When Brand Marketing Became a Bottom of Funnel Activity

For a long time, when you talked to a marketer about “Brand Marketing” it was very closely focused on top of the funnel, driving awareness.  It was fueled by mass media.  It was measured by aided and unaided brand awareness.  Marketers would measure brand association to product categories.  The focus on brand was always top of the funnel, then we went digital.

Digital marketing is more measurable than mass media, and it drives more accountability for where dollars are spent and funny enough brand became a bottom of funnel exercise, where dollars flowed first and fastest, just as it did with mass media. Marketers made a shift about how they think about brand, and didn’t realize that they’ve left a serious level of exposure that they still aren’t measuring correctly in many cases.  More importantly marketers seemed to have forgotten what real brand is, and I think this leaves many exposed to market share shift.

How Brand Became Bottom Of the Funnel

Let me back up, and describe what I mean by brand becoming bottom of the funnel. Talk to any search marketer and they will tell you that the keywords that convert the most are brand terms.  If you don’t have your brand covered in paid search, or SEO then you’re missing out.  Interestingly Google ran a study in 2011 and several version of it after call incremental ad clicks (IAC).  In which part of the finding was that branded paid media didn’t contribute as strongly to incremental traffic as non-branded searches.  Though it also concluded that with such low cost for branded searches it’s still a likely positive investment.  This means brand terms don’t contribute as much to your sales as non-brand but the ROI is still positive for spend on brand searches.

Think about that for a second. If your web analytics tells you that branded searches are driving most of your sales from a conversion perspective (and most companies secure the top spot on brand searches). But the IAC study indicates the incremental traffic is lower than what you get from non-branded searches, how many incremental sales is your branded search driving?  The problem is, Google is also right, usually for the cost of the terms it’s a net-positive investment and the right decision.  Rightfully so, budget is allocated to secure 100% coverage on brand terms most of the time.  So brand became about the bottom of the funnel. It is where marketers go first when things slow down to amp up or place pressure on.

How We’ve Messed Up the Top of Funnel

Where marketers miss out, is not understanding the top of funnel activity.  For some reason our top of funnel analytics are about as good as it was when we bought mass media, if not worse.  I’ve heard people talk about attribution for the last five years, the real secret is not many are using attribution.  I mean real attribution, understanding not only search but also all your other digital channels.  Lets think about search for a second.  Marketers have such a great opportunity to understand top of funnel, and inform their other marketing programs/strategy, how have we not put more pressure to understand the funnel?

If you know what terms people search for the most at the top of your funnel, that convert to brand terms at the bottom, you can draw interesting insights.  You can now see what real people, real customers associate with your brand strongly.  As well as vetting which words/terms you think you should be associated with but aren’t converting at the bottom.  Then you can use that to develop brand campaigns to draw associating of your products to those terms.  You can measure the impact by how conversion of these terms changes over time.

Getting back to Brand Marketing

You can actually get back to brand marketing, and more exciting, brand marketing that matters and is impactful.  You can use these insights to develop email subject lines using terms you’re more highly associated with to draw relevance, and use email body copy to use terms you’re less associated with to build brand affinity to those terms.  You can use display copy to drive brand affinity to terms/words that you perform poorly on, or vice-versa test display ads with high brand affinity words to see conversion impacts.  Further you can use this to drive your SEO priorities ensuring top rankings on converting non-branded terms first, then moving down the list to capture as much early researchers as possible up front.

All of this hinges on your ability to have a solid attribution approach to marketing not just across digital channels but down to paid search keywords.  It all hinges on how well your digital marketing analytics platform is setup, and your ability to dig into these insights, and develop tests to rapidly learn what works, and what creates impacts.  More so it allows you to stabilize your marketing efforts by creating a deeper understanding of the top of funnel, and understanding the influence over the bottom of the funnel.  This creates a more predictable approach to marketing and conversion.  If you can see decreases in non-brand searches that have higher conversions later in the funnel, you can likely predict a dip in conversion as an output of that lag, and allow you to diagnose what’s changed, as just one example

Manage the Full Funnel

Marketers need to take the narrow focus on bottom of the funnel conversion that has been driven because of last-click attribution reporting, and re-look at the full funnel. More importantly now that mobile has become as important as desktop experiences, a full funnel lens is critical to your success.  Add the multi-channel issues in digital from an attribution perspective, and layer on top of that a cross device attribution issue, in which you need to correlate early activity across multiple devices, and understand which drives conversion and influence, and you have a truly unique challenge that industry leaders will solve, and use to their advantage.  DoubleClick has already started to help with this by creating cross-device Conversion tracking but this is only good if you’re a DoubleClick user and doesn’t include email or other digital channels, and you care about only your paid channels.  Marketers who don’t manage the funnel end to end are setup for failure and likely losing ground.  Marketers that think they are “metrics driven” but not thinking about attribution across channels and devices, are not “analytic leaders” but “analyticly blind” making semi-informed decisions and perhaps cutting spending in areas that could enable acceleration.  I’ll leave it to you to decide which camp you want to be in, and what brand marketing means to you.

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