The world is changing. While this is a constant truth, many of the changes that had been gradually happening in recent years have been accelerated by the pandemic. Trends that were previously identified as emerging are now in full swing, and marketers and brands that don’t take heed of these changes are liable to get left behind as the world pushes forward.
These changes have also heavily impacted the consumer marketing journey and how customers relate to brands. Previously, marketers generally considered brand building and performance as being separate initiatives. However, it’s important to take a step back and understand how the full marketing funnel impacts today’s customer journey, media planning, and overall growth considerations.
Brand Awareness vs Conversions
When running marketing campaigns, it’s easy to spend a lot of time focused on the mid- to lower-funnel, which is very performance- and conversion-driven, with a heavy focus on ROI. However, long-term growth requires a more balanced, strategic approach. Focusing only on the quick turnaround of lower-funnel performance marketing while considering brand building less important can have a negative impact on your business.
It is vital to be able to engage with your core customers in a meaningful and authentic way. That kind of engagement can really only be achieved by investing the time and effort to build relationships and trust with your consumers, which can only be achieved through effective marketing and brand building at all levels of the funnel.
When we talk about conversion marketing, we can think of it as the (near) instant gratification of driving sales. The results are quickly and easily measurable over a certain time period, whether year over year, quarter over quarter, or even month to month. When we consider upper-funnel, brand-building marketing, we must recognize that it takes much longer to see those results fully materialize. It can be difficult to have the patience that is often required to see the impact of these efforts, but it would be a huge strategic error to assume that they don’t work.
Upper Funnel Marketing: Building Brand Awareness
The best way to think about upper funnel strategies is in terms of awareness. By putting your brand out there in a way that communicates your identity to a consumer, you are establishing a true, organic path to growth. This stage is all about building a customer relationship that will enhance the business long-term. Brands that sacrifice the brand-building of the upper funnel tend to find that their success in conversion marketing is negatively impacted compared to those that make the branding investment. Many have found that they were forced to go back and rectify this oversight, investing in the awareness stage after a disappointing result on lower-funnel marketing efforts.
What is especially clear from these results is that upper-funnel strategies are an investment in the brand and in driving future sales, rather than showing an immediate impact in revenue. This means that everything is approached more broadly, from messaging to targeting. In terms of campaign messaging, brand-building should focus on establishing the identity, values and tone of the brand, as consumers are increasingly looking for brands that align with their own identity and values. While in conversion marketing, there is a tendency to focus on offers, promotions, and sales to drive immediate results, brand-building is all about beginning a relationship that will eventually pay off in a much more significant way than a single successful conversion.
For similar reasons, awareness campaigns can target a much wider audience. While marketing that is based on a specific promotion or product may narrow its focus to specific segments within the brand’s target audience to maximize conversions, awareness campaigns are trying to introduce a brand to as many people in its target audience as possible. Knowing that audience is still incredibly important to ensure that your marketing is being seen by the right people, but the focus goes far beyond an individual sale.
Building Brand Equity to Retain Customers
As the world continues to change, awareness campaigns are vital not only to introduce a brand to new customers but to retain existing customers as well. With shopping increasingly becoming a predominantly online activity, customers have discovered that the number of choices and the access they have to them are far beyond that which they may have experienced shopping in physical stores. Consumers are practically bombarded with options, making it increasingly difficult for any individual brand to stand out and remain top of mind. This is where it becomes essential to establish brand equity.
In terms of marketing, brand equity is the worth of the brand itself. Rather than the products or services, it is the social value placed on the name of the brand. Consider Apple, and how much of their marketing is focused on establishing their social position and identity rather than on an individual devices being sold. Nielsen data already shows that marketing accounts for 10 to 35% of their brand equity.
In the past, a certain amount of brand equity was established through visibility in physical stores. Seeing products and logos on shelves granted that type of visibility, but as people shift away from shopping in stores, an increasing amount of visibility must now be attained through digital awareness marketing.
When a strong brand equity is established, it makes the customer that much more likely to choose one brand over another when it comes to the conversion stage. After that initial conversion, it also leads to loyalty, in customers both returning to make additional purchases and recommending the brand to others. In this pivotal moment, while many brands have suffered from supply chain disruptions and may have found themselves missing out on short-term sales to other options, it has become increasingly clear that upper funnel marketing efforts are the key to regaining brand equity and winning customers back, making a brand the preferred choice over the long term.
The Cyclical Consumer Marketing Journey
When we think about how these marketing efforts fit into the consumer marketing journey, we may be tempted to think about a very neat, linear path that follows from awareness to engagement, and into purchase, retention, and loyalty. While this may have been reasonably accurate at some point, it’s certainly not what the journey looks like now. An actual customer journey has become a complex web of many touch points that can happen simultaneously. A user may pick up their phone in the morning to check their email, social media, news, and bank accounts. In this brief span of activity, they’ve likely seen ads from a vast number of brands, all vying for their attention in the same space.
