It’s Time To Show The Middle Of The Funnel A Little Love
Throughout my career, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the marketing utility of different advertising technologies. This inevitably leads to conversations about buying funnels – including whether or not the funnel is real – and how new technology can (ideally) be leveraged to drive immediate action.
In the same way they group consumers, marketers tend to group technologies by where they make the most impact in the funnel. If a specific platform can’t be leveraged to deliver instant action (and instant ROI) it often gets categorized as a dreaded awareness-driver. By solely investing in technologies that perform to these polar concepts, very little consideration remains for platforms that positively influence the decision-making process — those that serve the mid-funnel.
I realize a number of you might be shouting at your computer screens, “The funnel doesn’t exist! There is no middle!” If your point is that the path to purchase isn’t linear, you’ll get no push back from me. But regardless of whether marketers are trying to lead consumers down a funnel or further along the circuitous path of their buying journey, the area most often neglected is the same. It’s in the middle — the gap between awareness and action — where most consumers spend their time. It’s about time we show the middle of the funnel a little love.
Let’s start by addressing a known reality: most brand advertising is not very good. Standard IAB units are limited in what they can communicate and are easy to avoid. Furthermore, while the technology to target specific audiences has evolved, the ability to engage those users with robust, relevant, and effective messaging has ironically devolved with the increased reliance on scripted, context-agnostic ad units. This trend is likely to continue, as consumers take greater control of their online environments, casting a challenging pall on the efficacy of awareness advertising.
But savvier consumers aren’t necessarily a bad thing for marketers, they simply shine a spotlight on the need for more sophisticated platforms — platforms that meet them in all the right moments of their research, evaluation, and consideration journey towards action.
I believe, and have seen across many brands and buying cycles, that the middle-of-the-funnel is a real place with real engagement. It bears repeating: consumers spend the majority of every decision-making process in the space between awareness and action. So why wouldn’t marketers make sure their messages address this space? More importantly, why limit themselves to technologies that neglect the middle-of-the-funnel and can’t deliver performance on mid-funnel KPIs?
I have some ideas.
Mid-funnel Performance is Difficult to Quantify. There’s certainly a need for more evolved attribution models, but lest we forget: The click is not dead. And neither are other key, easily-trackable metrics for mid-funnel performance that are more closely linked than ever to ROI: content engagement, page views, downloads, video views, shares, even time on site. These experiences are the meat and potatoes of decision-making.
Search is a Slam Dunk. You won’t get any arguments against the power of search here, especially branded search and product listings. But focusing on the bottom of the funnel is problematic in its limits — the number of people searching for anything is finite. Also branded Search, while being the top performer, has devalued everything that came before it in the consumer mindset. In order to access new audiences and grow businesses, marketers must explore upward into the mid-funnel.
Creative Flexibility is Challenging. Online advertising placements have trouble addressing middle-of-the-funnel mindsets. Advertisers must be as agile as their consumers and seek out dynamic, flexible creative units that drive performance against social, video, and content engagement KPIs across devices.
Born and raised in the Midwest, the idea that the middle doesn’t matter is a long-running joke with my East and West coast friends. So, in a way, it’s always been in me to fight for the middle. In the world of online advertising, I contest that mid-funnel performance is the biggest opportunity today for marketers to reconnect with and excite consumers. Are you working with the right partners? Hold your vendors accountable to this list to find out.
Working out of our Chicago office, Jon Tauber is Yieldbot’s Midwest VP of Sales. He works with Yieldbot sales representatives and account management teams to develop new business, manage existing Yieldbot agency and advertiser relationships, and help global brands leverage intent targeting technology to increase ad performance.