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social and display: the start of your user journey

The top of the funnel. The start of your user’s journey. Your audience might not know you yet, but their behaviour suggests an interest in your business. Top of the funnel advertising is essential for sustainable growth. Reaching customers at the very start of their user journey puts your brand in the best position but requires a delicate blend of raising awareness in the right places with high-quality advertising.

key takeaways

In this blog, we discuss:

  • what the first stage of the buyer journey is

  • how paid social can support raising awareness at this stage

  • how display ads can support raising awareness at this stage

  • whether one or the other is better suited to your business

what is the first stage of the buyer journey?

Before we jump in, let’s refresh what is meant when we talk about the first stage of the buyer journey. The marketing funnel consists of four stages. The first stage is known as the awareness stage where your potential customer is aware they need something or have a problem they want to overcome. Now, they are researching and actively seeking answers to meet their need.

During this stage, your objective should be to engage prospects with entertaining and educational content, and this makes some paid media channels more suitable than others.

Head of Biddable Media at equation, Tom Walkden, explains more:

“Allowing for unparalleled reach, guided by audiences and first party data, makes display and social advertising the first port of call when our clients need to boost their new customer acquisition strategies and brand growth. They allow users to be engaged early in their user journey and further activated through lower funnel channels like search and remarketing.”

why social media advertising for raising awareness at the first stage of the buyer journey?

On average, we each spend approximately five hours of our week on social media. A place to scroll, engage, communicate and share, social channels are a great place to spread awareness.

Research shows that three out of four customers use social media to make purchasing decisions. These channels offer users an opportunity to interact with brands in real time while researching products and services before making a purchase. This also makes them a good place to connect with your audience.

So, how can you use paid social build awareness? Social media expert, Megan Graham, shares her thoughts:

“44 percent of users interact with social at the beginning of their journey making it a must to make sure these platforms are at the forefront of your marketing strategies. Social platforms are able to showcase products to users who didn’t know they already needed them, playing a key role in building the upper funnel acquisition pools. This can then help to feed into further activity through search and remarketing which helps to build an omni channel approach.”

Here are just some of the benefits of using social in your top of funnel advertising:

  • further your reach

  • make the most of your budget

  • enhance your targeting

  • build brand awareness

  • gain access to new customers on mobile

  • gather further market insights

social media advertising: what to consider

Before you jump straight into placing your social media ads, there are a few areas that need to be considered. Namely, the channels you focus on and the formats you choose:


Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and TikTok, your choice of social media platforms can feel overwhelming.

Many businesses are still under the illusion that social is for younger generations and dismiss it if their audience doesn’t fit this demographic. However, social media growth has heavily occurred in the older demographics. This is why it’s so important to test channels based on your objectives, what you’re advertising and your audience.

Take TikTok for example. We wouldn’t recommend TikTok to every single advertiser. At the moment, it’s well suited to brands with creative content and a younger audience. But as social evolves, we’re already seeing an older demographic enjoy the platform and this will only continue.

Research your audience to understand which channels are more relevant to them and, especially if you have a limited budget, it’s worth testing one before moving on to another.


There are a variety of ad formats that can be used across social media channels and the most impactful choice is often determined by the platform you use, the message you want to deliver and your brand. Examples could include video reels, high-quality imagery, animations and image reels.

It’s important to work on keeping your creatives fresh. Your audience will likely experience some form of design fatigue from seeing the same ad or similar creatives on a regular basis. By mixing up your formats and introducing new styles, you have a better chance of keeping them engaged. This is also a great way to test different formats so you can gain a clear understanding of what resonates with your audience.

why display advertising for raising awareness at the first stage of the buyer journey?

Offering wide reach coupled with focused targeting options, display advertising is an ideal tactic to engage, upsell, convert and retarget shoppers across a range of channels from websites to blogs to mobile apps to video and social too. Get your brand in front of relevant audiences at the start of their buying journey by delivering value-adding, educational content that raises brand awareness through display.

So, how can display advertising support the first stage of the buying journey? Here are some of the benefits:

  • reach relevant users wherever they’re browsing

  • stand out with eye-catching and engaging creatives

  • build initial interest with your prospective audience

  • relatively inexpensive to get up and running for testing purposes

display advertising: what to consider

Just like social, display advertising needs a little thought before jumping in at the deep end. There is a range of formats and channels that can be used for display so it’s worthwhile familiarising yourself with these:


Depending on where you plan to display your ads, different formats will be more suited. Display ads usually combine text, images and a URL that links to a landing page where the user can learn more about or buy products. There are many ad formats with the most common including static banner ads, animated ads, interactive ads that allow your audience to instantly engage and video ads. Whether you opt for standard ads or something richer, display ads can stand out on a page and help you capture the attention of your audience.


Your display ads can be shown across a wide range of channels, namely the Google Display Network. This is a group of more than 2 million websites, videos, and apps where your Google Ads can appear, and they can also be run across Facebook advertising. These channels provide powerful audience targeting features as well as a range of different formats.

are these tactics right for you?

Social and display advertising are both effective tactics for engaging your audience and boosting your brand awareness in the first stages of their shopping journey.

In some cases, using a combination of these tactics will be best, helping you reach more people across a wider variety of channels. In other cases, just one will be better matched to your objectives. Look at your data and take the time to test and evaluate to uncover which approach will reap the greatest reward for your business.

If you need further guidance, get in touch. With a team of paid media experts, we can help you create a high-performing awareness strategy, getting the most out of your budget to generate the best ROI possible.

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