When Data Scares You Ryan George

235: What do you do when data scares you?

I received a Facebook Message early on a Saturday morning. It was from an auctioneer who was getting angry comments on the Facebook ads I’d created for him. Rather than just not clicking on the ads, people complained that they wouldn’t click on an ad that didn’t show the location of the items for sale or the date of the auction. They’d click to comment and write—but not to go to the auction catalog.

The auctioneer was concerned he was losing buyers. He wasn’t. (He told me after the auction that he thinks he set new records for this auction’s equipment.) But it was a big auction for an enterprise-level seller. I’ll tell you why I didn’t think he would lose a single buyer in a minute; but first, you need to know that the date and location were in every ad I built for him. 

Sort of.

Concerning Facebook Data

Almost every Facebook ad I create for auctions uses variable data headlines and subheads. I feed Facebook up to five different headlines and include up to five supporting subheads for each ad. For the ads in question, the location was one of those headline options; and the date was in three of the five subhead options.

Facebook’s variable content tool tries all of the options on each of the audiences the ads target. (On this campaign, we had six different audiences in the first round of ads.) As prospects respond to some content more than others, Facebook adjusts the distribution of those options daily. In this way, the headlines and subheads that work best gradually get the most distribution so that your best-performing bait is what is on your hook. And you might have different winning content in one ad than you do in another due to the preferences of each ad’s respective audience.

So what had happened in the campaign in question is that the vast majority of respondents had clicked on ads whose headlines and subheads contained something other than the date and location of this auction. We were getting a fantastic cost per click and lots of traffic to the auction catalog, but the auctioneer asked me to shut down the ads, put the auction location in the non-variable text where I had put the sales copy, and restart the ads. He told me he was willing to have less-efficient traffic as long as the comments didn’t scare his seller representative.

I get it. I look at hard data daily and often don’t follow what it shows to be the reality. That’s true in my business and my personal life. Trusting a machine, an algorithm, or artificial intelligence is not natural for human beings. That’s one of the primary tensions that inventors, engineers, and technology executives face every day. 

When Facebook Data Scares You

My client wasn’t losing a single bidder. Anyone truly interested in what he was selling would’ve clicked on the ad to see more photos, more asset information, and auction details like ending time and pickup location. People who complain on a Facebook ad instead of just scrolling by it have an axe to grind and just need an outlet for that rage. If the location and auction end time would’ve been in the ad, they would’ve found something else to complain about in the catalog or auction terms.

Still, the thousands of website visits those ads had efficiently generated couldn’t reach the volume of a couple of angry comments. That’s also part of human nature. We’re humans, and so are our sellers. Humans unevenly trust automation, algorithms, and other perceptive technology. So, I don’t fault the auctioneer for moving away from data-driven content to what would assuage his client; and I immediately made that change to his ads.

What to do with Facebook data

Here’s how I try to convince auctioneers to trust the expressed preferences of the buying public—particularly in terms of variable data in Facebook ads. Look at it like a poll. If 90% of your bidders said they wanted your advertising to use a particular headline, would you switch and use it? If 80% of the people who came to your website said certain information wasn’t important to them, would you still make it a headline? If after seeing these patterns over hundreds of auctions, you refused to adapt to the buying culture, I have one more question for you. What’s more important to you: your comfort or your commission?


Images purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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