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Competitor research is a big part of marketing. It’s always a good idea to understand what your competitors are providing, what messaging and offers they’re using to connect with their audience, and how you fit into the puzzle.
Many brands and marketers understand this and perform competitor research on everything from keywords to social campaigns, but a large percentage either forget or are unsure about how to proceed with Facebook Ads.
Facebook Ads are a little different than other types of marketing materials because a simple search won’t turn up easy results that will show you what your competitor is up to. Historically, the only way you’d be able to see what a competitor was up was to be lucky enough to see a single ad in your feed. Even then, that’s just a single ad – it doesn't give you enough information about their overall strategies, and seeing a random ad won't tell you anything about how it's performing.
There are incredible resources available and strategies that you can use to uncover your competitor’s Facebook Ads strategy. In this post, we’re going to take a close look at which tools and tactics you can use to identify their strategies, assess what may be working, and adapt them for your own brand.
Why You Should Care What Your Competitors Are Doing on Facebook Ads
Whatever your competitors are doing on Facebook Ads has always been a bit of a mystery, but the tools available today have changed that. It’s still a lot more work to uncover those ad strategies than it is to see what they’re doing on other channels, but it’s definitely worth it.
Keep in mind that most brands put plenty of time into their organic marketing on Facebook, but the ads are where the money is ad. Organic reach for Pages has been consistently declining for years, making it harder to reach even your most engaged followers with posts in their feed.Facebook Ads allow you to connect with niche cold audiences and create hyper-focused campaigns for audience segments that are already connected with you. Click To Tweet
Yes, you have to pay, but you can also get significantly more impressions and, ultimately, results. Keep in mind, however, that Facebook Ads can be a little tricky. Finding the right strategies is key to getting those conversions, and the ability to see what your competitors are up to is a huge advantage.
You can snag their best strategies for yourself, adapting them or even trying to outdo them, all while understanding what you can do differently to offer value to your audience. Identifying their strongest campaigns can save you some time and money that may have been wasted on ads that don’t perform as well, giving you some great insight that can be profitable quickly.
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The Step-by-Step Guide to Competitive Research on Facebook
It’s clearly advantageous to be able to see what your competitors are up to with their Facebook Ads for a number of reasons, so let’s take a look at exactly how to get that information.
Remember that uncovering strategies will take a little more work than simply just “viewing ads.” You’ll need to look at the big picture, so for best results you’ll want to take multiple steps and use several different tools to look at everything from all angles. This will give you the most solid and actionable information that you can then put to use however you decide.
1) Look for Trends & Longevity of Ads
We’re going to look at a number of different tools that can help you assess what your competitors are currently doing on Facebook Ads.
As we do so, there’s an important thing to remember here: a single ad is not indicative of an overall Facebook Ad strategy, or even a successful one. Marketers split test ad campaigns all the time to see what works, so if you just jump in and copy a strategy for an ad campaign that never worked for your competitor, you’ve both wasted your money.
Big-picture thinking is going to be key here; you want to look for trends and patterns in the ads that you’re seeing, because this is what will reveal the underlying strategies that your competitors are using.
What copy, offers and strategies are other brands using? Are there lots of stories being used to create emotion, or are your competitors going hard on bullet-pointing the benefits? Which product features or selling points are your competitors using? Are there lots of videos or carousel ads or single-image ads?
Pay attention to all of this, and you’ll be able to see where your competitors are focusing their attention.
2) Use Facebook’s Ad Library
Facebook’s Ad Library is a recent development for the marketing world, and it’s a good one. You can search for any name, topic or organization and see ads related to your search:
The Ad Library was created to promote transparency, allowing users to see all the ad campaigns a brand is running and key information about the brand, including when the Page was founded. Although it was created for transparency, it is quite valuable as a resource tool.
Facebook's Ad Library has replaced the Info and Ads section (which we discussed just a few months ago), which used to be found under each individual Page. The Library will theoretically show you all active ads a Page is running, even if you aren’t within the target audience.
Unfortunately, the Ad Library isn’t always reliable. They’ll always show you ads with political affiliations and flag conflicts of interest, but they don’t seem to always register ads that are currently running. I know without a doubt that Eucalyptus Farms is running campaigns right now, but they’re not registering in the library:
Editor's Note: A few weeks after writing this, Eucalyptus Farms' Facebook Ads are now showing up in the library, so it may have been a glitch or is just slow to update.
The library seems to work much better when tracking keywords or topics instead of individual competitors. General terms like “Shoes,” for example, will render plenty of results:
You can view both active and inactive ads, and keep in mind that those that have been around for three weeks or longer may indicate that the campaigns are working well for that client. Inactive ads were likely either seasonal or ad campaigns that just didn’t work well, so you can use that to filter out some strategies to avoid.
