As advertising channels proliferate online, we are constantly asked: which channel should I be using? The two heavy weight channels - search and display - have been mainstays for years now, but still aren't fully understood. In particular, while Facebook has grown tremendously as an advertising channel - it's now more than 2x as large as the closest display competitor - we believe that it remains misunderstood and underutilized.
We hear a common refrain: search advertising screens for intent and hence is about demand fulfillment while Facebook advertising does not and hence is about demand generation. While that refrain contains some truth, it's dramatically oversimplified and obscures the opportunities and risks of both channels.
Google Adwords is The Library
Ssshhh. It's all about directing you to the information you're seeking. However, the pursuit of information covers all buying stages. If I'm searching for "red shoes" then my information needs are very general and my knowledge level is likely low. It's at this stage that I'm building awareness of potential solutions. In contrast, If I'm searching for "red manolo blahnik wedding shoes" (and yes, since I know you're wondering, I had to rely on Google's autocorrect to get the spelling right) then I'm much further along in my information gathering process and I'm much more likely to be near the purchase stage. So, Google can do both, just be wary of competing for awareness with bidders that haven't figured out "red shoes" is not a buying indicator so they pay too much.
Facebook is The Party
Hey!!! It's all about the conversation. However, conversation covers a broad spectrum of needs as well. When you meet someone for the first time you're asking basic learning questions - where do you live? What kind of work do you do? Later, after you develop more rapport, you move on to "buying" questions - do you want to try out that cute Italian restaurant on South Street? On Facebook this amounts to the form of advertising. Display advertising to the masses is about awareness building. Targeting functionality allows you to only talk to people that are likely to be potential buyers (just like showing up at your friend's party means you're not likely to encounter prison inmates - unless your friend throws really excellent parties), but you're still talking to them for the first time.
It's later, once they've already become engaged with you that you have the opportunity to drive towards purchase. The simplest way to do that is to advertise to your existing fans, which can be accomplished through offers posted to your fans or by running a purchase oriented campaign only against your fan base. In this way Facebook is effective both at demand generation (stage one) and demand fulfillment (stage two). The only pitfall is if you try to make one giant leap from unaware to buyer in one step, you'll fail.
So, if the question is which channel to use, think of Google and Facebook as venues. Either venue is capable of achieving your objective whether that be awareness building or driving purchase, you just have to be sure you're advertising in the right spot and in the right way. Advertise for awareness at the entrance (generic keywords on Adwords or unaffiliated users on Facebook) and for purchase in the back (specific keywords on Adwords or existing fans on Facebook).