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One key to Upturn’s rapid user growth: Aggressively optimized Facebook campaigns


Igor Delgado
Igor is Upturn product and growth manager

Upturn, a BBVA New Digital Businesses portfolio company, recently celebrated its first birthday. The startup has blasted past several of its user-acquisition milestones — growing at roughly 24 percent month over month — thanks in part to a data-driven product and growth team, now headed by Igor Delgado.

Though paid user acquisition is only one avenue for Upturn’s user growth — they also have a data-driven content strategy and are hoping to drive more product-led growth in the future — it has been an incredibly successful avenue for the startup, which officially launched in Q4 of 2018.

The star of their paid acquisition efforts: Facebook advertising. The variety of user types, as well as the sheer volume of users, makes Facebook an incredibly powerful tool for user acquisition.

“It’s the best place to choose the value propositions, language, and images that resonate with our users,” he said. “You can test several different factors easily and very inexpensively.”

For example, Upturn has experimented with campaigns that focus on general messages like “grow your credit” and “fix and find errors on your credit report”, as well as testing location-specific messages for Los Angeles residents.

Between the data Facebook sends about Upturn’s ongoing ad campaigns and the general (identity-stripped) data collected when a new user signs up for their service, Upturn has a crystal-clear image of the types of users that normally click on their ads.

“We can map all that data to better understand the messages and other factors that resonate with people in our key demographics,” Delgado said.

Drilling down into the data

Upturn is an all-around data-obsessed startup which allows them to create precisely focused, efficient campaigns. Developing ads has two major phases: general concept development, followed by optimization.

“In testing best practices, you have to start out testing very bold ideas: completely change the message or try out very different images,” he said. “Once you find something that works, then you start to focus on finding the local maxima to optimize.”

According to a WordStream study, the average cost of acquisition for a Facebook campaign — across all industries — is $18.68. Upturn’s average cost of acquisition is below $6.

They spend 30 percent to 50 percent of their budget on testing new messages, creative, and audiences, Delgado said. The remaining budget goes toward maintaining the company’s best-performing campaigns.

To determine which campaigns are performing best, Delgado said, Upturn monitors them weekly. “If we drastically increase our budget or have just launched a new campaign, we check that campaign every day for three to four days to ensure it’s working properly,” he said.

Best practices dictate that any new (or dramatically different) campaign must run for at least a week. “People don’t behave the same way on Tuesdays as they do on Saturdays: What if a campaign we started on Tuesday or Wednesday is actually a better campaign for weekends, when people have more free time and can look at Facebook more?” he said.

The challenges of Facebook advertising

But Facebook advertising isn’t without its challenges, particularly considering Upturn’s user base.

“We have to be careful with our segmentation because we’re serving an often-vulnerable population of low-income people with not a lot of financial education,” Delgado said. “There are laws we have to follow in terms of the messages we can show them, and for good reason — this segment has been targeted by a lot of credit-repair scammers.”

Another unique characteristic of Facebook advertising — versus Google AdWords, for instance — is that advertisers compete for the general eyes of an audience, rather than competing for specific keywords related to a certain topic.

The costs related to Upturn’s ad campaigns have recently increased, and without year-over-year data to compare those costs to (they didn’t start advertising until 2019), Delgado and his team can only guess at whether they’re nearing saturation in their audience or whether there’s simply an uptick in competition because of the approaching holidays.

“Between Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, lots of companies create more ads and are willing to spend more money” Delgado said.

Facebook ads as a marketing ‘sandbox’

In the months to come, Upturn will continue to diversify its acquisition efforts; Delgado and the team are wary of leaning too heavily on Facebook.

Because of the relatively low cost of running a Facebook ad campaign, the platform has become a proving ground to discover what works across the digital landscape.

Once Delgado and his team have developed the best-performing Facebook campaigns for users in a certain geographic area or demographic, they can extrapolate the data and use those learnings in other channels that might come with heftier financial risk. “Instead of running a radio campaign right away that costs $200,000, you can test your message on Facebook first to see how it goes,” he said.

Delgado offers a caveat, however, that though Upturn’s learnings from Facebook have been invaluable, every marketing and advertising channel works differently. Success across multiple channels demands adaptation.

“What works on Facebook doesn’t always directly apply, so you have to understand the dynamics of each channel,” he said. “For example, when we apply what we learned on Facebook to a radio spot, we can use the same general messaging, but we know we have to repeat the message a lot of times and keep it really short.”

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