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207: Five Ways I’ve Failed on Facebook in 2019 (And What You Can Learn From Them)

Posted by Austin Brawner on July 9, 2019


It’s our goal to help our clients succeed, but even the experts get it wrong sometimes.

As we’ve seen in the first six months of the year, things have changed wildly within Facebook. Today, Andrew shares some of the advice he’s given that hasn’t worked out. And while he’s never intentionally led anyone astray, things don’t always go as planned. Andrew talks about five times his advice has failed on Facebook and the lessons learned from those mistakes.

We hope by sharing some of the worst Facebook advice of the year we’ll prevent you from making any of these mistakes yourself.


Episode Highlights

  • 3:02 Why we’re talking about failure.
  • 6:11 Budget advice: what we’ve said before and how we’d correct it.
  • 10:35 Creative is the most important part of the FB ad equation, bottom line.
  • 13:15 The gut check question to ask yourself before you run with your creative content.
  • 14:55 Honesty around product market fit when you have a very specific niche.
  • 18:40 Campaign budget optimization: it’s still the Wild West.
  • 22:00 Not all lookalike audiences are created equal.
  • 23:42 How to determine if your audience is viable for creating a lookalike audience.

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Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Here we are with another flash episode. I haven't done that in a while. So, I just felt like I needed to do it again. Just saying, flash.

Austin Brawner: It has been a little while. I don't know if we should keep it or cut it, or we can even throw a little bit of like sound.

Andrew Foxwell: It's another home run.

Austin Brawner: Well, today I'm excited man to chat because we have been talking offline. When I say offline, that actually just means online, but off this podcast about failures and stuff. It's something that I'm feeling right now, because I've been going through a tougher time in my personal professional life, just related to getting injured and trying to deal with that, and other stuff going on in my personal life leading to more stress on the professional side that I haven't been hitting as many deadlines as I would like to. I've been thinking a little bit about what does it mean to fail, and what's wrong, if anything with it, or just how to approach it.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, I agree, which is why we're doing this. I think that there's some conversations we've had with previous guests, Matt and Meredith from Boardwalk T-shirts when I sat down with them in January of 2019. One of the things they said that we could do more of on the podcast was talking about when things don't go well. This was echoed by actually a number of other people, two or three others that I talked to, and we're always asking for feedback.

I think that it's rare, because so much of the advice is about something that went really well or it's a company that's scaling, and those happen. But there's also failures that we make, and mistakes that we make and I wanted to talk about that. I wanted to be open about the advice that I have given, because I give a lot of advice, that's a big part of what I do, is giving advice and helping people work through stuff while doing my own ads. Sometimes, not a lot, but occasionally it leads them astray. It's actually not that great of advice. So, I wanted to just be frank about that and be open about that with this audience.

Austin Brawner: It's not something that I feel like we're intentionally doing, 

Andrew Foxwell: No.

Austin Brawner: Or if you're a listener out there is telling their friend about something that they're doing, you naturally go to the things and talk about the things that are going well. It's harder to actually have the introspection to be able to think about the things that didn't go well, and the things that failed and then share those things.

Andrew Foxwell: Exactly.

Austin Brawner: So, yeah, we think it's important to talk about it. Specifically in this field, it's super important to take risks, try things. With that, you should be failing, some of the stuff you're doing should be failing. Today, you can expect to learn how we've been pushing through some of these mistakes. Andrew's going to talk a lot about, specifically things that he's been doing on Facebook. Be kind of honest about it and go through some things so you can learn from them. Hopefully, you don't have to make the same mistake.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, exactly. I think that's totally true. It's not like I'm intentionally leading people astray. These are things that I've said. And actually, I checked on this list too with my internal mastermind group of ... there's about 20 of us, Facebook advertisers from around the world. Mostly practitioners, some consultants/practitioners like me. They actually agreed on this. I'll let you, Austin, when we're through all of this, guess which one, or maybe when we're going through them, which one they all agree that they have also said and given poor advice on. So, it'll be a little quiz in this episode too just to see which one's most common?

Austin Brawner: Sure. This is really a true episode into the worst advice of the year.

Andrew Foxwell: That's right.

Austin Brawner: Let's kick it off with number one, let's talk a little bit about budget. One of the things you mentioned was that basically, budget's an area where you feel like you are looking back on some of the advice and feel like you've got a different opinion now. Talk a little about that.

Andrew Foxwell: Where I've run into issues with this is basically the budget, not getting enough budget to make it truly work, or telling somebody to spend in a more accelerated fashion when we haven't really proven 100% the core KPIs. I, along with a lot of other people, get excited. If something's working, I'm like, "Yes, we should turn that up. Let's go for it." That's what I mean with that one.

