Wednesday, September 21st, 2016 | 16 min read
What’s better than showing up at your customer’s door disguised as a Christmas caroler and asking if they want to see your product catalogue? Well…pretty much everything, because that’s really creepy. But seriously, here’s the answer: Using a visual platform like Instagram to engage audiences where they’re already consuming content and are most likely to be receptive to your message.
Take J.Crew, for example. Last holiday season, the brand turned its Instagram page into a virtual store window and launched ads that featured looks from its gift guide. Each ad even included a “Shop Now” button, which took users to the retailer’s website to see more.
With 500 million monthly users and a freshly-opened API, Instagram isn’t just a place for people to share fun selfies with their friends; it’s a robust advertising platform on which brands can create their own streams of glossy photos and videos. As of this summer, it’s also positioned to take on Snapchat with new Stories features inspired by the chat app. (Just like on Snapchat, Instagram Stories lets you string multiple photos and videos together into one package, and the content disappears after 24 hours).
Even with all of these free tools at their disposal, brands are still catching onto the importance of running paid ads. By doing so, they can target specific groups of users, plant call-to-action buttons, and take advantage of different media formats like carousel ads. Especially now that Instagram’s algorithm filters everyone’s feeds, your message isn’t always guaranteed to get in front of your target users.
Through paid ads, you can help ensure you reach people who are most likely to convert. And during holiday time, when you’re looking to round out the end of the year with a boost in sales, those conversions can be invaluable.
Here’s what you need to know to kickstart your Instagram advertising for the holidays.
Photo ads are image posts that can be targeted towards specific groups of users. They look just like regular Instagram content, but they show up in-feed with a small disclaimer that reads, “Sponsored.” As with organic posts, you can also include a caption for your image that lets users know where they can find more information.
Photo ads can include anything from glossy product images (like the J.Crew example above) to behind-the-scenes photos and DIY tips. For your holiday advertising, you might show how your products can make great gifts or take the stress out of traveling this season.
You can also spread the holiday cheer by sharing how your brand partners with charities and special causes. For example, Johnson & Johnson launched a photo ad inviting viewers to “Donate a Photo” for charity and put those camera albums to good use.
Instagram video ads can last up to 60-seconds, and they provide a great opportunity to tell your brand’s story in motion. Marketers have flexed their creative muscles by using video to share time-lapses of product sketches, animations, how-to guides, and funny or thought-provoking short films.
Last year, Bloomingdale’s came up with an innovative way to fit 100 products into one brief, interactive video. The retail brand quickly flashed a selection of items inside of its animated “GiftBot” machine, inviting viewers to take a screenshot and see which collection they land on. For the campaign, Bloomingdale’s made four of these videos in total—one for each of its holiday gift guides.
A video posted by Bloomingdale’s (@bloomingdales) on
When it comes to holiday ad efforts, this tool can be particularly useful for sharing pre-made commercials, showcasing festive recipes or crafts, and relaying extended messages, like ones that are themed for “12 Days of Christmas” or “8 Days of Chanukkah.”
Just remember not to rely on sound too much (since videos autoplay on mute) and to grab viewers’ attention within the first few seconds so they stick around to see your full message.
Carousel ads allow marketers to include multiple images and/or videos within one ad. This format is interactive in that viewers can swipe through the ad on their own. If they’re really interested in your message, they might view all of the images or videos, but if they lose interest, they might only make it through one or two pieces. At the end of the series—or, carousel—customers see a “Learn More” button, which you can link to your website.
As Instagram notes, brands might use carousel ads highlight steps to completing a project, showcase multiple features of one product, or even connect images together into one big panorama, like GMC did.
While many businesses have had success with image-based carousel ads, Instagram only recently let brands incorporate videos into this format. Meaning, the door is still wide open for marketers to experiment with a series of videos, or even a combination or videos and images.
And what better time than the holidays to make your mark?
A fashion retailer, for instance, might include images from a product catalogue followed by videos of models wearing the clothes. Or brands could try telling their own holiday-themed stories in a video, followed by images that highlight the products shown in in that video.
For many marketers, ads are only as good as the leads they generate—especially during the holidays, when they’re trying to drive big sales and meet end-of-year quotas. That’s why, no matter which ad format you choose, it’s important to understand how you’ll measure your campaign’s performance and gauge success.
Thankfully, Instagram’s advertising page has has a nifty chart outlining key objectives and metrics that can be used to drive leads on the platform. These include clicks to website, website conversions, mobile app installs, mobile app engagement, video views, reach and frequency, page post engagement, and mass awareness.
You might launch a video ad, for example, with the aim of driving holiday-time purchases on your online store. Reach and frequency will show how many people were exposed to your content; video views will tell you how many people watched your content; clicks to website will show how many people were interested enough to check out your store page; and website conversions will show how many people actually became customers.
Now you just need the right tools to help you reach those goals. Let’s take a look at the most effective ones.