The true journey from a customer noticing a brand amid all this noise to purchase and beyond is more cyclical than linear. When a consumer first takes note of a brand, they enter the awareness stage of this cycle. The more frequently they see a brand at this stage, the more brand equity and recognition that brand is establishing with that particular user. It may take multiple points of exposure at this awareness stage before a customer looks more deeply into your brand, perhaps visiting the site to explore the brand in more detail, moving them into the mid-funnel.
They may sign up for emails, look at products, and begin the consideration process. They may research, compare brands to competitors, and evaluate brand personas against their own values to find their best fit. This process can be drawn out over a considerable amount of time before they’re ready to purchase, and in this stage, both awareness and conversion marketing could be relevant to that user to both keep the brand in mind and to encourage the user to move further down the funnel.
After the Purchase
Once a purchase has been made for a consumer who has gone through this process, it would be a mistake to consider that journey completed. Many brands leave opportunity on the table here, but they can continue engagement beyond purchase, through direct action such as asking for an evaluation of the customer experience, continuing communication, and investing in ongoing awareness marketing to maintain an ongoing relationship with that customer to encourage them into a loop of loyalty. That kind of a meaningful ongoing connection is what leads to consumer brand advocates, giving that customer a higher lifetime value over their continued engagement with the brand.
Remember Your Audience
When approaching brand-building and awareness marketing, it’s important to consider who your audience is before anything else. Identifying this audience is essential to establish a communication structure, your strategic approach to how you want to speak to them. When considering who your audience will be, it’s important to be honest and authentic about your brand, its identity, and its values in order to correctly identify those who are likely to develop an affinity for it and become loyalists.
The more detailed and accurate you can be about this audience, the better. Thinking about the audience first, who they are and what a typical day in their life may look like, enables you to consider where and when they may engage with your brand. In turn, that will help to inform which platforms and placements are most likely to reach them.
Of course, just reaching them isn’t the only metric of importance. In awareness marketing, one of the primary metrics we do have to measure success is ad recall. Just because someone in the right audience has seen your brand doesn’t necessarily mean they were receptive to it in that context or at that time.
It’s important to consider not only what placements are likely to be seen but which specific platforms and tactics are considered sticky for that audience. For example, placement on CTV may have a higher recall for an individual placement, while social may be more effective overall. An individual placement may not have as high a recall, but a user could be targeted many times over for the cost of a single CTV placement and that frequency could contribute to a much higher recall rate.
Multiple platforms can also work together most effectively – a user who saw awareness ads on social and eventually clicked through to the brand’s website could be retargeted with CTV so that your higher spend is going toward a user who’s a bit closer to moving further down the funnel.
Performance Marketing Strategies for Upper Funnel Campaigns
All that means that it’s quite possible to use some performance marketing strategies in an upper funnel campaign. Soft conversions can be measured, along with reach, recall, viewability, and video completion for those placements. Particularly on platforms like YouTube, where one can skip the ad after a certain point, it’s valuable to see whether your audience is doing that or sticking around to hear what you have to say.
When considering the success of an awareness campaign, it’s also important that you keep in mind that the journey can be of incredibly varying lengths based on the brand and vertical. Someone booking a trip, for example, may have first seen an ad for the property they’re booking with many months in advance. An awareness campaign can build interest, lead to a lengthy research stage, and eventually, a conversion campaign based on special rates might be what finally prompts the user to take action. That could take a year to complete, whereas someone shopping for a new skincare product would probably make their choice within a few days. That translates to keeping patience, knowing when to target with mid or lower funnel marketing campaigns, and keeping the brand top of mind throughout the entire consideration process.
Balance is Key
Ultimately, the takeaway here is balance. Awareness and conversion marketing are both of high importance to any brand, and what’s important is that they’re both being utilized correctly and in conjunction with one another to create a consistent and authentic journey for your customer at every stage. Brands that invest in upper-funnel marketing consistently see that lift, over time, on the results of their conversion campaigns, so we know that a holistic approach to the entire funnel is what’s key to lasting impact. Establishing your brand identity and a customer relationship, building and maintaining brand equity, staying top of mind, and ensuring that your brand is present and engaged for a consumer all help to ensure that they remain within the cyclical journey.
Interested in learning more? If you’d like to explore the possibilities of full-funnel marketing, contact us. Our campaign strategists are happy to answer your questions and help get you started on building your brand with meaningful customer relationships.