Unpacking Discovery Ads with Google: What it Means for Facebook

You’ve heard it a million times since the dawn of social advertising, “search for is for intent, social is for discovery!” And for a time, all us marketers constantly reckoned with this fact. The ad tech industry quickly codified itself into specialized tools on either ends of the spectrum, with a few hybrids in between. Though the fact of the matter remains, no one goes to Facebook and just searches for something. They access their feed and view their friends’ content. It’s a more reactive experience by nature. Whereas when users hit the Google front page, the intent is always specific – I am going to search for something, or I am going to click into a specific Google tool, like my email, or calendar. These differing experiences made it easy to think of social and search advertising as separable.

That separability is about to turn on its head, as Google launched Discovery Ads globally just last month. The premise is a familiar one, “Discovery campaigns take their cue from Facebook’s success at exactly this type of visually impactful, native ad format targeted based on audience data rather than search intent”. However, Google is proceeding down this path with caution, only launching one ad slot to start. But Google’s intent is clear here, they are aiming their sights directly at the “discovery media” Facebook has been so effective at collecting. Google’s own documentation on the format positions it just as Facebook would a Reach campaign: “Reach more of Google with a single ad campaign. With the ability to reach up to 2.9 billion people monthly… you can now reach more potential customers as they browse… on popular Google properties.” The idea being that Google will optimize Discovery ads using their customer intent data, just deployed in a slightly different way, to find users likely to be interested in similar products and serve them ads in the Discovery slot.

Google also notes that the properties these ads will feature on: YouTube’s Home and Watch Next feeds, the Gmail Promotions and Social tabs, and Discover, which for them, is the right way to think about discovery tactics, placing those units on properties where users tend to spend the most time, or in other words, places where people are naturally inclined to search for and consume content as opposed to engaging with specific search intent. So on one hand, the logic is sound. Google does indeed have a ton of user data, and enough for certain, to be able to use machine learning to identify the “interested users” necessary for deployment of discovery ad tactics. 

Does this supplant Facebook? That’s probably not the right way of thinking about it. We have seen new ad networks and properties come and go, and evolve, but rarely are these ever more than evolutions of traditional tactics. Rather than complete re-inventions of digital ad products and strategy. Although, it does mean Google could very well be a bigger part of conversations on Discovery, and the search-social digital framework is going to get muddier in terms of now being able to deploy discovery and intent tactics across both networks. Really though, it’s just one more place to cross-target ads, whether that be off search data and tracking alone, or through combined retargeting efforts across social and search.

When considering SMB advertising, introducing another, separate, Discovery placement into the mix feels premature, especially on the brick-and-mortar side. Consider what a typical scaled social and search strategy looks like. One example is an integrated marketing software for SMBs. This client helps manage web presence and SEO, in addition to paid digital advertising, but they need a way to generate leads reliably through search and discovery efforts. Being that most of their customer base is brick and mortar service providers, shopper-driven, product-based discovery was difficult. They decided to double down on Facebook for lead generation, leveraging the Facebook Pixel to middleman between their inbound activity based on search intent and effective re-marketing on social.

Tiger Pistol worked to develop a full cycle approach to lead generation and lead nurturing:

  • The customer’s contact list is sent to Tiger Pistol via API for automatic creation of a Custom Audience, which is then used to create a Lookalike Audience on Facebook for targeting purposes.
  • Tiger Pistol automatically creates and publishes a Lead Ad, enabling Facebook users who look like their existing customer base to submit their contact information natively.
  • Leads are then automatically sent to the customer’s company contact list, where a lead nurturing track is triggered to drive conversion.

The integration provides the client’s customers a seamless, automated process to drive and nurture leads, allowing the client to spend more time managing its business. As their end-users find their customers on search, those customers are captured and used to find lookalikes. What’s more, each discovery-based lead also feeds the data loop. While one could imagine inserting some Google Discovery into this mix, it’s hard to pin down at this moment whether or not it’d be worth the effort, or if it’s best to wait for more data on the new Google placements. Google also lacks the journey driven lead collection that’s native within Facebook. As such, it’s also hard to imagine scaling a Google Discovery solution for SMBs given that it would require an offsite landing page to support lead collection- whereas Facebook does not, because Facebook enables direct lead collection across all its primary properties.

Facebook and its family of apps remain the destination for discovery-grounded marketing, not only because the idea of the Google network still feels foreign, but also because Facebook has a decade’s head start on developing specific ad tools within the discovery framework. Facebook offers over a dozen marketing objectives and has numerous properties suited to discovery such as Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger. It will take Google considerable time to catch up if they continue to go deeper into discovery-based ad optimizations. Place your bets now, I imagine they’ll find a way to make it work eventually. For now, Facebook should remain the focus for discovery, especially if considering a tight budget. Introducing a “third split” so to speak, of sending spend across search, social discovery, and search discovery could possibly mean not doing any of the aforementioned tactics well. Maybe in time, with more data, and evolution from Google, the calculus will change. But it is likely still the case that the most optimal means to focus dollars within the discovery/intent distinction would be to continue to emphasize Google for search-intent tactics with a separate focused discovery effort across Facebook

Chris Mayer, a Solutions Engineer at Tiger Pistol, specializes in helping digital agencies, SMB resellers, and global brands build scaled Facebook advertising solutions with an emphasis on local activation.

Unpacking Discovery Ads with Google: What it Means for Facebook

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