitor campaign

Now, what if instead of serving a Facebook ad for a free trial of your software to an audience of 200,000 people, you show these prospects a high-performing piece of content that provides actionable advice in exchange for their email address. Notice how the volume of leads at the top of the funnel shifts dramatically from the first model (100 to 500); even though a content download is inherently less valuable to you than a free trial, it’s more valuable to the prospect at this stage in their buying process.

From there, using the custom audience tactic, you can serve that group of 500 prospects—each of whom is now familiar with the value your brand can provide for free—with an opportunity to learn more about your software by downloading a case study.

Finally, with the help of yet another custom audience and amazing Facebook ad creative that references one of the positive outcomes highlighted in the case study your prospects just read, it’s time to offer the opportunity to schedule a product demo.

At this point, the volume of leads at every stage of the funnel is considerably higher than we saw in the first example. Assuming an average sale price of $ 2,600, the measured, funneled approach that considers the readiness of a prospect to act and serves an appropriate ad/offer has the capacity to gross an additional $ 54,000.

comparing two versions of facebook competitor ads marketing funnel 

While I’ve used a software company to illustrate the effectiveness of a Facebook sales funnel, you can apply this exact same, consumer-centric model to any industry and have success.

#4. Offer Unrivaled Customer Service Through Facebook Messenger

David Marcus, the man in charge of Messenger at Facebook, recently told Business Insider that “Conversations between users and companies inside Messenger have a 30% better return on investment than retargeting ads on the web.”

Think about that for a second. Retargeting is the practice of advertising to prospects already familiar with your brand, folks who have taken some previously defined action, and Messenger provides substantially better ROI.

All together now… “Daaaaamn.”

Facebook Messenger ads give you the opportunity to provide an engaging customer experience without having to, well, engage. Thanks, AI! But how do Messenger ads work? They’re actually pretty simple.

When a prospect clicks on your ad in their News Feed, it incites a “conversation” with your business no matter what kind of device they’re browsing on.

You can use Messenger ads to…

Promote a New Offer

promote new offers to thwart your competition with facebook messenger ads 

or

Provide a Discount

offer discounts to compete with your competitors on facebook with messenger ads 

All you need to do is upload a warm greeting message and piece of clickable creative and you can begin engaging with prospects in a way that would otherwise be impossible without them picking up the phone or physically walking through your front door.

Facebook’s Messenger Ads have a ton of potential in terms of both customer service and sales, and they’re only in their infancy. By incorporating them into your Facebook advertising strategy now, you’ll appear more engaging to your prospects, imbuing your brand with a level of personalization and intimacy that your competitors can’t come close to.

#5. Explore Instagram’s Virtually Untapped B2B Market

Consumer brands slay on Instagram, and that makes a ton of sense.

It’s an outlet that caters to creative thinking with a suite of ad types that complement everything from product catalogues to high-engagement, brand-centric stories. It’s no wonder, then, that most B2B operations have a genuine aversion to the platform. And that’s a good thing for you.

 instagram for b2b competitor ad campaigns

Instead of trying to compare Instagram to search, look at it as Facebook’s version of the Display Network; use it to pull interested prospects into the top of your funnel with engaging creative, then speak to their intent to purchase later in the funnel with more targeted Facebook ads.

Are Instagram ads ever going to represent a consistent, direct path to conversion for your business? Probably not. But they will provide you with an additional, underutilized channel through which you can reach net-new prospects. If your competitors aren’t doing it (yet), you need to be.

Combined with the targeting options and funnel concept outlined in this post, you’ll be your vertical’s top dog in no time!

About the Author

Allen Finn is a content marketing specialist and the reigning fantasy football champion at WordStream. He enjoys couth menswear, dank eats, and the dulcet tones of the Wu-Tang Clan. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Internet Marketing Blog by WordStream

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