A Digital Marketing Primer For Your Product – Google v/s Facebook And More

A digital marketing primer for your product

This post is targeted at people who constantly feel bamboozled by the multitude of strategic and tactical choices in digital marketing, and would like to figure out a way to navigate them. Many of you would have often asked yourself questions like,

– How should I split my budget between Google Ads and FB Ads?How important is SEO vis-a-vis Google Adwords/FB Ads?

– Can Instagram and Twitter be useful for my product?

– Can e-mail marketing provide good ROI?

I will start with something that most of us already know about Facebook and Google –  the major difference in the type of targeting provided by FB and Google is that Google lets you target people that are highly interested and highly likely  to buy (this is often termed as intent traffic), whereas Facebook has people who are just exploring. So, which one should you choose? Depends on your objectives – whether it is to make your customers buy a product (go with Google), or whether it is to build brand awareness (go with Facebook). However, the problem for most of us is that this choice (awareness vs sales) is not a clearly defined dichotomy. In most cases, we want to drive traffic to our website and we want a conversion (be it a sale or a sign up or a whatever). So, what should be our preferred tool of choice?   

At this juncture, I would like to introduce a dreaded and poorly understood concept in statistics. The concept is probability. Yes, understanding probability and using its subtle logic and implications for your product can help you run a better campaign.  

Allow me to explain, starting with our goal.

The goal – I want customers to experience and explore my product in great depth on my website and make a purchase.

To reach the above goal, you are going to use marketing, i.e. craft a message and try and induce the prospect to click and visit your website.

Whenever you craft a message about your product and send it to me through any of the media like Google Ads, FB, Instagram, Email etc, my propensity to act on your call to action depends on two things

– Is the product relevant to me?

– Is the message attractive enough to make me click?

It is entirely up to your ability to craft a message that is attractive to the audience. That leaves us with only the first question then.  

How can we ensure that our product has high relevance?

Let’s define relevance of the product in the first place. In very simple words, it means that the advertisement I see, should be about a product/category that I am interested in. We normally use the targeting features of the medium (Google/Facebook) to do this. At this point, both Google and Facebook provide good information about whether a prospect is interested in your product or category. However, there is also a temporal aspect to relevance that becomes highly important if you want customers to experience your entire product in full and make a buying decision.

In other words, the advertisement must be relevant to me at the moment when I see it. This data is provided by Google and not provided by Facebook ( if you are selling a phone, Google lets you target people who are really keen on buying phones right now (intent traffic), but Facebook doesn’t – at the most, it can let you target people who are generally sort-of interested in phones.

   And there is one more thing. 

When the time component of relevance has to be considered, the concept of probability becomes highly important.  

What role does probability play in determining relevance?

The relevance of a product at any given point in time, depends on the probability of my needing the product at that point in time. Therefore, it follows that products that are purchased frequently (food, consumables) are more likely to be deemed relevant than products that are purchased infrequently. To extend the idea,

– At any given point in time, products we need everyday (e.g. food) are more likely to be relevant than products we need once every few years (a TV, a laptop, a car).

– All else remaining the same, products that lend themselves to serendipitous discovery and impulse buying are more likely to be relevant than products without this characteristic.

  In other words, if you use FB Ads to drive traffic to your website to experience it, explore it and finally buy something – and the product is from a category that sees infrequent purchases (furniture, insurance, loans, TV, Phones, Laptops), it is highly likely that the money spent on Facebook will give you poor ROI. Doing SEO is a lot more critical than getting your FB spends right.

When I see the likes of CoverFox advertising about auto insurance on FB, Urban Ladder advertising about furniture on FB, I really wonder why they are doing it. Google SEO is a lot more effective. If you don’t agree with me, take a look at the graph about the most expensive keywords on Google. If you notice, all these words fall into the category of products needed by everyone, but bought very rarely (insurance, loans, mortgages, lawyers etc).  

Summary: To get a slightly better sense of how to proceed with marketing for my particular product, we need to ask the following questions.

Understand your product from the relevance perspective

Here, the most important thing to know are

– Is my product something that will be needed by everyone (B2C), or is it going to be needed by just a few (B2B)?

– What is the frequency at which people need my product?

– What is the propensity of impulse purchases in my product?

Define your goals: What is it that you want to achieve?

– Get visitors to go your website/app and experience it?

– Get visitors to your website and sign up for your product?

– Get visitors to go to your website and buy your product?

– Get visitors to read your blog?

– Tell people in general about your company’s products and its unique value proposition? (this is what consumer brands do)

Understand the pros and cons of different media The activity that fits best with Google is buying (i.e. finding something that I’m seriously looking for). The activity that fits best with Facebook is discovering (i.e. stumbling upon something interesting).


