How retailers can optimize Facebook ads for direct response vs. brand building

Social Media

Facebook advertising is increasingly playing multiple roles in the retail marketing funnel – not unlike advertising on Google, Amazon and other major platforms.

For instance, some marketers opt for a direct response, or mid-funnel, approach with Facebook ads by encouraging users to take specific actions online, in-store, or in mobile apps. Other marketers operate earlier in the funnel and build awareness. Still, other marketers combine these methods to better influence the shopping journey.

But I continue to see a common mistake in the retail industry when marketers go about leveraging Facebook ads. They invest in the channel without clear strategies for how the ads will support direct response, or brand building, or both. There’s often not enough planning around how the ads will drive the funnel on Facebook, and drive the funnel overall.

Direct response and brand building campaigns require different, yet aligned, approaches and processes to maximize their results and avoid wasted ad spend. There are four major factors to consider: audience, ad creative, budget allocation and measurement.

This graphic provides a snapshot of how to think about these factors, depending on the goal you’re emphasizing with Facebook ads. Let’s unpack each factor.

Source: Sidecar


Ad format is inherently tied to reaching the right audience on Facebook. Dynamic ads are for direct response, while dynamic ads targeting broad audiences are for brand building.

Optimize for direct response: Direct response on Facebook equals retargeting past site and (if applicable) app visitors with dynamic ads. These ads collect user activity from a Facebook pixel on your website and track traffic and conversions at the product level. Retargeting previous site and app visitors with product-centric ads reinforces your brand and makes shoppers reconsider purchasing items from your site.

Your audience here is Facebook users who’ve taken some action on your site over a selected amount of days. These users showed interest in your brand and products, so retargeting them with ads displaying similar products may encourage them to return to your site and make a purchase.

Optimize for brand building: You want to serve captivating ads to Facebook users who are new to your brand and products. Use dynamic ads for broad audiences to target upper funnel audiences that have shopped similar products to what you sell. You can segment your audience further by specific region, age range, and gender.

Other capabilities let you target customers who “like” your competitors. For instance, a large apparel retailer may want to target Facebook users who like its competitors. This retailer may also target customers who like its wholesale partner stores that sell its products. These options allow the retailer to steal market share from competitors and bolster its brand.

Ad creative

Facebook is a social network at its core, but it’s also a place where you can engage shoppers in a meaningful way. This should factor into your ad creative. Develop content to match where shoppers are in the funnel.

Optimize for direct response: Focus on promoting specific items and their unique features. Create images and videos that highlight the best attributes of your products and entice Facebook users to act and learn more. Use succinct messaging and be promotional in your ad copy to inspire clicks.

Carousel ads are a great creative play to move users down the funnel. Use the cards within this ad format to tell a compelling story with your products. Conversion rates are typically higher with carousel ads because they display multiple products. Another positive: Carousel ads tend to have lower CPCs with up to 10 images or videos in a single ad, increasing sales with less spend.

Optimize for brand building: Use creative that conveys your unique value in the retail space. Leverage lifestyle imagery and videos that capture the essence of who you are and what you sell.

Single image ads and collection ads are ideal formats for brand discovery. With single image ads, you can highlight your brand or specific products through an engaging image and promotional ad copy. Showcase your brand further on mobile with collection ads. These ads use a captivating lead image or video along with four accompanying images to tell your story.

Budget allocation

Budget allocation between direct response and brand building ad campaigns should ideally work in tandem based on your business needs.

Optimize for direct response: Direct response (as opposed to brand building) is generally the safer bet for a better return on Facebook ads, which might drive you to prioritize ad budget for this approach. Allocate a direct response ad budget—a.k.a., a retargeting budget—by leveraging your ROAS goal.

For instance, let’s say you need to meet a more aggressive six-to-one ROAS on any Facebook direct response campaigns because you have already acquired the customers through another channel and are seeking to re-acquire them. Knowing your ROAS goal helps you then determine how much budget you should allocate to that type of campaign.

Optimize for brand building: A brand building ad budget, on the other hand, should operate to a CPA goal. That’s because it seeks to generate new customers through dynamic ads for broad audiences. In this scenario, you might determine you’re willing to operate to a more generous goal of one-to-one. From there, you have context to determine your brand building budget.

Again, keep your Facebook ad budget fluid based on your business priorities how they change. For instance, budget to support direct response versus brand building should flex depending on organizational revenue and return goals, brand awareness needs, seasonality, and other factors.


Facebook ads engage consumers at the top and middle of the purchase funnel more often than those who are one click away from purchase. As a result, last-click attribution falls short of giving your Facebook advertising effort the credit it deserves.

To help overcome this challenge, Facebook sets its default attribution to a one-day view and 28-day click. Actions taken over these periods count either one day after someone sees your ad or within 28 days of someone clicking your ad.

The default model is Facebook’s way of demonstrating the value of the channel for marketers who are on last-click attribution. This view might work for you if you’re using a single-touch model because it will account for conversions when optimizing the channel.

However, the ideal approach is to move to multi-touch attribution. Multi-touch attribution is critical when optimizing for both direct response and brand building ad campaigns on Facebook—and for your marketing approach globally. It assigns value to each touchpoint, allowing you to see how effective not only Facebook is in your mix, but every other channel as well.

One way to understand the various attribution models is through the Google Analytics Model Comparison Tool. It shows how views of performance change depending on the model. However, no matter your attribution model, ensure you understand Facebook’s attribution settings and consider adjusting them, if possible, to better align with your business objectives.

Be careful to properly value Facebook advertising and its role in the purchase path. Facebook ads are designed to be brand builders and direct response drivers if used strategically in your marketing mix.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Mike is a retail marketing strategist, fluent in paid search, shopping ads, affiliates, email, display, and comparison shopping engines. As Senior Director of Market & Customer Intelligence for Sidecar, Mike stays close to the shifting retail landscape and how it’s impacting marketing strategy. He has advised hundreds of marketers across retail verticals in the context of their business goals and the industry at large. Mike contributes to Marketing Land as well as Sidecar Discover.

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