Thanks to Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, the mobile app is armed with some of the most advanced targeting options on social media. Marketers can target by location, age, gender, interests, and behaviors. As with Facebook ads, they can also create Custom Audiences (people who already have data about through email lists, for instance) and Lookalike Audiences (people who are similar to your followers and customers).
Through Facebook, Instagram also offers dynamic ads, which target users based on their shopping habits. If a consumer puts a holiday gift in their shopping cart, you can buy ads that will ask them if they’re ready to purchase that product.
Here’s one that’s particularly relevant to this guide: As of last November, brands have been able to target holiday shoppers—that is, people who engage with content related to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other seasonal shopping events.
Since Instagram ads can be purchased and managed through Facebook Ads Manager and Power Editor, that means they can also be bought in tandem with Facebook ads. This can be particularly useful for brands that are looking to reach a wider audience and bump up their metrics.
As Instagram recommends, “To make sure your ad is reaching the right people, start targeting your campaigns to a broader audience. Then, as you get a better sense of who’s responding best, you can refine your targeting approach over time.”
It’s easy to encourage viewers to take a specific action after seeing your ad. Just include a call-to-action button—part of what Instagram calls its direct-response format. Depending on their goals, marketers can choose from four different prompts: “Learn More,” “Install Now,” “Sign Up,” and “Shop Now.”
Last holiday season, photo gift retailer Artifact Uprising sponsored photo ads featuring its products and a caption that read, “Make it the best gift under your tree.” By using a “Shop Now” button and launching complementary Facebook ads, the brand saw a 4.7X return on ad spend and 20% lift in website visitors.
Marquee ads are made for generating buzz around time-sensitive events, such as product launches or major sales. That’s because they launch for just one day but generate a large amount of impressions. Essentially, they’re sponsored post blasts that can be used with any of Instagram’s three main ad formats.
Last November, Macy’s split up a three-minute short film into a few separate Marquee ads that all ran on one single day.
The ads were targeted towards Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers. They were designed to spread brand awareness and peak viewers’ interest in the full film, which was available on Facebook and YouTube.
Need some help navigating Instagram’s rich advertising platform? Last year, the mobile app launched its Partner Program, which pairs marketers with tech experts who can help them grow their businesses on Instagram. At Sprinklr, we’re proud to be a part of this program as we continue to empower brands around the globe to reach new audiences with engaging content.
Instagram gives everyone a chance to be a published photographer. That’s why it can be a goldmine for user-generated content (UGC) that is both professional-looking and engaging. By incorporating UGC into their campaigns, brands can strengthen relationships with their audience: Customers feel connected and grateful because they gain exposure for their creations, and the brand gets to share authentic content that users can relate to.
If you’re not sure where to find UGC for your brand, try running a contest. Marketers can encourage consumers to submit their own photos or videos for a chance to win a special prize, such as a product, discount, or holiday gift. In return, the brand gains exposure and a wealth of content at little to no cost.
Last year, Starbucks ran its #RedCupContest. To participate, Instagram had to post photos of themselves with the iconic red holiday cups. The five winning customers each received a $500 Starbucks gift card.
A photo posted by Sam ::: Thrive 360 Living (@sam_thrive360living) on
Your ad content should blend in with people’s feeds so it doesn’t disrupt the user experience. As they’re scrolling through, viewers shouldn’t be distracted by the fact that your post is sponsored, otherwise they develop a negative association with your business. If your content jives with the content they already choose to consume, they will be more likely to find it engaging and enjoyable.
It’s also wise to create ads that have a similar look and feel to your organic Instagram posts. This way, consumers will have an easier time associating your ad with your brand. Also, if they like your sponsored message, they know that they can go to your Instagram account for more content of the same nature.
Hashtags aren’t just for Twitter. They’re also valuable tools for sharing your content on Instagram. By using hashtags in your captions, you can make it easier for interested consumers to find your posts.
Consider including popular and trending hashtags that are relevant to your content, like #holidayfashion, #techgifts, or #holidayrecipes. You can also research more niche hashtags on Instagram to reach people who might be looking for content that’s specifically like yours.
You can also try to create your own hashtags and encourage followers to use them when sharing their own content. This way, when their followers want to know more about what they’re posting, they can click on the custom hashtag and find your brand attached to it.
By using Instagram ads, you can reach people where they’re already consuming content, and drive leads with some of the most innovative tools available. Whether you choose to launch photo ads, video ads, or carousel ads, Instagram has a wealth of resources to help you boost seasonal sales and end the year with a bang.
It’s also important, however, to keep an eye out for new updates, like the upcoming business profiles and contact buttons. After all, Instagram launched longer videos, direct-response ads, and new targeting options just before the holidays last year, and major brands generated a lot of attention for using them to their advantage. This season, your brand could be the one to make those holiday headlines and attract valuable new customers.