Product Product category characteristics Implications (FB/ Google/SEO and Email)
Clothing Needed by all of us, but we are not always in buying mode. Having said that, serendipitous discovery is common (unplanned, impulse buys do happen)   Google SEO will probably be more effective than FB and Google Ads might just be better than FB – because the people on Google are actually keen on buying. That said, a lot of impulse buying happens in this category, therefore FB cannot be ignored. Emails will behave in a similar way to FB.  
Media and publishing (articles) Needed by everyone all the time (we are always reading). Serendipitous discovery is common (reading a particular article is rarely planned) Facebook is a very natural fit here. Email and newsletters are even more useful. If you use some blogging software like wordpress, you get SEO baked in automatically. Beyond that, you don’t need much.
Food (products like Zomato, Faasos, etc) Needed by everyone and we are always in buying mode. Both FB and Google will provide good results. The relevance of your message will always be high even on FB – because we always need food. The actual ROI on either platform depends on how well you use it and on how customers actually behave. Emails to random strangers may also work well.
Electronics (buying phones, TVs, ACs, Washing machines etc) Needed by everyone, but we are rarely in buying mode. Further, serendipitous discovery is rare – these are expensive items and we will buy only if we need them Google SEO is super-critical here. FB is not so effective Similarly, emails to random strangers will not work because the likelihood of them needing your product at a given time is low.
Insurance/Loans/Lawyers/Accounting and Tax services/Mutual funds
Home rental/Home buying
Holidays and vacations Needed by everyone, but we are rarely in buying mode. On the contrary, although we take a holiday somewhat rarely, it can be argued that one part of our brain is always open to reading content about nice destinations Focussing on Google SEO and Google ads is better if you want to sell packages. However, if you want to disseminate good content about holiday destinations, facebook can also be effective – because a part of our brain is always passively seeking pleasurable activities – FB is the perfect destination where people go to stumble upon such pleasures.  
Enterprise Software (products targeted at companies) Needed by very few.   You are wasting money if you are trying to buy customers on Facebook. Focussing on Google SEO and writing cold emails directly to companies, going through industry bodies etc. will pay better dividends.

Extra – Pros and cons of various digital media.

Google Ads and SEO- Pros – gives the best quality information about whether your product is relevant to the customer, by bringing you only those people who really need your product right now.

Google Ads and SEO – Cons – Both Google Ads and SEO create a transactional and a transient relationship between you and your customer. It’s quite possible that the customer won’t even remember you and the role you played in fulfilling his need. Moreover, even though SEO gets you free traffic, it takes a few months to start showing results, and (more importantly) it is a zero-sum game between you and your competitors – where the total size of the pie is arbitrarily controlled by Google.

Overall, Google is a better fit when making a sale is your priority. On a products spectrum – it is a good fit if your products is in a category where vertical search engines don’t have a major mindshare among consumers and a brilliant fit for rarely used products needed by everyone (loans, furniture, insurance, electronics, home appliances etc).

  Vertical search engine (my definition) – Cleartrip/MakeMyTrip/Yatra, Zomato/Yelp, and Amazon/Flipkart    

Facebook Pros – Lets you craft and deploy a more attractive message. Allows you to find people interested in your product, and engage with them. Helps you build a long term relationship with customers. Fits well for serendipitous product discovery and for products that are always needed by everyone.

Facebook Cons – The Newsfeed algorithm has become restrictive and it suppresses the size of the audience that would normally receive posts from your brand. This forces you to spend more. Also, (more importantly) Facebook has no way of telling you whether your target audience needs your product right now. This is a major problem in cases when the products are bought at low frequency – loans, insurance, TVs, laptops, phones etc.

Overall – Facebook is a good option when building a brand is your priority. Among the various product categories, FB is a good fit for products needed by everyone all the time (food), a brilliant fit for publishers (reading news articles on FB fits naturally – because you are anyway reading on FB. In fact, FB has surpassed Google as the most important source of traffic for news companies) and media, and a good fit for aspirational products (holidays/vacations) and a good fit for products that lend themselves to serendipitous discovery (eg. fashion and other impulse buying categories). It is a bad fit for rarely used products needed by everyone (like insurance).

FB footnote – The Groups feature on facebook is a good way of finding people who need your product right now, even if yours is a product that is bought infrequently.

Instagram pros and cons – is a good fit for products with highly visual/photographic content (fashion, holidays, dating). It also doesn’t restrict your brand audience through a NewsFeed-type algorithm. However, your brand’s reach may be curtailed by the size of the audience as well as the amount of time that they spend.

 Email marketing pros and cons – If you’ve created an email list by enlisting people who explicitly showed their interest in your product, emails are a brilliant way to keep user connected to your product. Use wordpress/mailchimp to send emails and newsletters to people who are truly interested in your blog or product.

On the other hand, if your email database is not created organically by people who opted in, and you send a mass emailer to people who don’t know you – you will face the same problems that you face through FB, added to the fact that most such emails would go into the Promotions Tab under google and will never be seen by most people.

 Problems with mass emailer sent to strangers – (assuming it doesn’t go to the spam folder /promotions tab). Do people really need your product? Do they need it right now? Is your email message interesting enough to make people click? If people don’t need your product right now, chances are, they won’t click on your email no matter how beautifully customized and artistically crafted your email is.

The author is a Product Manager at an artificial intelligence start-up and an alumnus of IIM Indore. He has worked with Capgemini, Cognizant Business Consulting, IiAS and InsideIIM in the past. You can read his previous posts here.