Remember sitting in economics class in high school and learning about that one theory that would stick with you forever? I’m talking about TINSTAFL—“there is no such thing as a free lunch.” From that point on, anytime someone mentioned a free meal, TINSTAFL popped in your head. You knew deep down that no matter how you sliced it, lunch was never actually free. You either traded in your time to meet with someone you didn’t really care for or attended a training class where lunch was provided. But every single time, there was an opportunity cost. Lunch was never actually free.

Well, what if I told you the same was true in the world of marketing? But in marketing, TINSTAFL equates to “there’s no such thing as a free lead.” Even when a lead comes in through an organic channel, other strategies (often paid) are working in the background to help boost exposure, rankings, and ultimately influence.

Leads cost money. You have to spend money to get in front of the right people and convert them. But this should come as no surprise to you. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade, you know how important your paid media efforts are for meeting your overall marketing goals.

Whether we like to admit it or not, oftentimes we have to pay to play in today’s marketing world. But there’s nothing wrong with a paid media campaign. In fact, they are some of the most successful campaigns a company can deploy. The problem with paid media is that many marketers go about launching them in the wrong way, which in the end can cause your company a lot of headaches and wasted money.

When planning a paid media campaign, one of the biggest mistakes that many marketers make is jumping right in without properly planning. But of all the campaigns to trust your gut on, paid media, which is not only expensive but one of the few channels you can truly control, shouldn’t be one of them. Before you jump in and launch this type of campaign, it’s imperative that you take the time to ask the right questions to ensure you’re setting the campaign up for success.

Here are five important questions you should ask before launching your next paid media campaign.

#1. Who is your target audience?

Before you do anything else, understanding who you are trying to target is an important step in any marketing campaign. But when actual ad dollars are involved, this step is all the more crucial. Why pay for ads that miss the mark and your target audience won’t even see? Not to mention the money you’ll bleed showing your ads to the wrong audience that likely doesn’t care about your brand, product, or service (no offense).

Dig into your data and identify what demographics, behaviors, lifestyles, pain points, needs, and motivations you’re hoping to target. Once you have an understanding of the ideal audience you want to reach, you can use these insights to inform messaging, the imagery, CTAs, timing, and more. After all, what resonates with and impacts millennials might be different from what motivates boomers.

#2. Where does your audience spend their time consuming content?

After you have defined your target audience, it’s time to start thinking about where your paid media will be most effective. Which means you should dig in and do some research to find out where your target audience is spending their time consuming content.

An easy way to go about this is to take the time to read studies that have already been conducted about platform-specific demographics and measure those results against your target audience. You can also reach out to different platforms and outlets for their media breakdown—which they’ll happily hand over. As you’d expect, many of these sites that sell ads and paid media space have user demographics readily available to help sell ads to marketers such as yourself.

Finally, consider conducting your own audience survey. Get an understanding of where your audience spends most of their time to help influence where you might have the best chance of reaching your prospects. Easier said than done, sure. But if you can engage your target audience through interviews or surveys, take the opportunity to do so.

#3. What is your goal?

A really important question we ask clients before starting a paid media campaign is “what are your goals?” Before planning out an entire strategy, it’s really important to understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you looking to generate leads? Increase sales? Build brand awareness?

Whatever you are looking to accomplish, it’s imperative that you have it clearly defined from the start. Your goals will determine how you optimize the campaign both through copy and creative assets as well as how you set up the campaign within your platform of choice. Without certain goals set in place, it’s hard to create a seamless and cohesive strategy.

#4. How is success defined?

When running any type of campaign, meeting goals should be at the top of your priority list. But in addition to that, you must also understand that success for your business can come in many forms, especially in paid marketing campaigns.

Just because you didn’t meet all of your goals doesn’t mean your campaign wasn’t a success. When measuring the success of a campaign, you may find that some of your goals fell short while others exceeded expectations. Not only that, but you may find by-product success that you didn’t even expect. You must look at individual successes in each campaign and plan for how to visualize that data so you can take the insights and replicate them for future campaigns.

Either way, it’s important to understand that success can look different for each campaign and can be unrelated to goals—so make sure you’re looking at the big picture, too.

#5. What is your budget?

Budget, or media spend, may seem to the experienced marketer like an obvious step in planning a campaign, but to the untrained eye, budgets can feel like the least important part of a strategy. You can just build whatever plan you want and then throw some money at it, right? The reality is much different. You need to have a solid grasp on the type of budget you have for a campaign before you plan, as knowing this up front will help inform the duration of the campaign, the platforms you choose to promote on, the type of ads, and more.

It’s important to note that if you’re working with an agency, marketing firm, or freelancers, your budget goes beyond media spend—it refers to how much money you have to spend on creative, strategy, and design as well. A bigger budget might allow for a variety of ad sets to test, tweak, and iterate. Smaller budgets might only allow for one or two ad variations.

Bottom line: your budget will help you set realistic goals and timelines. And while you might run both Facebook and LinkedIn ads in a perfect world, sometimes you have to make hard decisions based on budget.

Think Twice Before Hitting “Go”

When planning a paid media campaign, marketers must resist the urge to jump in head-first. Rather than throwing caution to the wind, slow down and be intentional about what you’re doing; review past campaigns and ask yourself the above questions. Taking the time to review and plan will give you the tools you need to run a successful campaign—and get the results you’re looking for.

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Betsy Koliba

Betsy brings a unique viewpoint to digital marketing – her background is in applied behavioral science, and she’s self-taught in the ways of SEO. Her perspective and her devotion to lifelong learning mean she’s always attacking problems with new solutions – solutions that work in an ever-changing world.