Crashing into growth marketing: a CEO journey. Part 10 — video ad.

It’s the last week of my marketing study journey. I’ve finished all of the video courses, and am looking forward to submitting my final degree quiz next week. Over these three months I’ve I’ve learned everything I know about marketing — but it’s definitely enough to.. I’m not even sure what would be enough for anything.

I’m not a marketer, as I still have zero experience. I’m a much better CEO because I have a basic understanding about how stuff works now.

While I still have a long way to go with understanding things in practice, I’d like to talk you through my very first journey of creating a video ad campaign on Facebook and YouTube. I followed CXL advice as much as I could, but also discovered new things while setting up the ads.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, my little testing project is our small publishing house that I run with my husband. He’s just published a new novel that is on the lookout for new readers, so throughout the marketing course I’ve been setting up assets and processes to promote the book.

Ad for my husband’s novel Ostrich, cuckoo, seagull

Now we created some assets for an actual advertisement and set up our first paid campaigns. Here’s how it went.

This is the tenth post of many to document my journey as early-stage startup CEO through the growth marketing minidegree by CXL Institute — a 12-week online program about the practicalities of growth marketing.

Disclaimers: I’ve done intense learning sprints before. I’ve never touched marketing from a practical perspective before this course. Consult a specialist before trying this at home.

Promo insert: My startup is called Zelos, it’s an app that helps you manage tasks and distribute activities with a very large group or community, and you can sign up here for free: getzelos.com

Creating a video ad

While I’ve produced a lot of video in my lifetime (I have a MA degree in visual arts and digital production), it’s been mostly for an artistic purpose. Either I’ve supported a stage production with moving visuals, or helped tell stories in a short film format.

But video advertising is a completely different narrative, with different goals, structure and benchmarks.

My goal today is to produce advertising for conversions = book purchases on our e-commerce website. While the ads may also help with brand awareness and inform the viewers who are not yet familiar with the author, the end goal is to communicate a direct call to action: click to the website and buy the book.

There are two categories of ads on YouTube:

  • TrueView discovery ads next to content (watch next)
  • In-stream pre-roll ads: longer ones skippable, short ones unskippable.

Our video will be a longer one, as the brand is not that well known (we’re not Coca-Cola), and it will take more than 15 seconds to explain the offer. We don’t have a good clickbait title for the book, so I don’t feel that it’s likely for people to actively click on the video. So we’re going with the skippable pre-roll ads that show up before, during and after the YouTube videos.

As I learn, the main tactic here is to really sift out your target audience with the content in the beginning of the video. While all ads will have some type of targeting, it’s unlikely that everyone in the target audience will actually be interested in buying a historical fiction novel today.

But some might be. The goal is to keep those watching, and make everyone else skip the ad. Because if they don’t skip the ad, you’ll still pay for the view. And you don’t want to pay for someone to view the ad, if they’re not actually interested in your thing.

Both Facebook and YouTube let you optimize these long video campaigns for views. This means that the algorithm will try to find people who watch the video past 15 seconds and then charge you for them. To make things extra confusing, Facebook calls the 15 seconds view a TrueView, the exact same word YouTube calls their display ads (the totally other type of ad).

On Facebook you can also optimise (and pay) for many other metrics, like 2-second views or just general impressions (probably much cheaper per each), but in our case I’m going with the CXL recommendations of really qualifying the audience and then kicking off as many un-interested viewers as possible, and paying for only those who show up genuine interest by staying put for 15 seconds and more.

This is what they recommend to get rid of the uninterested audiences early:

  • Keep video length around 90 seconds. The ads will show the video length to viewers, so it’s directly affecting the skip decision. A longer ad is too much for everyone, but a bored person might “wait out” a 30-second ad instead of reaching for the skip button. They’re not interested, but will cost you money as a view. 90 seconds is usually already worth the effort of pressing the button.
  • Establish the “who’s it for” very clearly within the first 5–10 seconds. Use professional lingo if needed. (In my video, Immanuel Kant gets namedropped at 0:11, so hopefully that’ll get quickly rid of anyone who’s not into philosophy).

Another important thing to remember is to give people enough time to click on the “buy now” button at the end of the video. Even if they’ve stayed for the whole length of the video, they may not be sharp and ready to click to your website before their original content loads.

  • Make the call to action clear in text and audio — we want you to click on the button now.
  • Add a timer to the end of the video to show how much time there is left before the button disappears.

Screenwriting the scenario

For the rest of the content, CXL gives me a pretty specific copy template to use, called ADUCATE formula. This is the order in which things should be presented in an advertisement video.

