First, let's consider what it takes to grow a brand. According to Byron Sharp, Professor of Marketing Science at the University of South Australia and author of the influential book How Brands Grow, brand growth comes when you gain more buyers, most of whom are light buyers who only purchase your product occasionally. This is in contrast to many who think that growth comes from making your heavy buyers (loyal customers) buy more frequently.
According to this study, all brands have a very similar customer base in which a large part of their customer base consist of light buyers that are often overlooked by marketers. Since brand growth comes through market penetration, a brand needs to reach all potential buyers continuously, not just focus on heavy buyers. To do that in the most efficient way possible, brands need to focus on increasing reach over engagement or page likes. Here's why:
Reach vs Page Likes
A 2015 study on Facebook compared the fan base of brands to their customer base. It discovered that the Facebook fan base of these brands was strongly skewed to heavy buyers.
The reason is because heavy buyers or loyal customers are already more receptive to the brand's advertising messages, making them easier to reach and more likely to Like your page.
What this means is that by focusing on Page Likes, you only reach your heavy buyers, a.k.a your current audience. Therefore, relying on Facebook fan base alone doesn't give a brand access to sufficient numbers of light buyers to maintain communications with a substantial portion of it's customer base.
The cost per Page Like is also significantly higher than the cost per 1,000 reach. For example, spending RM200 on Reach could allow you to reach about 150,000 unique users, whereas the same investment may only result in 50 Page Likes.
Reach vs Engagement
Many brands use engagement rate as a way to measure the effectiveness of a post or message. The more likes a get means the better the post, right? Unfortunately, that's not always the case. Just because something was engaging, doesn't mean it was effective in delivering your brand message. For example, contests or controversial posts may get you many reactions, comments or shares, but it doesn't mean these people are any more willing to purchase your product than before.
Similar to what we discussed above, most of the people who will take the time to engage with your posts organically will be your heavy buyers. Light buyers may not take the effort of publicly engaging with your brand at all. Facebook themselves don't encourage brands to consider engagement as a key metric because they've found that it has no correlation to brand recall, awareness, or purchase intent.
When it comes to brand-building and market penetration, reach is key. But we'd like to point out that this doesn't mean engagement is entirely hopeless. Engaging posts that consistently create a positive effect on brand attitude is a great way to prime light buyers into become loyal customers by nurturing brand love. A 2016 study found that users who engaged with brands after repeated exposure to engaging brand messages created a positive impact on brand attitude, which in turn drove purchase intention. But let's leave this for another topic on brand loyalty.