A few days ago, Facebook announced an expansion to their Custom Audiences program. Many of you may have tried Custom Audiences before and are familiar, but the program has been limited in its release. According to Facebook, by November, Custom Audiences will be available to all advertisers, through any ad interface.
So, it's time to get ready. First we'll talk about the potentials for brands. Then, we will talk about the inevitable backlash that will come from consumers, and how to manage your way through it.
What are Custom Audiences?
You (and I) don't use "usernames" to log in to Facebook. We use our email address. Or, at least, one of our email addresses. I don't know for sure, but I imagine people use one of their more permanent email addresses, such as a home email or maybe a Gmail account. This makes sense, since your use of Facebook may last longer than your current job.
Custom Audiences is a way for brands to upload their own email address list and create just that, a "custom audience" or group of people they can specifically target with ads on Facebook. This is extremely valuable, because a lot of brands have spent a lot of time collecting email addresses. That list has suddenly been given new life and a lot of new (potential) value.
Consider the ways that brands have captured your email address in the past. Everything that you have ordered online and gotten a confirmation for. Anytime you have accepted a coupon or an offer and received it in an email. Book a flight? Have an email confirmation? Bought tickets to a concert? Maybe you even have another network or forum that you log into using that same email address. Perhaps you visited a boutique one day, bought a pair of shoes and signed up to be on their mailing list.
Many brands have some absolutely spectacularly valuable lists on hand. Giving a brand your email address has always been the gold standard of "opting in" to a brand: agreeing to receive messages from them and clearly communicating your interest. That is a very valuable audience.
The Ways Brands Will Use Custom Audiences
There are a few simple ways that we can anticipate brands using Custom Audiences:
Pretty obvious. Brands will use Custom Audiences to target right-rail ads to the consumers they think are most likely to buy. The more sophisticated among them will do a further segmentation of their custom audience and put up ads that are related to the products they have already purchased, or what they already know. A clothing retailer should know if a person with a particular email address is a man or woman and likes formal or casual wear.
Shifting from Email to Facebook Pages
Many brands have been trying to find more effective ways than email to message consumers on an ongoing basis. OK, no one is deleting their email lists and ceasing their newsletter publications. But there is a desire to get away from the daily message that all too often ends up in the Spam folder. Or, the quasi-spam folders introduced with Gmail that puts "promotion" messages in a separate spot from the regular Inbox.
Using Custom Audiences, brands can advertise their Facebook page to the people on their email list. The great hope is that people who are really interested will move to Facebook. Or, at least, add Facebook to the ways that they can be contacted.
Increasing Engagement through Apps
Brands that have a relationship with consumers primarily through a website have had a core plank in their strategic platform for a few years now: develop an app. By getting consumers to install an app, the logic goes, there is a more consistent connection and a greater chance of being a go-to. This is true primarily for e-commerce or publishing sites, but can be true of others, as well. By getting a chance to show an ad to someone you know has already engaged with you, you have a chance to market that app and achieve that goal of becoming "installed."
But What: The Backlash
Several years ago, I had a small mole removed from my neck. The dermatologist got my email address on the form and I still receive weekly email offers to have my wrinkles removed. Think about that list I laid out. People's email addresses are everywhere, which means they are going to get a lot of ads. Even if you unsubscribed from a list, there is no reason to believe that the company deleted your email address. They just stopped sending you emails, and it is not really clear that the brand would not be allowed to show you ads, targeted on your email, just because you unsubscribed.
It seems that any time there is any change to Facebook, there is an uproar. I have a feeling this is going to cause some consumer backlash as people start to feel more targeted. But you, oh advertiser of valuable products with a dedication to authentic relationships, should not be worried.
You are going to see this as a way to get closer to the person with whom you are already building long-term value. This is a chance to communicate to him or her across two channels--email and social--that are distinct, but related. Email and social are both about sharing and communicating news. They have their differences, but Facebook Custom Audiences is a chance to bridge the two.
Give Custom Audiences a try. The chance to see the same person across two channels is a great opportunity to deepen a relationship, and Facebook offers a much richer environment than email to engage.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.