Instagram Advertising Strategy Guide

Instagram ads offer a unique opportunity to reach your audience, showcase products, and build relationships in a creative, visual way.

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If you operate a small business or sell stuff online, you know that digital marketing and social network advertising can play a critical role in your growth and success. It’s a great way to boost brand awareness, acquire new customers, announce new products, and, most importantly, generate revenue. But with so many options available, it can be tough for small businesses to decide where to advertise and how to connect with an audience that will be interested in your product.

That’s where Mailchimp can help. Our powerful marketing tools make it easy and affordable to connect with your customers—and people like them—across platforms like Instagram, whether with images or videos, to effectively budget and schedule, so you can be confident that you’re spending your ad budget wisely and reaching the right people in the right place at the right time.

Let's go through the different advertising campaign features and opportunities that Instagram gives to businesses and that you can access and manage with Mailchimp, with this guide to Instagram ads.

The advantages of advertising on Instagram

Instagram is a mobile photo-sharing app that offers a unique opportunity to reach an audience, showcase products, and build relationships in a creative, visual way. It’s ideal for brand awareness campaigns, and the perfect complement to direct-response, conversion-based campaigns on channels like Facebook or email.

Boasting 700 million users worldwide (50% of which follow a business), higher per-post engagement rates than other social platforms, and a higher average order value than Facebook, Instagram is often the go-to platform for marketers looking for a new way to enhance their brand or product image.

Instagram offers the same powerful targeting tools that are available in Facebook, which means you can take advantage of Facebook’s demographic and behavioral data and targeting options to expand your reach and connect with a custom audience, targeting people based on interests, keywords, or their similarity to your existing core audience. And unlike organic Instagram posts, ads allow for clickable URLs so people can easily click through to visit your mailing list signup form, website, or online store.

Why create Instagram ads through Mailchimp?

Instagram ad campaigns in Mailchimp—just like their Facebook counterparts—are an easy way to promote your business, grow your audience, and sell your products. We’ll automatically pull product images from your store into your account, so you can create beautiful Instagram ads that target current customers, help you reconnect with former subscribers or lapsed customers, and introduce new people to your brand.

After running your ad, Mailchimp closes the loop by providing easy-to-read reports that help you analyze your Instagram insights and ads performance, view engagement, and monitor spending over time. And, if you’ve connected your store, our clear ROI reports will track your ad’s revenue, products sold, and customers acquired, too. Since you never have to leave Mailchimp to create an ad or track its performance, you can develop integrated, multi-channel marketing campaigns and learn how each channel is contributing to your success.

Instagram ad campaigns are available to all Mailchimp users without any additional markup or fees. So, no matter what type of Mailchimp plan you have, you can start advertising your products or services across Instagram with as little as $5 a day.

Define your goals

Before you get started, it’s important to give careful consideration to the goals of your Instagram marketing and ad campaign efforts. Maybe you’d like to grow your audience or raise brand awareness. Perhaps you want to drive traffic to your site or online store. Or, maybe you’d like to promote specific products, increase sales, or encourage mobile app downloads. Determining the purpose of your ad—no matter the preferred outcome—will help you decide on your message, audience, and call to action.

Instagram is primarily a mobile medium, so be sure to keep that in mind as you’re developing your campaign, too. The goals of your Instagram ad should reflect the best possible experience for your audience and customers. For example, if your website or online store isn’t optimized for mobile users, your Instagram ad should focus on brand awareness or list growth rather than encouraging web traffic or increasing conversions.

Determine your audience

Choosing the right audience—and keeping your content relevant to that audience—is the key to running a successful Instagram ad. If you’re a retailer that specializes in men’s winter clothing, for example, don’t target an audience that consists of both men and women between the ages of 18-65 and live in the United States. Selecting such a broad audience often leads to lower Instagram engagement and clickthrough rates, which can even result in your ad being cancelled.

