Facebook has risen from questionable marketing platform to one of the dominant powers in digital media in a relatively short period of time. And while the platform made $27 billion in ad revenue in 2016, it has ambitions to venture into creative services as well. The platforms’ Creative Hub allows marketers to build and test mobile ads, and Facebook has recently begun to appeal to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), with COO Sheryl Sandberg leading the charge.
On the surface, this is great news for SMB marketers, who are often strapped for both time and money. The combination of DIY tools makes Facebook all the more inviting for their marketing efforts, especially if they lack the time to explore other options. The trouble is that if Facebook becomes the only option for SMB marketers, it will result in marketers severely restricting themselves and missing out on a huge part of their audience.
First, let’s be clear: Facebook is a valuable marketing channel for SMBs and SMBs are taking advantage of it. The ability to use Facebook’s audience filters to reach an audience through the platform is certainly appealing for SMBs who used to do their buying through local media such as newspapers or cable companies. If businesses can download four or five free apps and make compelling ad creative in a few minutes, that’s potentially game-changing.
This surely simplifies things for some SMBs, but it begs the larger question – if the only option is to spend all of your money through Facebook, is that appealing to SMB marketers? The truth is that it really shouldn’t be.
There are a few big issues here. The first is that advertising on Facebook is limited to advertising within the walled garden. That means that SMB marketers only hit users who are logged into Facebook and/or Instagram and miss out on those who are not. This automatically slices down the audience pool, which is bad for any advertiser. While lookalike audiences on Facebook allow SMB marketers to find new customers, they are still restricted to Facebook users, rather than the entire internet population. In fact, even larger advertisers are wary of putting all of their eggs into one basket, with a recent study by Liveramp finding that 84 percent of brands feel they need third-party partners besides Facebook and Google. Yes, Facebook has more than 1 billion active members, but only a small percentage of those users fall within any small business’s target audience.
There are highly desirable consumers that likely fit the profile that many SMBs are looking for, but only visit Facebook once a day. If Facebook is the only option for reaching them, then advertisers are going to have a hard time making an impact on their desirable audiences. SMB advertisers need a balanced media mix to ensure they are reaching their target consumers wherever they interact with media, not just on Facebook.
Of course, SMB advertisers may understand that fact and may simply be enticed by Facebook’s DIY creative tools. But they have to ask who owns the creative after they build it and, if they can take it with them to use across other media channels, both online and off. If they can’t and the creative is bound to Facebook, then that means the advertiser still needs to build creative for other platforms. Suddenly, what was supposedly a time-saving endeavor has led to two creative tasks.
There’s also the question of influence in the market today. Yes, Facebook has proved its value and is one of the dominant players in digital media at this moment. But that doesn’t guarantee that they’ll hold that position forever. Reports are coming out that media companies are “getting sick” of Facebook and are no longer eager to participate in the network’s experiments. Facebook doesn’t create content on its own, so it needs good relationships with publishers and other media partners. If those break down, it will likely cause innovation to stall at Facebook, which could result in a slip of power. If you need proof, look at Yahoo, whose influence dwindled amid stagnant innovation.
Facebook sees an opportunity here because many SMBs are lean operations. By removing some of the barriers to ad spend for small businesses, Facebook is trying to become a one-stop shop for their ad dollars. SMBs are likely aware of the problem, but they shouldn’t be willing to rely on Facebook exclusively for their marketing and advertising needs.
There is a clear need in the market for solutions providers that make it easier for SMBs to develop great creative and then execute their campaigns across channels, including Facebook, as well as mobile and desktop display advertising. The best possible outcome for SMBs is that competition makes the advertising and creative processes much easier across the board, as opposed to a single player coming to dominate the market.
Lynn Tornabene is CMO of AffinityX, where she leads brand strategy, corporate communications and marketing. She is also directly involved with all digital innovation as head of product strategy.