  1. Aim. This is the address that should validate the intent and make it clear what the ad is about. In my video, this is the very beginning where the author clearly states his name (the brand!) and tells the audience that it’s about his latest novel. If you’re not interested in books, you should probably skip the ad right away.
  2. Difficulty. Validating the problem / pain, and illustrating the monster. While dishwashing liquid ads might present animated germs here, we’re describing the possible thoughts of a verified reader. If you stay up at night thinking about Immanuel Kant coming of age.. we have the right book for you!
  3. Understand. Acknowledging emotion and building an emotional connection. We totally get it. If the rings of Saturn and the Book of Genesis are on your mind — we’ve got your back.
  4. Credibility. Show how you’re the expert. We added a fun section explaining how the word ostrich translates to camel-like sparrow in ancient greek. That is super expert-level knowledge there — and it’s also absolutely true.
  5. Action plan. Describe something that feels like a system (here’s three things to get you started), and makes the viewer confident that stuff makes sense. For this, we go over the purchase process. When you buy from the author, you will get
    a) a personal inscription on the front page
    b) an autograph
    c) the book shipped to a postal box free of charge
  6. Teach. One quick tip or freebie to get a sense of accomplishment. We’re not selling a service or a system, but we put in an assurance that everything will make sense once you read the book. There is meaning behind the title Ostrich, cuckoo, seagull, and by knowing the ancient greek etymology we just taught — you’re already halfway there.
  7. Exit. The simple and quick call to action they can do NOW. Our call to action is Buy directly from the author. Click the link below the video. And then the timer rolls from 9 to 0 while showing the book with the written CTA.

Setting up ads

Here’s what the video looks like:

Video ad for the novel “Ostrich, cuckoo, seagull”

Google Ads campaign

When creating a video campaign on Google Ads, it only asks for the YouTube link. I’m starting with a smallcampaign that should spend a maximum of 1 EUR per day.

One of the options is to target user behaviour, and I’ll start the campaign with people who have interests or purchase intentions towards items that come up with keywords “historical fiction best book” or “best historical fiction mystery books”.

When checking the audience volume of such people in Estonia (who also speak Estonian), Google makes a guess that this audience could go up to 500K-1M impressions each week, and tells me this segment is 56% female, the largest age group of 25% is 25–34 years old, and 77% of them are not parents. It also lets me know my keywords are in the category of Books and Literature!

I then need to provide a maximum CPV (cost per view), which should mean how much am I agreeing paying for every person who watches past the 15 second mark, and I put in 0.02. When I tested a few weeks ago with some extra boring book-reading videos, the algorithms usually ended up with a view price of 1–3 cents.

Because I’ve already learned a thing or two about audience funnels, I also set up a re-marketing campaign for anyone who’s already costing us money. Everyone past the 15 second mark will get another campaign of display ads to remind them they need to buy the book.

Display ads are the image and text ads that Google puts all over the internet, combined from your uploaded text and images:

My fresh re-marketing audience is too small to work in the beginning. Google will also not let me upload a list of our existing clients — this seems to be an opportunity for large accounts who have already spent over 50K on advertising.

So I need to wait for the new audience to populate — Google Ads needs at least 100 people in the target audience to show display ads. Because my budget is 1EUR per day, it’ll take a few days to get to the 100 paid views with 2 cents each.

But ideally, these should start showing up for everyone who’s paid attention to the video ad. I’m putting a budget cap of 1 EUR per day for these, too.

Facebook Ads campaign

Facebook doesn’t take the video from YouTube, so I need to upload it here again. In three different formats!

Facebook shows videos in 16:9 on desktop timelines, 1:1 or 4:5 in video streams and Instagram feeds, and 9:16 in stories and Audience Network placements. Not an extensive list of places where Facebook shows ads.

Because my video is very dependent on audio, I need to provide large and convenient hard-coded subtitles for each aspect. People scroll through social media on mute, and I’ll lose most of the meaning without subtitles from the get go.

I use Adobe Premiere for video editing, so it’s not the worst tool for subtitles, but I still end up having to do the titles from scratch three times. Annoying, but hopefully worth it.

The targeting options on Facebook are a little different from Google. I can upload our existing clients with names and e-mails, and I can specify an audience of people that have multiple interests checked. I start with people generally into fiction novels AND history AND science, but also show some online shopping behaviour. We prefer that they buy directly from our website instead of going to the supermarket to buy the book (we’d lose 50% of the cover price!)

Facebook guesses this audience will sum up to be around 4000 people in Estonia. I still cap my daily budget to 1 EUR, so this audience will easily last for at least 80 days? Yeah, that’s probably not how I should calculate anything, it’ll be a whole new set of people in this audience as some time goes by 🤔

The re-marketing campaign on Facebook is very similar to Google Ads display. I upload images in different aspect ratios, provide five headlines and five descriptions, and the algorithm puts stuff together. Like on Google, I should eventually also have a verdict which combination of headlines and descriptions works best.

These will start showing to everyone who’s already seen the video, and unlike Google, the campaign does not seem to need a minimum size for the audience.

CEO of Zelos Team Management — an app for gig work and communities.