For businesses with conversion goals measured in offline sales, Facebook’s Partner Categories were a particularly useful tool for creating highly targeted marketing campaigns.

Using consumer data gathered offline by third-party companies, advertisers could design campaigns around custom demographics. Dealerships, for instance, could create advertisements targeting people who were in the process of shopping for a new car, and detergent manufacturers could deliver their ads to people with a proven history of purchasing heavy cleaning products.

August 8, 2018 was the deadline for new campaigns to be developed using this feature, and on October 1, Facebook stopped delivering ads to audiences targeted from this data.

If you already had such a campaign going, you’re no doubt aware already that you lost this feature in your advertising campaigns.

So, without access to this information about buyers, how can you stay ahead of the competition?

1. Learn From Your Current Campaigns

If you’ve missed the chance to run a Partner Categories campaign, you can still learn about your audience through your other custom audience campaigns by documenting user behavior and by having conversations with those users.  

So, take some time and learn about your demographic:

  1. Make sure your landing page leads to a location tracked by Google Analytics, so you can gather as much demographic data as you can. This information will help you understand your audience more intimately so that you will know a bit more about your customers than your competitors do.
  2. When a customer interacts with your Facebook campaign through comments, likes, and shares, you gain valuable feedback. Are customers complaining about your verbiage? Your prices? While single comments may not be indicative of the entire audience’s opinions, trends may reveal weak points where you can adjust your marketing strategy. If you can gather feedback about what is working and what needs work, you’ll be in a better position than your competitors who haven’t done this.

2. Use Customer Data with Permission

When you upload email addresses into Facebook Ads Manager (whether they come from leads who subscribed to your emails, customers entering information during the checkout process, or third-party providers), you’ll see a drop-down menu asking you to verify the source of your data. This is a new drop-down menu, and it exists because Facebook made a second major change to Custom Audiences.

In short, advertisers must now verify that they have permission from customers to use their email addresses for Facebook Ads.

If you want to use customer email addresses to create ads relevant to those customers, or to create lookalike audiences, now is the time to get permission! If you’re using email addresses from customers who provided their information willingly, you are probably already in the clear (but check with an attorney to be sure). With purchased data sets, you’ll definitely want to check with an attorney.

Understand what happens to customer data during the Custom Audience creation process; You’ll need to be able to communicate this information clearly to your customers if you want to keep their trust. Here is a brief synopsis:

  1. An advertiser uploads a CSV or text file containing customer data onto Facebook.
  2. Facebook hashes this information locally (to protect customer privacy).
  3. Once the hashed data is uploaded onto Facebook, Facebook matches the data with its own data to identify matches.
  4. The matches are used to create a Custom Audience for the advertiser.
  5. Facebook deletes the uploaded data.  

Whatever else you do, make sure you can (legally and otherwise) defend your choice to use each customer’s data for advertising before you begin creating a Custom Audience from that data.

3. Use Available Demographic Information

While data coming from external, offline sources is certainly valuable, you can still create highly targeted and effective Facebook ads from existing data. The difference between missing the mark and landing a bullseye comes down to how well you know your customers.

Use the information gleaned from your Partner Category campaign and from your ideal customer profile to narrow your targeting as much as you can.

Once you think you understand your audience, use A/B testing (or split testing) to refine your audience even further. A/B testing is a way of comparing how sets of advertisements perform against a single variable. Here is how to set it up:

  1. After choosing a goal for your new campaign, select the Create Split Test option. In the example here, I’ve selected Engagement as my goal.
  2. Select which variable you’d like to test. Since your goal is to narrow your demographic, you’ll want to select Audience.
  3. Define your test audiences. In this example, I am testing a lakefront getaway ad among fishing enthusiasts in the 45+ crowd. But my theory is that the ad could also appeal to cyclers ages 18-50, and so I’ll send this campaign to that demographic, too.
  4. Compare your campaign’s performance among each audience. Keep in mind that you can hit the right demographic, but if the ad itself is ineffective, it might perform poorly. Or your campaign could be performing poorly because you reached the wrong audience. Use the feedback you gain to refine your ad or to refine your audience.

The Takeaway

The end of Partner Categories does not mean an end to Facebook Ads; it just means you’ll need to know your audience on an intimate level, and you’ll need to be accountable for how you use customer data. The good news is, it’s already smart business practice to know your audience and to safeguard their trust – so if you’ve been following best practices already, this change shouldn’t make a significant impact in the effectiveness of your ads.

Have you adjusted your Facebook Ads strategy in anticipation of this change? Feel free to share your tips in the comments below.

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