Zeroing in on your channel mix—in other words, how you make people aware of you or get traffic to your website—has always been a critical component of growth. It’s essentially the first half of the growth equation.
Half one: make people aware of you.
Half two: implement tactics to get them to do something.
So, put that way, if you can’t get in front of your target audience, you’re going to seriously struggle to grow your business in any meaningful way.
That’s why finding the right combination of acquisition channels for your business is so critical. It’s also really hard. It’s also, also why so many companies are focused on diversifying their channel mix in order to find new pockets, outside of Facebook and Google, to scale their acquisition efforts.
When it comes to determining what channels to test and what budget to allocate, it’s a balance. You can’t afford (and don’t want to) spread your resources across every single channel that exists. You’ll end up with sloppy execution and merky data. You also can’t afford to not test new channels. You’ll end up with all your eggs in one basket and run the risk of being beholden to a single channel and the big shifts that channel implements (looking at you iOS 14).
So what do you do?
As a growth marketing agency, we’re constantly looking for ways to solve this challenge for our partners. At any given time, almost 30% of the spend under management at Tuff is being allocated to what we would call “emerging growth channels.” In this post, we’re going to break down what we’ve learned and which channels are currently our favorites.
What are acquisition channels?
If you jump into any Google Analytics account, you’ll find a mix of traffic coming from five core sources. These include:
A paid acquisition channel is a place where a potential customer finds out about your company—think LinkedIn, Google Search, Facebook, etc. They are diverse and plenty, with cost per clicks (CPCs) ranging from as low as $0.15 to as high as $30. Knowing your CPC is important. It’ll help you determine how much budget you actually need to test a new paid channel.
When it comes to channel exploration, we like to get anywhere from 300-500 clicks per channel (or campaign) before reworking or determining results. For cheaper channels in specific industries, this could mean that $500 is enough to test a new channel but for others, you’ll want to have at least $5,000.
What are the core acquisitions channels?
For the last 10+ years, the majority of paid spend has gone into the pocket of one of two core acquisition channels:
- Google (+Bing)
In addition to being some of the most advanced advertising platforms, both Google and Facebook make sense for companies as acquisition channels because:
- They have huge audiences and advanced targeting options
- They are self-service platforms and make it easy for people to use
- They can be cost-effective
That said, the majority of brands, at some point, will start to see diminishing returns on channels like Facebook and Google when they try to scale rapidly. Layer on the fact that the advertising landscape has (and will continue to) change. According to ProfitWell, customer acquisition costs have gone up by over 60% in the last 5 years, making channel diversification that much more important.
What are the best emerging channels?
There are a number of emerging channels available for companies to leverage to find traction and scale outside of Facebook and Google. We’ve tested on all of the major channels and have some initial favorites so far in 2021:
At Tuff, we’ve been running campaigns on YouTube for over three years. When we started on YouTube, at the most, 10% of our clients were experimenting on this channel. Today, almost 65% of our clients are running campaigns on this channel.
YouTube is great because it’s a blend between Google and Facebook. With YouTube advertising, you can get extremely targeted and identify high-intent, niche keywords and audiences to segment. At the same time, it’s also extremely creative-forward and visual like Facebook. I like this combination because you get advanced targeting paired with video in a way you can’t on any other platform.
When it comes to YouTube, we often use this as a top-of-the-funnel initiative. We use it to get as many quality eyeballs as possible on our videos and then implement tactics to move these users further down our funnel. That said, we also have clients that use YouTube extremely successfully as a last-click customer acquisition channel.
Here are what the results can look like so you have context as you experiment or compare with existing campaigns. Take a look at a full spreadsheet from some of the YouTube campaigns in the Tuff MCC account.
Here are some of the major YouTube tips:
- Consolidate your spend on geos: Chris, our YouTube expert, always talks about YouTube like a Billboards. With so much inventory available on YouTube, and attribution getting more difficult, if you consolidate your spend to specific geos it will be easier to see lift (or no lift) in revenue or conversions from YouTube.
- Leverage Retargeting: YouTube retargeting is significantly cheaper than other channels and you can retarget both site traffic and video views.