But the budget not being enough to truly work, I say ... The most common example here is somebody say, "Hey, look, I've got 1000 bucks. Will that work?" My mind is like, probably not. $1,000 a month or something. A lot of the people are spending more than that, but it's a common question like, "Hey, I just have $1,000, I want to test it." A common one.

I actually had this conversation today with a guy. He goes, "We're launching a brand new product and our monthly budget is $5,000. Is that enough?" I don't want to say no, because it's not terrible, it's not going to be awful. But it's not the best. It's not actually the right way to do it. What I don't do is I haven't as much as I should have walked people through the actual calculations on, for example, something like campaign budget optimization. Where, okay, if you're trying to get ... Or even on CPA, on ad set level, getting a little nerdy. If your CPA goal is $50, and you're spending $20 on an ad set, that's really hard, that's going to take you three days technically to get a conversion, to break even.

Austin Brawner: There's some variance in there where it may not happen.

Andrew Foxwell: Absolutely, it may not happen, exactly. That's what I'm saying is like, you have to do those budget calculations. I will say, "does this work?" And I just don't want to be as honest. I think I need to break that down, going into this more of saying like, "look, if you want to spend X hundred dollars, if it's going to be a smaller budget, you have to do less things, or you have to do less over a shorter period of time to try to condense that budget, and consolidate it so that the budgets can be higher over a shorter period of time for testing." Instead of trying to spread it out over a month or whatever.

Austin Brawner: That makes sense. I think that if you're listening to this, go and run those calculations for yourself. I'm guilty of the same thing, because you see somebody who might hesitate to turn up their ad spend. It's like, you know it's the right thing, but it's hard to go through the process of arguing over that.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, totally. You also don't want to make people feel bad. It's weird advice, when you're like, "You just need to spend more." You have to be careful in that. I never want to force people into a place where they're uncomfortable. But you also like, if you have ... Most products now that we work with are an average order value of like, the low end is let's say $50. And the high end is going to be like, obviously a lot greater, $200 to $300.

If you have, let's even say $100 CPA goal, you've got to spend per ad set, 100 bucks per ad set per day-

Austin Brawner: Minimum.

Andrew Foxwell: Minimum to really do it right. You look at somebody like Molly Pittman, who is an incredible advertiser. Molly, she looks at CBOs, and she's like, "I start these things at a minimum of $500 to $1000 a day." Which, a lot of people just can't stomach that. Also, they don't understand why. It's because the more data it has, the better it'll perform, the faster you learn, etc. But I don't think I've done a good enough job of explaining that. So, that's something I need to be more honest about moving forward.

Austin Brawner: Sure. I think it's a good one. Let's talk about creatives, because that's another similar point where creative quality is super valuable. Talk about what you've learned about creatives.

Andrew Foxwell: This is just insane. Basically, the creatives being not great, but me telling them that it's okay. Creative is the most important part of the Facebook ads equation. You can have the best targeting in the world, and you can have all these complicated flows and landing pages and all this. But if your creative isn't good, and not interesting, it's going to be really, really tough to make things work.

The lie that I've said ... Not lie, but the way that I have said this, which I think is a little misleading, is I've said things like, targeting is more important than creatives. I haven't said that this year, but I've definitely said that previously, which is I don't think true at this point in time. I think that you used to be able to get by, creative wasn't as good, frankly. Now, you really can't.

Really, there's so much competition now that you really have to follow that framework that we have in our previous episode about creating winning content. You really have to think about it, and not just create things that just don't look very good or are on the fly. I heard a statistic from a Facebook representative the other day, and I'm still trying to find where this is sourced in a white paper. But that the best performing ad accounts create 11X more creative than the average advertiser.

It's so much about testing and learning, that's why Facebook came up with dynamic creative testing, where you put all these assets together and it spits out which one "wins." I think that what I've done is that I don't want to say to that client, "Hey, it's fine, let's let it run," or you know that internal routing struggle? I swear to God, the bigger the company, the more inefficient this is. You have to route it to the art department, and it has to go to the brand department, the copywriters. So, you finally get the creative and you're ready to run it, all the while they're paying you, and you haven't run anything yet. You get it, they're like, "What do you think?" You don't want to say no. You don't want to say, "this is bad."

That's what I mean about this. I have not been as honest about that up front, because I just didn't want to have them to go through the ringer again. But I think that I have to be more honest on that. Because otherwise, the results don't look good, which will then reflect on me as well.

