212: Facebook Data That Will Improve Your Direct Mail
In August of 2019, Facebook cut the visible text available above an ad’s photo, slideshow, or video from seven short lines to just three. Don’t reach for your calculator. I’ll save you the trouble. That was a 57% cut in usable messaging in that space.
Why would they do this? Text is almost free in terms of server space. Their algorithms uncovered the fact that ads which said less got a more efficient response. Shorter text created better results. For those in the back: less was more.
This coincided with their findings that the most successful video ads were 15 seconds or shorter and that the best of those videos landed their hook within the first seven seconds. So, it’s not just a matter of consumers unwilling to read, though social science studies back that up. It’s a matter of time and attention. People respond to their first impressions far more than they do the tertiary details.
Your first few seconds are either pass or fail.
If there was a negative impact of this change, it wasn’t drastic. I started keeping a spreadsheet of my Facebook advertising results the week of this change. Across all asset categories, I’ve seen these more succinct ads average just 9¢ per click over the span of 300± auctions.
Publishing these results in (short) Facebook ads has brought me a new client per week or two instead of a new client every few months. All those new clients have helped me weather the pandemic’s hit on the auction industry. So, I’m not surprised Facebook was right. Algorithms trump human intuition all day every day. Facebook’s artificial intelligence, in particular, has adjusted my assumptions. I’m talking guesses that had been educated by more than 7,000 advertising campaigns.
There’s an interesting assumption in the auction industry that people have shorter attention spans online than they do in print. Don’t believe me? Grab almost any winning direct mail piece in any state or national auctioneer association’s advertising contest. I’d bet you what I’d charge to design it that there’s more text on any one side of it than what Facebook allows visible in a full ad. In many samples of auction direct mail I’ve seen, there’s more text in the terms & conditions on the mailer panel than in a successful Facebook ad.
The problem is that we view people like we view search engines. We assume that the more information we feed them, the more results we’ll get. Instead of relying on our targeting, we throw as much spaghetti against the wall as we can and hope some of it sticks. It’s the old “more is more” approach, which is inefficient at best and expensively ineffective at worst.
As Facebook proved earlier, less is more.
In the Internet age, our buyers are more educated than ever—especially if we’ve targeted well. We don’t need to list everything on the grocery aisle, if (1) the hanging placard shows the top four items or (2) the end cap has something yummy. If the customer doesn’t like the sizzle, they won’t like the steak. If they don’t want what’s in the headlines, it doesn’t matter what’s on the bulleted list. Frankly, if they don’t take notice from what’s in the pictures, it doesn’t matter what any of the text says.
Even if all of this weren’t true—even if human attention spans were growing instead of shrinking—you’d want to follow Facebook’s lead just for strategic purposes. Saving all the details for your website adds incentive for people to go to your online marketplace, where you can track advertising efficacy, capture interested parties for pixel-based marketing, and possibly get people registered to bid. Minimizing your text gives your headlines and photos more breathing room and your call to action more impact.
Big, artistic, detailed direct mail pieces assuage our sellers, stroke our egos, and win awards. If we’re lucky, we impress future sellers and hold the attention of would-be buyers. Those aren’t necessarily wrong reasons for verbose postcards and brochures. If you want to get people to bid right now, though, I recommend relying on humility and the trillions of data points collected from 2.6 billion Facebook users, including the 72% of U.S. adults who use the platform.
Stock images purchased from iStockPhoto.com