- Reduce CPC with Custom Intent: Build custom intent audiences using high CPC keywords instead of relying exclusively on search. Here’s a full blog post breaking down this exact strategy.
We talk about YouTube a lot at Tuff and have a full playlist on the blog with YouTube campaign examples, data, and best practices. Check it out.
We get more inquiries and questions about TikTok from clients and prospects than any other channel combined. For the right audience, TikTok can be super cost-effective and drive a serious amount of traffic and revenue but it’s not for everyone. It also takes a slightly modified approach to get the right results. In other words, it’s far more finicky than on Facebook. Some of the things you’d do to set up your campaigns on Facebook and Instagram are completely different for TikTok.
For successful results, here are some things to consider:
- Audience: For TikTok, based on what we’ve seen, you need to go broad with your audience. On other channels, like Facebook, it’s easy to get extremely granular and focus on an audience of 1M or fewer but on TikTok you need to expand. The algorithm is extremely sophisticated and the larger your audience, the better the results will be. For instance, the For You Page on TikTok knows exactly what type of content you’re interested in. The short story: trust that the algorithm will serve your ads to the users who would be interested in your ads.
- Creative: You can’t even consider TikTok without video creative. Do you have really strong video assets and can you create new videos on a 3-4 week basis? If not, TikTok might not be for you. Layer on the fact that TikTok users have a super high BS-o-meter, and you’ll want to get super particular with what you publish. The good news: there’s tons of room to test and doing so doesn’t need to drain your bank account. We’re a performance-creative focused crew here at Tuff and have written a full blog post on this exact topic.
If you want a deep dive on what to expect with TikTok, here’s a list of practical tips and recommendations for creating high-performing TikTok campaigns.
The good news: if you’ve taken on the task of making creative for TikTok, you’re already most of the way towards firing up a Snapchat strategy as well. Unlike TikTok, Snapchat surprisingly has some amazingly sophisticated targeting options (which is not surprising when you find out they partner with Neilsen to make it happen). Ultimately, Snapchat is extremely dependent on native-looking and always-refreshing creative, but if you can crack that nut, you can quite possibly unlock a powerful acquisition channel.
When it comes to eCommerce growth, Amazon has been part of the conversation for a while now and for good reason. In 2020, Amazon advertising became the number three ad publisher in the United States, accounting for over $15.73 billion in ad revenue. It’s estimated that Amazon’s ad business is growing even more in 2021, with a projected ad revenue of over $20 billion (over 30% annual growth).
While there are many pros and cons to selling on Amazon, having an effective Amazon advertising strategy is an essential part of a growth strategy for almost every single eCommerce brand.
We get into a number of best practices and Amazon advertising tips in this post, but to highlight a few priorities:
- Split out branded and non-branded campaigns (just like you would do on Google!)
- Use automated targeting on Amazon ads to get better insights into your manual bid strategies
- Measure and correlate spikes in organic sales as you optimize you paid efforts
It’s worth mentioning that there are other channels we are actively testing on that collectively make up about the same amount of spend as the channels above. These include: Reddit, Quora, Twitter, Spotify, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. It’s not to say that these channels aren’t the right ones for your business (if your target audience is actively there) but we haven’t seen as much scale on these platforms as we’d like. They can be great supporting channels but aren’t, at this point, going to be your hero channel.
What about non-paid acquisition channels?
This post has focused primarily on diversifying your paid channel mix. And if you’re an early stage startup or in extreme scale mode, paid is where you are going to get the quickest result. But, I can’t stress enough the importance of organic acquisition. Being completely reliant on paid is something that you just can’t do.
Unlike paid acquisition, organic traffic is going to bring you the best long-term, most compounding growth results if you have the right SEO strategy. It can take up to 12 months of work until you start seeing results but it’s arguably the best growth tactic you can implement for your business. Here’s an in-depth post on how we build a holistic SEO strategy to help businesses see more organic traction.
My advice: Fill the gaps and find short-term momentum with paid acquisition until you are able to implement and see traction with organic acquisition.
Ellen is the founder at Tuff and one of the team’s core growth marketers. She is a versatile marketer with expertise in multiple channels – from ppc to seo to email to others – responsible for the experiments and testing. She is happiest when she’s on the ski hill or outside pointing her mountain bike downhill.