Austin Brawner: It's a great question to ask yourself too if you're running it for yourself and your own business, or you've got some of your team running it. It's like, have a gut check. Is this actually compelling or is it not? I totally agree with the white paper from Facebook that the best advertisers create 11X more creative, because that is reflected in my fastest growing, biggest clients. They are relentlessly putting out new, compelling, creative.

Andrew Foxwell: Right. It's insane even looking at some accounts that are scaling in that $200,000 plus a month level, and how much it takes. You literally, you have to be just funneling stuff all the time into the funnel. The funnel, the funnel, you have to be creating, you have to be trying, you have to be testing. Frankly, on that previous episode too, we talked about the scaling of that account that I went through earlier in the year. That was interesting, because I might have mentioned in the episode, but I had them create three to five pieces of content every day and send them to me. I was like, "You have it. Take it in the garden, put this product next to flowers, literally do something that's interesting with color of splashes." You have to keep on going with that. Anyway, that's the creative, being bad, but me telling them it's okay. That's a big mistake.

Austin Brawner: Number three, we're going to move to product market fit. Let's talk a bit about that. What do you mean by honesty around product market fit?

Andrew Foxwell: This is a really hard one, because it's hard to get a read on initially. What I mean on that is, you might see a product, and you're like, "oh, that's cool, that's interesting." You might launch it, and end up using conversion objective, and it might get a couple of sales, and then you just can't ever seem to get it going. Then you might get some new creative, you'll think up some new pitches and hooks, and you relaunch.

Really, the way that I've seen product market mismatches be evidenced mostly is by boom and bust ad cycles. Where it does really great, and then it dies, and it does really great and then it dies, it does really great, and then it dies. That's what I mean by, and I haven't been as honest about ... What I want to say to some clients is, "this is a product that is great for a very, very specific niche. A very small set of people like this, and they're going to keep buying this. But you can't compare your product to the Pura Vida, The Blenders, The MVMTs, The Bombas of the world." It's not socks, it's not sunglasses, it's not watches, it's not artisanal bracelets. There are some things that are just so niche that there's going to be a ceiling in that scale. Or it's always going to be a mismatch, and you're not going to be able to really scale. It will always boom, up and find good stuff and then die.

That's really what it means to me. I know this is something you deal with a lot too, in terms of product market fit. How do you say this? Because we talked about this in that earlier episode, where it's, the real reason your business isn't scaling. This is a direct correlation to that.

Austin Brawner: Yeah, you just have to be realistic about your expectations. You may have a wonderful business that is not a mass market product. You can't expect these crazy scaling results, that another company that sells something anybody can buy could have. Some of these companies can generate unlimited demand, because anybody can use their product. If that's not your product, that's okay. But yeah, it can be tough to have that conversation. Hey, this is not going to work at scale the way another company might work.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree. I just think I need to be more open and honest about that. It's like, even talking about diversifying your product types, or the colors or anything I feel like can help that regard. There's an example of a client we have worked with for really the last year and things have been going really, really well for them. It's been scaling, it's been going really well, but they only have really one product of which they have five varieties of that product. They've spent like $100,000-ish month over month. Now, it's trailing off. I'm like, okay, well, there are so many people that will buy this specific niche product, and we may have reached them in this country.

Austin Brawner: You need to create more different products.

Andrew Foxwell: Right, you need to reach out for something else.

Austin Brawner: That's a hard conversation to have, but it's very, very necessary.

Andrew Foxwell: Absolutely.

Austin Brawner: Totally agree. That makes sense when you talk about the boom and bust ad cycles. I want to move to number four, which is telling people to shift into campaign budget optimizations. Talk a little bit about that.

Andrew Foxwell: Well, I'll just be real honest about CBO. CBO is campaign budget optimization. In case you don't know, this is where you set the budget at the campaign level instead of at the ad set level, and then it spends that budget appropriately through the ad sets, or basically where it thinks it can get the best performance through those ad sets.

It's pretty hot and cold in terms of performance. It's not the best, it's not the worst. It depends on the brand, it depends on the data in the account, it depends on a number of things. But CBO, I think it's still kind of the Wild West.

What happened was, early in the year in Q1, it actually was working really well for me. I had held back not doing it and started to work well. So, Q1, beginning of Q2, I was telling everybody, I was just like, "This is it. It is time to shift to CBO." I was singing the song, everything. The reality of it is, in the Q2, it was great for about 50% of those people. It's like it worked really well for some and others it didn't do as well.

Austin Brawner: Early days.

