Bigger is always better, right?

Tell me: which camp do you sit in?

 

Well, shout out to all you fence sitters because in this case, your indecisiveness has paid off. Sometimes bigger is better. But sometimes, less is more. And today I want to share with you an example of how both can be true—for the same campaign.

We’ve had the privilege of working with the brilliant team at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA) over the last five years on their incredibly successful and valuable fundraising event, Steptember. One of our key challenges was to recruit new participants online, which can be a very tough ask—especially as the number of organisations advertising on the go-to channel Facebook is almost doubling year on year.

Steptember raises money to help babies, children, teenagers and adults living with cerebral palsy lead the most comfortable, independent and inclusive life possible.
Steptember raises money to help babies, children, teenagers and adults living with cerebral palsy lead the most comfortable, independent and inclusive life possible.

 

So we started slow: less is more. In 2013 we advertised on just two platforms: Google and Facebook. We had a conservative trial budget, but boy did it show promise: we recruited hundreds of participants for less than $30 each.

CPA significantly increased the acquisition budget in 2014, but rather than spreading this too far we introduced only one new channel and instead focused on perfecting the approach on the channels we were already using. And it paid off, recruiting almost 2,500 participants for less than $35 each. It was a little more expensive per participant than last year, but the volume more than made up for that.

The approach was right, the budget was strong, so we went in all guns blazing in 2015 because bigger is better. The budget was doubled, and we introduced over 10 new channels (yep, that’s 15+ in total). CPA recruited 2.5x as many participants as the year prior, and at a similar cost per conversion.

Naturally the approach in 2016 followed the ancient proverb, ‘If it ain’t broke, why fix it?’. We again increased the budget, and applied the same tactics and channels, and sat back and waited. And waited. But no dice. We ended up recruiting fewer participants, and paid more for each one.

Huh? Each time we’d added new channels, we’d achieved better results. Until we didn’t. So what had happened? Was it time to try something new?

Kinda.

But ‘new’ in this case didn’t mean something extra. It meant to simplify.

At the end of each year, we’d analysed the results and used the key learnings to inform the strategy for the following year. But now we had four years worth of results to analyse collectively—would the year-on-year trends tell us anything new?

Maybe not something new, but one thing did stick out. Whether we had two channels running or 15, the same ones were driving the results: AdWords, Facebook Ads, Facebook Promoted Posts, Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Instagram. In fact, over those four years we’d invested 75% of the budget in these ‘Top 5’ channels but they delivered 95% of all conversions.

That means that we’d spent the remaining 25% on 10+ channels that delivered only 5% of all conversions. Not to mention the huge additional investment in resourcing to develop creative for those channels, get them live, monitor and continually optimise.

Woah.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t have tried those channels—we absolutely should have. After all, it was only after being brave enough to try that CPA was able to determine what worked for them. And what didn’t.

So yes, it was indeed time for something new. A new approach. We streamlined. Back to less is more. We rolled out only those ‘Top 5’ channels, and invested more time and more money in getting the absolute most out of each. And you know what?

BOOM.

CPA did just that, recruiting over 5,500 new participants from that handful of channels. We did have to spend more to find them (after all, these channels are becoming increasingly competitive and the potential pool of new prospects gets smaller each year) but we still achieved a return of over $5 for every dollar spent.

So is bigger better? Yep, it can be.

So less is more? Yep, it can be.

(Now who’s being a fence-sitter?)

What I can tell you for sure is this:

  • The digital acquisition landscape is changing, and it is becoming more and more competitive by the day. To deliver strong results consistently, you need to be nimble and evolve your strategy.
  • When choosing which channels to leverage, consider not only the media cost but also the resource cost of each. Each new channel might only add a few hundred dollars to your media budget—but it can add hours and hours of development, monitoring and optimising time.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (ahem, Facebook) but also be careful not to spread your budget—and your time—too thin.
  • Test, test, test. Most channels don’t require a huge investment to get started. Try it and see, but be prepared to walk away if it’s not working for you.

Go forth and conquer! And a shout out to the CPA team for their awesome effort in turning a $600K event into one that raises more than $6M annually, in just five years.

Paige