Instagram ads are the latest, cool toy that every marketer's keen to try out. But success on Instagram doesn't necessarily come easy, even if you're paying for it, and the Facebook-owned visual platform is going to great lengths to highlight what will, and what won't work, for Instagram audiences, in terms of ad content.
Of course, part of the motivation for this focus is also the intrusiveness of Instagram ads - Instagram knows that if they flood the system with cheap looking ad content, users will simply turn away. This is why they've taken a 'slow and steady' approach with Instagram advertising, and why they this week launched a new @instagramforbusiness account on the platform, which will highlight some of the best advertisers and how they're achieving success. By rolling out ads slowly, and giving advertisers more clear guidance on what works, Instagram's hoping to educate marketers on how they can reach their Instagram audience in an effective, non-intrusive way, which, ultimately, will mean better results for users, as the ads will smoothly integrate among their regular feed content, and better results for advertisers, as they'll develop greater understanding of what resonates, rather than crashing in with jarring and blatant promos.
So how are brands achieving Instagram success? Here's what we can learn from some of the examples highlighted thus far by the platform.
Image Quality is Key
Yes, these are ads, and yes, you're trying to promote your product and offers, but it's important to recognize how people use the platform and what they expect to see while there. A blatant ad or a poor quality image like this:
...is simply not going to generate as much attention as something more creative. In a new post on the Facebook for Business blog, Facebook's highlighted some of the brands that are seeing the best engagement with Sponsored Posts on Instagram from the Asia Pacific region, including content like this from Philadelphia Australia.
In the accompanying notes around Philadelphia's campaign, the brand talks about engaging their audience by focusing on how they use the platform:
"It was critical to this campaign's success to engage consumers in an environment where they are actively seeking entertaining inspiration. Instagram has established itself as a platform that provides inspiration and allowed us to reach people in this frame of mind with a dynamic, storytelling approach to content."
That really is the key to Instagram advertising - even social advertising in general. By understanding the 'why' and 'how' of your audience on each platform, you're better able to utilize that and maximize your ad performance among those audiences as a result.
Now, you could dismiss this, you could say that big brands have access to more money and more professional advice and services than SMBs who can't be expected to compete with image content of that quality. But even brands with limited budgets are able to compose great images, just using the camera on their iPhone. On the Instagram for Business page, today they've highlighted UK-based flower shop Bloom & Wild and their success with Instagram ads.
These are simple, yet high-quality images that grab attention. And while there's no specific notes on how Bloom & Wild have gone about their image composition, this is a small business, they don't have the budget of a big corporation. Yet their content is good-looking, aspirational and integrated perfectly with what people expect to see in their Instagram feeds.
Bloom & Wild used Power Editor to compose their Instagram ads and built a lookalike audience using their existing customer e-mail list. They then tested their images by posting them as normal and seeing which generated the most engagement, then used the best performers for their ad campaigns.
And the results?
"With the use of Instagram ads, Bloom & Wild increased their bouquet orders by 62%, and saw many new customers commenting on their account and buying bouquets from their shop."
By creating content that integrates with the wider Instagram experience, focusing on high-quality content that works with what users expect from the platform, brands can achieve great results, and great reach through Instagram ads.
Develop Your Own Style
In the launch post for @instagramforbusiness, the first brand to be featured - Ben and Jerry's - talked about how they've achieved success on the platform, particularly around building community. One thing they noted - developing your own style and theme.
"When we first joined Instagram, we didn't really know what to take pictures of, or have a photography style. Over the last 4 years, we've developed our own style and have leveraged Instagram to connect with fans all over the world."
That style is evident in Ben and Jerry's content - look at this screenshot of their most recent posts:
There's a clear theme at play, the same color palette, the same image framing. In fact, take out the image with the white background in the bottom row (which is user-generated content) and that brand color and tone is really distinct.
It's important to develop a theme for your Instagram presence, an image style that speaks to your brand, that best captures what your business is about - that kind of distinction can make your content stand out in user feeds and build community around your offerings.
Use Images to Tell a Story
"Their marketing campaign on Instagram showcased four creatives that highlighted the high-quality craftsmanship of their leather goods. Three of the creatives featured an owner lovingly caressing his or her Tsuchiya bag, with captions like "I love this guy" and "I adore her". The fourth creative featured a business card holder alongside other stationery, with the caption "my essential work partner"
Through the use of emotional connection to their products, Tsuchiya Kaban has been able to successfully convey a story through their images, which is arguably more effective than content highlighting the products alone.
While not everyone will be able to come up with such a creative way to showcase their products, the campaign does highlight another way of looking at Instagram, in thinking of how you can share a story around your products. Every brand, every business has a story behind it - what image can you imagine that captures the essence of your offerings and what you're seeking to achieve? It may not work for all brands, but it's worth considering more creative options which can make your images stand out from the pack (you can read the full Tsuchiya Kaban case study here).
While there are no definitive rules, it's worth taking note of the examples highlighted by Instagram and learning from those who are seeing success on the platform. Eventually, self-serve Instagram ads will be available to everyone, and by showcasing best practices and ideas like this, Instagram is hoping to improve overall ad quality ahead of any such rollout to avoid a user revolt and subsequent migration. As shown by these advertisers, there are ways to create appealing, non-intrusive Instagram ads that can greatly expand your brand message by simply being shareable images in themselves.
In doing this, you're working with the audience, rather than talking at it, and building a greater brand presence as a result.