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What ads are startups using beyond Facebook and Google?

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It's pretty much assumed that one of the core principles of the universe is the absolute dominance of Facebook and Google when it comes to advertising. But Facebook and Google aren't the only ad platforms that exist—and certainly not the only ones companies use.

It's hard to argue against a sure bet like Google and Facebook, but it's also hard to argue against trying new things—especially when you're competing with other companies. That's where the long tail of advertisers like Pinterest, LinkedIn, and others come in. Advertisers typically know what they're getting when they use Facebook and Google, but they might be surprised by the results of other ads.

We analyzed anonymized aggregate Brex usage data to get a sense of how these long-tail platforms are doing compared to Facebook and Google. Brex customers are primarily early- to mid-stage startups, with an increasing base of ecommerce and life sciences customers.

What we found was that there isn't one overwhelmingly dominant long-tail ad platform. But we also found that three advertisers were growing substantially faster between the second and third quarters than the rest: Microsoft, Snapchat, and Reddit.

Examining the long-tail of advertisers

If you look at the "major" platforms outside of Facebook and Google, you can see two trends: Apple's app store ads are still attracting a good amount of attention, and Microsoft is one of the top-used options. In fact, we found that Microsoft ad usage—which was negligible earlier this year—has now attracted the attention of a non-trivial subset of Brex customers.

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Microsoft's Bing search engine is an alternative to Google, so you might see similar behavior within Bing that you would within Google. People are in a search-and-destroy mode for some kind of information, and that's an excellent opportunity to present them with a potential solution for their problem. Search engine marketing is one of the oldest and most reliable advertising tools.

Twitter holds the smallest amount of spend among long-tail platforms at around 5%, but it seems clear that there is a lot of experimentation beyond just Facebook and Google. This also doesn't account for a variety of much smaller services. That can include niche services like Amazon, Taboola, or Outbrain. And there is also spending on other existing platforms like Yahoo and AdRoll. But these represent a tiny slice of what's already a very small slice of the ad spending pie.

How many people are trying long-tail platform ads?

When looking at the overall base of Brex customers paying for advertising products, we find that LinkedIn attracts the most customers beyond Facebook and Google. It makes sense that businesses trying to reach other companies find a lot of success on LinkedIn. Although these platforms are dwarfed by Facebook and Google—less than 10% of all ad spend goes toward long-tail platforms—they may still offer an advantage for some companies.

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Ecommerce companies, for example, might find some help when advertising their products on Pinterest. More industrial products might perform well on subsections of Reddit, while some startups may want to get a little bit of an extra push for their apps on the App Store. There's a wide variety of ad and marketing platforms to use—even old-school platforms like Yelp and Craigslist.

Facebook, Google, and other ad platforms allow startups to reach hundreds of millions of eyeballs instantly. But that ability is available to, well, anyone who's ready and willing to pay for those eyeballs. So even though startups can pay for reach, they still have to find a way to be competitive with both their products and their messaging.

The story here is pretty straightforward: while Facebook and Google are reliable, some of the lesser-used platforms may provide a distinct advantage for some businesses. Microsoft and Apple are obviously huge companies, but Pinterest, Twitter, and Snapchat still have something to prove to win ad dollars away from Facebook and Google. And that starts by winning at least chunks of the budgets of companies willing to spend beyond Facebook and Google.

Photo by Christian Wiediger

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