Instead, use your contact list to build an audience of Instagram users who are similar to your existing customers and subscribers. Mailchimp gives you the power to find value in all sections of your contact list, even people who have unsubscribed. Now, you can leverage your subscriber activity and e-commerce data to create powerful segments that help you show relevant ads to the right people.

People on your list

Targeting your existing Mailchimp subscribers on Instagram is a great way to reconnect with customers who are already engaged with your business. Our segmentation tools allow you to leverage what you already know about your contacts to create relevant ads that focus on conversions and retention.

Targeting ideas

  • Potential customers. Create a segment of subscribers who haven’t made a purchase just yet. Drive traffic to your store by showcasing your newest items, highlighting your best sellers, or advertising a special offer for new customers.
  • Recent customers. Create a segment of customers who have recently purchased an item from your store, then target them with ads promoting similar products they might also enjoy.
  • Repeat customers. Create a segment of customers who have placed multiple orders from your store, then show your appreciation by giving them early access to new products or exclusive sales.
  • Lapsed customers. Create a segment of customers who haven’t made a purchase from your store or opened/clicked your email lately, and create an ad to re-engage them.
  • Former customers and non-subscribers. Create a segment of people who have unsubscribed from your list or haven’t subscribed yet. Target them with an ad that builds awareness around your business, delivers your message, or offers incentives.

People with similar interests

Since Instagram accounts are tied to Facebook profiles, Instagram has a lot of data about its users that can help marketers find the right audience. And, when you create an ad targeting people on Instagram who are similar to the contacts on your Mailchimp list - with lookalike audiences-, you can put that data to work for you. Instagram analyzes the Facebook profiles of your Mailchimp contacts, then creates an audience of similar people based on shared interests, behaviors, and demographics. You can even narrow down the audience by location, gender, age range, or interest keywords. This can be an effective option for introducing your brand or products to new people and growing your list.

Targeting ideas

  • People similar to your best customers. Once you’ve connected your store, you can create a segment based on the purchase history of your customers. For example, you might choose to use a segment of customers whose total amount spent is more than $100, or a segment of customers whose total number of orders is greater than 2.
  • People similar to your most engaged subscribers. Create a segment based on subscribers who have a high contact rating. In this instance, you’d use a segment of subscribers with a contact rating greater than 4 stars.

People with interests you define

There are other cases, however, where you might want to harness the power of Instagram and Facebook’s data by creating an ad that targets people based on unique criteria you define. You can narrow down your audience by location, gender, age range, or interest keywords.

This option provides businesses of all sizes with the tools they need to build brand awareness and grow their audiences. If you’re a new marketer or a business with a small contact list, this tool can help you find potential customers.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • Where else does your ideal customer shop? You can use those other brands as interest keywords to help define your target audience.
  • Do you typically sell more stuff to women? Or, do you find that men are more likely to purchase your products? Target based on gender to increase the relevance of your ad.
  • How old is your target audience? Are most of your customers twentysomethings, or are they more likely to be grandparents? Plug in an age range to make sure you’re reaching the right people.

Choose the right image

When you create an Instagram ad campaign in MailChimp, you’ll have the option to create a carousel or single-image ad, just as you would with Facebook. Carousel ads work well when you want to tell a story or showcase a collection of products, but if you’d rather call attention to or drive sales of a specific product, a single-image ad is a better option.

Instagram is a visual platform, so there are several things to keep in mind as you’re selecting your images, besides the image size.

  • Focus on your products. If your Instagram ad is intended to showcase or sell your products, don’t be afraid to use eye-catching images that put the focus on those products. This differs from Facebook ads, which instead thrive on slice-of-life imagery that shows the benefits of your business or products, even if that means putting less emphasis on the products themselves.
  • Keep text to a minimum. Remember that Instagram users are there to see images. As you’re planning your ad, try to think of new and interesting ways to tell the story of your brand and products without using words.
  • Use high-resolution images. A beautiful, high-quality image will help grab the attention of your audience as they scroll through their Instagram feeds. And since most smartphones are equipped with powerful cameras, you won’t need any special equipment to get started—just set up the shot, make sure the lighting and composition are compelling, and snap a quick picture.

