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Numbers don’t lie. The business world has caught the fever of big data, and more leading thinkers are looking to the realm of statistics to make sure they’re making the best possible decisions. Social media is no exception, and it turns out that data may be the best way to tackle Facebook advertising.

Some brands have been skeptical of whether these marketing products are worth the cost, and with the entire suite of offerings now getting an overhaul, Facebook Ads are still a source of both opportunity and confusion. To produce some clarity, we chatted with Massimo Chieruzzi, CEO and founder of Italian company AdEspresso. He provided his thoughts on what brands need to know about Facebook.

His business helps brands to optimize their Facebook advertising programs, so he’s seen the tools from the inside and out. Chieruzzi discussed his journey from launching this specialized service, to learning the ins-and-outs of making the best Facebook Ads possible. Thanks to his experience and his ability to put social media in a larger marketing context, you may soon find yourself a convert to the importance of the numbers game when it comes to Facebook Ads.

Businesses on the Grow

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AdEspresso began with Chieruzzi’s difficulties in running Facebook campaigns for an Italian web agency. “I was handling some Facebook advertising campaigns and I wanted to optimize them with some split testing. Doing it directly from Facebook was a tedious job, and the market was not offering many alternatives,” he explained. “Most of the tools were really pricey and you had to go through their sales teams with no self-service options.” He and some colleagues decided there was a need for a simple solution that could help small and mid-sized businesses.

As a result, Chieruzzi knows what businesses of different sizes need to execute useful Facebook ad campaigns. He also explained how you can plan a strategy that will scale. “The ability to scale is important, whether you’re running a local store that wants to expand, or a regional or a national brand that’s pushing for international presence.”

He summed up his standard approach for any successful campaign as: “Test. Measure. Improve. Start over.” While this is his general attitude for starting a campaign, he also noted the need for adjustments on a case-by-case basis. “A new business will probably have to invest its advertising budget focusing on broadening its fan base. If it’s an online business, it may focus on driving traffic to specific landing pages to generate sales and to sustain growth,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean the full suite of Facebook’s ad creation tools are out of your reach. Chieruzzi suggested leveraging local roots when businesses are at the smaller sizes. “You can use zip code targeting to reach customers exactly in your area,” he said.

After businesses have matured, they can adopt one of many specific goals for Facebook advertising, and by then they may have the bankroll to back those campaigns. For starters, those companies could opt to use Sponsored Stories to improve engagement with their existing fans. “Having a large customer base also means that they’ll be able to use an even more precise targeting strategy. By using “Custom Audiences,” brands’ ads are only displayed to their existing customers,” he said. “They could display their ads to their competitor’s fans, remarkably increasing their CTR,” he gave as another option for brands to consider.

Making the Best Facebook Ad

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With so much knowledge and experience under his belt, it’s no surprise that Chieruzzi has some great recommendations for improving brands’ use of Facebook Ads. “My main suggestion is to always have a data-driven approach,” he said. Chieruzzi is a numbers man, advocating regular testing of 10 or 20 different spots and then analyzing your results.

“At the beginning, start testing a few macro elements: a picture versus an illustration, males versus females, and so on,” he said. “Once you have enough data, start drilling deeper with your experiments.” His practice is to always be testing. “When you think you’ve got the perfect mix of creative and target audience, keep it running and in the meantime start testing something completely different.”

Another key statistical point to watch is the type of ad you find most successful. Through AdEspresso’s data, Chieruzzi has found that some Facebook ad types have correlated strongly to specific outcomes. His company has found that lead generation is best accomplished with a series of Sponsored Posts.

“It will be displayed in the user’s News Feed and it will drive both conversations and new Likes to your Page,” he said. “If your main goal is to drive new Likes to your Page, you can use a mix of Promoted Page and Sponsored Page ads. While Promoted Pages can be displayed to anyone and are great to broaden your reach, Sponsored Pages target friends of people who already Like your Page.”

While the company’s insights are a great starting point, make sure you run the numbers to see exactly how the different services perform for your company’s particular industry and audience. Chieruzzi would expect nothing less!

A substantial enough data set to back one idea isn’t enough to ensure success with Facebook ads, and it’s financially prudent for businesses to take this strategy of thorough testing, despite what seems like a high cost. “Facebook wants to run ads that work and generate clicks,” Chieruzzi explained. “The more your ad is clicked, the lower your cost per click will be, thus allowing you to maximize your return.”

Another important piece of advice for businesses is to watch ad frequency as measured against success. “The frequency is basically the average number of times a unique user has seen your ad,” Chieruzzi explained. “The first time some users may have missed it, the second time they may have been too busy to click on it, but after 10 times they have seen it without clicking on it they are probably not interested.”

It’s another metric that supports the need for constant data analysis. “If you reach a frequency higher than 10-15, you’d better refresh your ads or change your target audience,” he said. He’s learned that businesses should always be ready and able to switch up their game, so that they are always pushing for better results from Facebook ads.

Data in a Broader Strategy

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Even though AdEspresso is focused on a very particular slice of the marketing pie, Chieruzzi understands how the whole delicious pastry comes together. Even though having your Facebook advertising plans complement your other marketing ventures is crucial, the social side needs to be treated as the different beast that it is. Chieruzzi compared Facebook Ads with Google AdWords as an example.

“With search ads, you’re fulfilling an immediate user need,” he explained. “When users search for ‘romance books,’ you already know what they want to buy.” Facebook requires a different approach since search isn’t the driver of identifying your audience. “With Facebook ads, you’re not sure what the user needs right now, but you can be very specific about who your user should be.”

That’s another reason why his call for constant testing and finessing of Facebook ad strategy is an effective strategy. Data helps brands fill in the details of who their ideal targets are, and it goes beyond the basic demographics of age and gender. What are your audience’s interests? What music do they enjoy? Are they college graduates? Do they hold certain jobs? The more you know about them, the more likely you’ll be able to make your target audience aware of your brand through Facebook.

The data diving is equally important to apply to your company’s other marketing initiatives. Chieruzzi supported social and advertising teams working in tandem to ensure that Facebook is just one successful avenue. “In order to keep the consistency of the advertising message, it is important for the social advertising to be strongly connected with the business culture, and integrated with the communication strategy conveyed on the Facebook Page of a brand,” he said.

Don’t underestimate the value of anecdotal data either. “Knowing your target audience may sound trivial, but it’s not,” Chieruzzi said. “The social media team, which is continuously in touch with the fan base of the Facebook Page, is probably the best candidate to indicate the right target audience to show the ads to.” Having a Facebook ad strategy backed by many of your brand’s departments will take advantage of all their various skill sets and strengths for a better overall campaign.

“With so many Facebook Pages competing for a spot in the News Feed, getting the message to your users could be tough if you don’t support it with advertising,” he said. But if you still aren’t convinced that this is the right place for your company to invest ad money, Chieruzzi’s numbers-driven attitude can still offer guidance. “The good thing about Facebook Ads is that you only need a credit card to start using it within minutes,” he said. “The best advice is to give it a try with a limited budget to understand if it is suitable for a given market/product.”

Whatever your brand expects out of Facebook advertising, accompanying that plan with a strong set of analytics can help point you toward success. Numbers also make it easier to be nimble in this marketing sphere, where agility is key to survival. With the right tools, brands can have the data to drive social success in Facebook ads.

Have you had success with Facebook Ads? Let us know in the comments.

[Image credits: H. Michael Karshis, MissMessie, Andrew, Jewell Willett]