Andrew Foxwell: Yeah. I should have, I think, been more transparent about the fact that it's up and down, and I wasn't. There's interesting ... Other people have gone in different ways on this. Some agencies that I've spoken to, they are just not using it. Then there's other agencies that are like, Facebook talks about it all the time, it's part of the Power 5 program that Facebook loves to talk about. So, we're going to go all in on it, and we're using it everywhere.

As we've said before on this podcast, it's never one way entirely or another. I think that's a mistake that I made is not saying the nuance. I think that as Facebook continues down this road of automation is what I meant, say. In terms of automation and letting Facebook the data decide and not looking at things as much on a day to day basis, looking further and giving them more control. I think that that nuance, I need to be better at explaining, and just saying like, look, this is what this is, and here are the pros and cons of that. Because if something works, I get really jacked about that, and I want to tell all the coaching clients that I have about it. But I think the nuance is important. Obviously, and I try to do that, but I can always do a better job of that.

Austin Brawner: Also, things change, and things may work. As we've seen in the first six months of the year, things have changed wildly within Facebook. Even if you get jacked about something, it may actually be good advice at the time, and then it may change one month later.

Andrew Foxwell: Right. It's true.

Austin Brawner: That's part of the reason to be tuning in here, figure out what is going on right now.

Andrew Foxwell: Right.

Austin Brawner: Let's talk about number five, which is assuming that all pixel based audiences are the same value for everyone. Talk a little bit about what do you mean by that?

Andrew Foxwell: Just because you create a 1% purchase lookalike, that might not be your best audience. Your audiences and the lookalike audiences that you create, and their power depends on how much data is going into those audiences. For small accounts, something like a two-time add to cart, which is a pretty deep lookalike audience that you can create, might actually be worse than something simple like a 2% view content last 30 days.

I think that you have to always be clear about, basically what I've said in this is I'm like, "look, if you're not doing it, you've got to do a purchase lookalike, you've got to do an add to cart lookalike, you've got to do a top 25% website visitor lookalike, you got to do a value based lookalike." Really, it needs to be said that these nuances are very important to mention. If you're a new account, how much data do you have in that account? That view content is going to be more powerful probably, and a lookalike of that view content than a purchase because there's just more people in the view content that they're in and there is in the purchase.

I don't think I've been as upfront about that, that the success of these audiences depends on the scale that you have too.

Austin Brawner: The immediate question is, everyone's thinking it, how large does the audience have to be for it to be viable? What exact numbers, Foxwell? No weasel words here.

Andrew Foxwell: 4,999 people in that pool ... I think that if you have spent $10,000 U.S. in your account for a couple of months, you're on the path to really using purchase lookalike, add to cart lookalike, the right way. 

Austin Brawner: That's $10,000 per month or total?

Andrew Foxwell: $10,000 per month. Now, here's the thing, if you have a small account, and you're seeing decent success on that small account, by targeting the purchase objective under conversion, or purchase event rather, under conversion objective, then you can give it a shot. But you want to remember that when you're creating your account, the general rule is, where am I getting the most data?

You can go into your Facebook account, go into the events manager on the pixel, which may be some of you have done, and you can look at which events get the most traction. That's where you want to start to create the lookalikes from on those that have the most data.

For me, it's like if you're spending, let's say, between $5,000 and $10,000 a month for a couple of months, those deeper lookalikes like a two-time add-to-cart are going to be more viable than they would be before.

Austin Brawner: Awesome. Well, that's really, really good to know. Just a solid, solid tip. I think it's helpful and appreciate you walking through. We'll have to do an episode where I talk about my failures soon.

Andrew Foxwell: Absolutely.

Austin Brawner: I'd love to do that. Be a lot of fun. Hope you guys enjoyed that episode. We'd also love to hear your failures if you want to. Shout us out on Twitter. Love to hear either @andrewfoxwell or @a_brawn. Yours is @andrewfoxwell, right?

Andrew Foxwell: It is, yes. It's @andrewfoxwell_sexy_41. Just kidding.

Austin Brawner: No, what is it actually? @andrewfoxwell?

Andrew Foxwell: It's @andrewfoxwell, correct.

Austin Brawner: Mine is @a_brawn. Find us there, shout us out. Love to hear your failures, what you've learned. Talk to you guys in the next episode.


Austin Brawner: What's up everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Ecommerce Influence podcast. My name is Austin Brawner.

Andrew Foxwell: And I'm Andrew Foxwell. Here we are with another flash episode. I haven't done that in a while. So, I just felt like I needed to do it again. Just saying, flash.<...

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