Real-world examples

The ads pictured below have a lot in common. They each promote the same products—autumn clothing—but there are several key differences in the composition and presentation of the content. Let’s take a closer look.

Not great

This ad promotes a hat being sold by an online retailer, but right away you’ll notice that the image isn’t the proper size and the product description doesn’t provide a clear explanation, use-case, or call to action. And, while the person in the image is wearing the hat in question, there is nothing about the image itself that draws your attention to the product.


This ad is designed to promote an autumn clothing collection. The image is full-sized, vibrant, and beautifully curated to put a clear focus on the products. The product description helps further the story being told in the images through language that explains why customers need the products and where they can buy them. There’s a high likelihood that this ad will perform well on Instagram.

Instagram vs Facebook

Instagram and Facebook can each be valuable advertising platforms for your business, and given their complementary audiences, sometimes it can make sense to run the same across both. At other times, it may be more effective to create separate ad campaigns with creative elements that are tailored to a specific platform and audience.

The ads pictured below each promote the same products, but there are some key differences when it comes to content, audience, and platform. Let’s take a closer look.

The first example, a Facebook ad, promotes the store’s autumn collection with slice-of-life imagery highlighting the people and environment that represent the brand, rather than putting all of the focus directly on the products themselves. The Facebook ad also includes 2 incentives—free shipping and a discount—to help drive conversions.

The second example, an Instagram ad, promotes the same autumn collection with a creative, curated image that focuses solely on the products. It uses the same “shop now” call to action as its Facebook counterpart, but doesn’t use incentives to encourage a direct response from the customer. This ad will help raise brand awareness, while complementing the conversion-based campaign the store is running on Facebook.

Each of these ads should perform well on their respective platforms.

How to avoid Instagram ad rejections

Instagram ads go through the same approval process as Facebook ads, which means that you’ll need to adhere to the same compliance standards and content guidelines that you would when submitting an ad for Facebook. During the review process, Instagram will check your ad’s images, text, targeting, positioning, and even the content on the landing page your ad links to.

If your ad is rejected, Mailchimp can’t override the decision. You will, however, have the opportunity to make adjustments (to the audience, content, or links, for example) and resubmit the ad.

Analyze your results

When you connect your store to Mailchimp, we’ll provide you with the Instagram analytics of your ads, thorough engagement and ROI reports so you can monitor engagement, track sales data, and learn what resonates with your audience.

Mailchimp’s ROI reports allow you to measure the performance of your Instagram ad in terms of revenue, products sold, and new customers, so you can quickly identify what types of images your audience likes and use that information to help optimize growth across your other channels.

Remember, your ad’s ROI isn’t just about generating sales—it’s also about the long-term value of customer acquisition and retention.

Learn from your reports

Your Instagram ad campaign reports generates data that can be used to inform and improve your future campaigns. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • If your ad doesn’t generate the levels of engagement you expected, don’t be afraid to test a different approach. Consider using different images, ad formats (single image vs carousel), calls to action, or targeting to see how your audience responds.
  • The performance of your ad can help you learn more about the buying behavior of customers, too. If a certain type of item or image performs particularly well in ads on Instagram, consider using product content blocks to promote similar items in your emails.

Follow up with your new contacts

Advertising on Instagram is a great way to grow your mailing list or attract first-time customers to your store, but that’s only the first step. Once you’ve started building up an audience, you’ll probably want to shift your focus to engagement and retention, and Mailchimp’s marketing automation tools can help you build lasting relationships.

Consider sending a welcome series to introduce contacts to your business or educate them about your products. Or, offer incentives—like a limited time discount or free shipping—to new contacts to boost loyalty and encourage future sales.

Then, as your audience—and your business—grows, you can use our email and ad campaign tools to nurture your relationship with your new audience.

More resources

Mailchimp has an extensive Knowledge Base full of articles that can help as you’re getting started with Instagram ad campaigns.

Or, browse Instagram’s resource materials for additional tips, guidelines and insight into advertising on the platform.

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