While this tool isn’t ironclad, it’s free, so it’s still a good resource to use early on in the ad process.
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3) Take Advantage of Tools like BigSpy
BigSpy is an ad transparency tool that lets you search for keywords or categories like “shoes” or “marketing” and see what ads are currently running that involve the topics of your choice. It works a lot like the Facebook Ad library – including that it doesn’t seem to pick up all ads being run at any given time.
Still, the information you can learn here is incredibly valuable. As with the Facebook library tool, you can search for trends from specific competitors and look at those long-standing campaigns. You can get ideas for everything from what types of CTAs work best to seeing how they’re appealing to users at different stages of the funnel.
BigSpy is a free tool and it’ll give you insight into competitors’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Yahoo Ads all from one dashboard. This helps you get that big-picture view that helps you really assess a brand’s strategy and fit the pieces into place.
It works similarly to Facebook’s Ad Library, but it contains more ad campaigns and gives you a broader scope of campaigns to review, so take the extra time to look at both.
4) Look at Competitors' Google Ads, Too
When most people think of Google Ads, their first thought is of search ads. Although checking out Google’s search ads can definitely tell you a lot about what specific features or services your competitors are highlighting, paying close attention to the display ads will give you more insight for your Facebook strategy recon mission.
Display Ads work much like Facebook’s ad system: advertisers can target users based on things like interest and retarget to have their ads appear in relevant placements on participating sites online. The ads show up whether users are looking for them or not, making them similar to Facebook’s.
Check out a tool like Adbeat, which will show you standard ads, native ads and video ads that a specific advertiser is running. Unlike other tools, this one is exceptionally thorough and won’t miss a beat; you just need to enter in your competitor’s URL to see what they're up to.
It’s good to take a look at the visuals that your competitors are using, including what videos they’re running, what messages they’re honing in on. Video can play an important part in Facebook Ads, and seeing the stories they’re telling and what emotions they’re evoking will tell you a lot about their strategy.
You can also look at how your competitors are dividing up their creatives. What percentage is their video campaigns versus their standard campaigns, for example, and what’s their longest running ad campaign? Again, longevity is key here because it either means that the campaign is working or that your competitor is a big fan of wasting money.
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5) Trigger Retargeting Campaigns
This method isn’t as reliable as others on our list, but it’s one that I’ve found can work well nonetheless.
Most businesses that are investing in Facebook Ads and doing it well have heavy retargeting set up on their site. This is done to ensure that no customers are slipping through the cracks, allowing them to re-engage site visitors even if they didn’t purchase the first time.
In many cases, therefore, you can actually trigger an ad campaign from the competitor by viewing product pages or abandoning a cart. I was actually able to do this today just by visiting the Brooks Brother site for a few minutes with the intention of having an ad appear in my feed later. It took less than 24 hours.
When you do this, you may see an ad from them that’s designed to convince warm or hot leads to convert. Look at what strategies and offers they’re using to drive those conversions: Are they offering discounts, free shipping or other perks? If so, consider matching them or outdoing them on your own campaigns.
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How to Adapt Your Competitors’ Strategies
After you go through all that in-depth competitor research, you should have compiled a list of strategies that other brands in your industry are using to attract and convert customers. The next logical question is: “Now what?”
Never just copy and paste ad copy from their campaign into yours. Not only is it unethical, it won’t work, because each audience is different. Instead, the best thing you can do is adapt your competitors’ most appealing strategies in a way that suits your brand.
Let’s say that you notice that one competitor is using a strategy involving plenty of customer reviews in their ad campaigns. They attach review text to the ad image and the full review in the copy.
Great idea, but your reviews are longer and wordier, so you don’t want to just rely on them exclusively for ad copy. Instead, you use storytelling and client testimonials, getting a few clients on camera to talk about their experience with you. Use these videos in your ad campaigns to attract new customers.
You may also use your competitors’ strategies to try to one up the brands that are your fiercest competition. If you were to notice, for example, that one of your top competitors offers free shipping, offer 10% off and free shipping and easy returns. As long as it’s still profitable for you, undercutting your competition can be an excellent strategy all on its own.
Developing and testing your own Facebook Ad strategies is always a good call, because no one knows your audience quite like you. If anyone were to come close, though, it would easily be your competition, and seeing what they’re doing can give you a strong competitive edge.
It all comes down to thorough research and adaptability, which is true for advertising in general. Whoever is able to outperform the competition with stronger, more relevant offers and by understanding the audience’s pain points will always come out on top.