Beginner’s Guide to Facebook Ads Targeting

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Facebook Ads has solid targeting capabilities. Where to start?

Thanks to Facebook’s powerful targeting capabilities, marketers can instantly reach current and prospective customers. From basic demographics to specific interests, there are endless possibilities to connect with the audiences that matter most to your brand.

The question becomes, who are you targeting, and what’s the rationale behind it? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when developing an effective Facebook advertising strategy.

Set Goals

Before you start targeting, set your ads goals

Before you dive into the deep end, it’s important to define your Facebook advertising goals and ensure they align with your overarching business goals.

Even if you create the best ad in the world, it won’t do you any good if you don’t serve to the right audience. The campaign purpose you select will dictate your targeting approach.

Define Your Audience

Define your audience so you know who to target

Before you can begin targeting, you need to first define your ideal customer.

Start by asking yourself: who are the people I’m trying to attract to my brand? Using basic demographics, like age range, gender, race, geographic location, income level, education level, economic status, interests and more, begin shaping the profile(s) of your target audience.

Create persona profiles

Then, use basic demographics to construct a more specific persona profile. For the purposes of this guide, let’s create two hypothetical profiles: one for a fictional company, and one for their ideal target customer, or persona.

Company Profile

Brand: “The Future is Fitness”
Fictional Company: “The Future is Fitness,” a women’s only gym in Portland, Oregon that primarily teaches body resistance training and yoga.
Profile: The gym prides itself on being environmentally conscious and hires trainers with exclusive credentials, resulting in a steep monthly price tag.
Goal: Double membership in the first quarter
Advertising Strategy: Locate adult females in the greater Portland metro area looking to lose weight and tone their bodies. Encourage them to sign up for a trial membership.

Persona Profile

Target Customer: “Jane”
Basics: Jane, aged 45, is a single mother of two (one in middle school, one in high school).
Profile: When she has free time outside of her desk job as a software engineer, she loves to contribute to her community garden, go on local hikes, volunteer at the schools, cook new recipes and gather with girlfriends for wine night or book club.

Why Jane? Jane’s profession suggests she may have the right income to justify a monthly gym membership expense. Her hobbies indicate she is social and enjoys a balanced lifestyle, open to physical activity as well as enjoying food and drink. These are qualities that may make a women’s only gym appealing to Jane. Advertising content encouraging a free trial in her area that aligns with her interests may inspire her to click, and sign up.

Jane’s persona may seem oddly specific, but profile development is a best practice many successful brands use. While not every target customer will exactly match “Jane,” this exercise helps marketers think about a living, breathing person on the other end of the ad, rather than just a list of qualities. Persona profiles help steer companies like “TFF” in the right direction to target people who align with the brand’s values and indicate high revenue potential for the brand. Don’t forget, you can create more than one persona profile if appropriate for your target demographic.

Fish Where The Fish Are

Choose the right objective to assist your targetig

Facebook has the most sophisticated targeting tools on the market. It’s a great place to discover and reach new audiences with your message. Keep your “Jane” persona in mind as you experiment with interest-based targeting.

Start by putting yourself in Jane’s shoes. Think about all of the specifics we created in her profile, and consider what she might talk about or “like” while using Facebook. Self-reported data, such as Jane identifying as a woman in her profile, and the content of her status updates and comments all contribute to Facebook’s interest data about Jane.

Just because she may want to get physically fit doesn’t mean Jane will actively talk about it online with family and friends. This missing data point means that she wouldn’t likely be shown TFF’s ads if they only targeted women in Portland who are interested in weight loss. However, if you creatively think about the other topics she may be writing about or subscribing to on Facebook, like raising children or gardening, TFF may be able to serve her the ad if they target women in Portland with similar interests to hers.

Using personas to set up your ads

segment your targeting

This strategy may seem like a long stretch at first, but by keeping tabs on which audience segments are responding to your ads, you can adjust ad spend and shut off underperforming audience segments. After you list out the demographic information for your target audience (location, gender, age, language), try creating different audience segments based on interests. As an example, for Jane’s persona, try creating an ad set that targets each of the persona’s interests:

  1. Gardening
  2. Volunteering and/or Community Issues
  3. Wine

By creating an ad set for each of these interests, you can learn if gardeners are more expensive to target, more or less engaged or likely to convert than wine enthusiasts and volunteers. It allows you to adjust how you’re targeting gardeners to get a better response or turn off that segment of the campaign altogether.

When you use one target audience that includes all three interest groups, over time Facebook’s algorithm will figure out which segments are most likely to achieve your objective (you set the objective when you create an ad) and only show your ad to that group. Facebook will ‘optimize out’ some of your interest groups and assigned demographics. Optimization is ideal for conversion, but it doesn’t allow you to learn if a segment, or interest group, say, gardeners, is a segment of the market you should focus your advertising. Since this optimization is working behind the curtain, it prevents you from making critical testing decisions, like testing new ads to increase the engagement of gardeners or cutting them out altogether.

Create Content for That Persona

Create content for each segment and each persona

Deeply developed persona profiles help you create content that resonates with your target demographic. There are plenty of advertising mistakes that beginners make, and missing the mark on content is a big one.

As you write copy and develop visuals for your target audience, create content that speaks directly to Jane (and others just like her). For example, if TFF targeted Jane by sending the ad to women who love hiking, smart ad content may mention getting fit in the gym to prepare for a challenging local hike. Critical thinking about creating a message for ‘Jane’ will make the content more relevant and increase the chance that she’ll engage with TFF.

As always, testing ad variations and optimizing the top performing one for each character profile is the most effective method to get the biggest bang for your buck. Don’t be afraid to try different creative, images, and targeting to see which combinations perform best. A comprehensive approach and A/B testing help you determine which combinations people respond to best and produce results.

Have you created a target audience persona profile for your ideal customer(s) and had great success with Facebook ads? Or, has a company ever effectively targeted you as a customer? We’d love it if you shared your experiences in the comments.

Katie McCall

Katie McCall is a strategic communications consultant, working with clients to establish trustworthy and engaging reputations, driving authentic communication with fans and influencers. She specializes in branding and positioning, storytelling and online advocacy networking. In addition, Katie is a lifestyle portrait photographer, serving clients in her community in Texas.

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