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Lookalike vs. Custom Audiences: What’s the Difference?

By Adi Jagan

TL;DR: Custom audiences are people who have already interacted with your business. 

Lookalike audiences are people who have NOT interacted with your brand, but are very similar to people who have.

Both audiences are assembled with user data on social platforms and Google. 

Every growth marketer knows half the battle is finding the right target audience. Segmentation (the act of targeting a specific cohort of consumers within the wider market) has always been a key advertising tool, but today, platforms like Facebook and Google have more and better-quality data than 20th-century marketers could have dreamed of. With better response rates and lower acquisition costs than old-school “spray and pray” methods, segmentation lets you speak directly to a custom audience and tailor your message to their needs. 

Two types of segmentation everyone talks about: Custom audiences and lookalike audiences.

What is a Custom Audience? 

Audiences refer to the pools of people you target through ad campaigns on social media. 

Custom audiences are groups of people who have already interacted with your business (through follows, likes, comments, shares, visits to your website, active customers or any uploaded list of over 1000 people). You assemble these audiences through data from your customer lists or online interactions with people on your website, app or social media accounts. 

Custom audiences are ideal for sending special offers to existing customers, nurturing leads, sharing more information with engaged users, or contacting people who have added your products to cart but haven’t followed through with their purchase. 

What is a Lookalike Audience?

Lookalike audiences are people who have NOT interacted with your brand. 

Who would be most likely to click through your campaigns? Lookalike audiences are a segmentation tool to find those users, whose demographics and interests look like those of your most valuable customers. 

The lookalike audience is based on some other audience set that was created based on people who’ve engaged with your brand, i.e., a  lookalike of your Facebook followers a lookalike of your website visitors, a lookalike of your customer list.

Instead of having to research or assemble an audience manually, Facebook and Google can assemble a new target cohort, one that shares key characteristics with the audiences you’re succeeding with the most. The audience is selected based on factors like interests, comments, shares, and previous ad clicks.

Lookalike audiences can extend your ad campaign’s reach by letting you advertise to new people who share commonalities with your existing customers. 

While Facebook was first to roll out lookalike audiences, Google and LinkedIn soon followed suit.

Why Create a Lookalike Audience?

Lookalike audiences re-purpose all the hard work you’ve already done in fine-tuning a custom audience. They’re a better bet than a cold audience, and they allow you to experiment with target multiple audiences at once.

Lookalikes are great for helping you engage with a new audience. They let you test the waters if you’re looking to expand your customer base. 

How to Create a Lookalike Audience

Even if you’re new to running social ad campaigns, you can create a lookalike audience. First-timers can use the data they have on hand (people who’ve liked and followed your brand page, existing custom audiences). You do need some type of source audience/user data in order to create a lookalike audience—it has to “look like” one that already exists. 

Some key facts and figures to keep in mind:

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