Diversifying Away From The Triopoly
Another question I’ve received multiple times over the past month concerns platform diversification – namely, what are other viable advertising platforms, if you aren’t comfortable being completely reliant on the Triopoly (Google / Meta / Amazon).
First, let me say that I firmly believe over-diversification is a problem that drags down overall marketing performance (I wrote about that here). In the mid-to-long run, most businesses will obtain higher overall returns on their marketing investment by mastering and scaling a “core” channel (Meta, Google, Amazon).
That being said, diversification isn’t inherently bad – especially for niche businesses that (a) can’t efficiently obtain the mass-market appeal that Meta/Amazon use to thrive and (b) don’t have sufficiently large wells of search volume to capture (i.e. emerging industries, niche topics, relatively unknown solutions).
In those cases, smaller digital platforms can make all the sense in the world:
There’s no two ways about it: Reddit can be a (very) scary place as a brand. As a platform, it leans far more into a “decentralized” control model than other social networks (which makes it more volatile to protests/outages, like this one from this past week).
Users tend to gravitate toward real, authentic content + be less trustful of generic messages and canned sales pitches – which can result in spectacular blow-ups for advertisers who try to copy-and-paste Meta ads onto Reddit.
That being said, I’ve long loved Reddit Ads for four reasons:
- Reddit’s audience is a bit different than other platforms – a significant chunk of Reddit’s user base isn’t on other social networks, giving your brand a (potentially) new acquisition channel of true, net-new users. Roughly 23% of Redditors don’t use Facebook, 47% don’t use Instagram, and 69% don’t use TikTok (all according to Reddit’s 2022 internal research).
- 3M+ niche subreddits – finding people who care about a niche topic can be difficult-to-impossible on most platforms; on Reddit, those same hard-to-find users self-select into highly specific, highly engaged communities (called subreddits).
- Hyper-engaged audiences – there’s no doubt this is a double-edged sword, but given the choice, I’ll take actively engaged, smart-about-a-topic users over the humdrum Meta user any day of the week.
- It’s stupidly cheap – one of the great things about auction-based media is that less competition (usually because brands are terrified of Reddit) actually translates into lower ad costs. In general, the CPMs I see on Reddit are 50% to 85% lower than what I see on Meta + 90%+ lower than Google.
Reddit has also made significant strides to improve its overall platform performance, the latest of which is a suite of updates just last week – including contextual keyword targeting (neat!) and product ads (desperately needed).
Succeeding on Reddit: In my experience, the creative + targeting that works on Reddit is tailored specifically to the platform AND community, wonderfully detailed and wildly relevant. I’m a huge fan of targeting specific subreddits without audience expansion (though be warned: your ads can still show for subscribers to those subreddits, even if they are browsing others). It’s even better if your brand has an active organic presence on Reddit, where you *add value* to the communities relevant to your business (that means posting helpful content without an accompanying sales pitch, for instance).
Whenever dropshippers start advertising on any platform, I get interested. When dropshippers start advertising on a historically solid platform with a massive user base, I get *very* interested. That’s the state of Twitter Ads today, in a nutshell.
From a brand standpoint, there’s a *lot* of risk factors for Twitter Ads: (1) Elon Musk is hardly a paragon of stability + rationality; (2) Twitter is a full-contact platform; and (3) it lacks the moderation horsepower of Meta/Google – meaning the risks of your ads appearing next to questionable (to put it nicely) content are higher than on other platforms.
But, it’s not all doom-and-gloom – especially for certain niche businesses:
- Audience Quality: if most platform’s audience quality follows a standard bell curve (with most users in the “average” category), Twitter’s audience quality is multimodal: there’s a higher-than-usual concentration of staggeringly influential, otherwise-impossible-to-find people on the platform, and there’s a higher-than-anywhere-else concentration of trolls/bots/etc. If you can locate the former, Twitter ads are a goldmine.
- New Ad Features: Twitter has done a ton to modernize its ad suite, including a complete rebuild of their Website Conversion Optimization (WCO) ad product (which used to be terrible, and is now respectable), plus the rollout of Search Ads.
- Unique Targeting: Twitter Ads offers some unique targeting options – including the “follower lookalike” and “conversation” targeting. In particular, I’ve found that a well-researched (hello, Sparktoro) follower LAL with ~100,000 to ~500,000 people works best. Broad targeting still isn’t great, and demographics tend to be weird – so this is definitely a platform you’ll need some imagination to fully utilize.
- Low Costs + Attractive Returns: Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, ad revenues have plummeted. While that’s bad for the world’s richest man, it’s good news for SMB advertisers – CPMs and CPCs are dirt cheap, and with the right creative and lander, extremely profitable.
- Middle-of-the-Maze or Dirt Cheap: The offers I’ve seen succeed on Twitter tend to fall into two overarching buckets: (a) cheap, impulse purchases OR (b) middle-of-the-maze educational/resource plays (typically webinars, case studies, downloadables, etc.) coupled with well-designed nurture experiences.
Note – Verification: Twitter’s verification process (which is code for paying Elon $8+ per month as a user, or $1,000+ as an organization) is a prerequisite for advertising. Easiest way to start is as an individual user ($8), then see if the returns are worth it.
Microsoft (formerly Bing) Ads has been around for what feels like forever – and for most of that time, was interesting, if not under-utilized. That all changed when Microsoft announced their groundbreaking partnership/investment in OpenAI – and in doing so, brought ChatGPT to Bing in early 2023.
For many of our clients, Microsoft is valuable on two fronts:
- Ads Platform: Microsoft has quietly built a very, very good ads product that they just keep making better. Lower competition translates to lower CPCs on the same terms we’re bidding on Google – which makes Microsoft’s corresponding ROI significantly higher. For one niche lead generation client, Microsoft drives ~8 MQLs per month on a ~$500 spend (less than one-third of Google’s CPL). Scaling it above that level is difficult (limited by search volume), but driving 20% of total MQLs for <10% of budget is a wonderful example of making a dinner out of appetizers.
- Google Insights: Microsoft Ads occupies a relatively unique position among ads platforms, in that it is a more revealing mirror to Google. Microsoft has doubled down on this in recent years, with staggering investments in its analytics + reporting capabilities:
- Search Terms Visibility: Microsoft provides exponentially more visibility into search terms, which can be used to inform Google campaigns (either as negatives or KWs to include).
- Granular PMax Insights: Microsoft’s PMax product provides far more visibility into where ads are served compared to Google, once again allowing you to make better decisions for your Google campaigns.
- Cross-Platform Targeting: Microsoft’s audience network provides far more granular reporting + insights, allowing brands to both hone their Microsoft campaigns, along with those on other platforms.
While Microsoft has come a long way, it’s not all roses yet – the offline conversion import (a staple for both B2B + B2C brands) still pales in comparison to Google, while the LI integration (which is great!) isn’t as robust as it could (or should) be.
The bottom line: Microsoft Ads is a great “role player” on your paid marketing team. It’s not a superstar (like Google or Meta or Amazon), but it can help your stars perform better (via data + insights) while making solid contributions itself (leads/sales at an efficiency CPL/CPA).
These 3 are not the only under-utilized platforms out there – I am experimenting with Pinterest, Snap + Quora – but I’ve found each one of these can work for a diverse group of businesses. If you’re wondering where to go or what to try when the Big 3 let you down, give one of these a shot.