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Why focusing on the entire marketing funnel is key for long-term brand growth

4 minute read | Imran Hirani, VP, Strategic Accounts, Nielsen | February 2022

Following the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020, brands of all sizes and across every industry reduced their marketing budgets, with many pausing or downsizing their brand awareness efforts to save capital. Brands then concentrated their bandwidth and remaining resources on engaging and maintaining existing customers rather than winning over new ones.

 Because they inspire immediate action from consumers, lower-funnel tactics like these are attractive when markets are uncertain, and marketers want to be able to continue reporting results to leadership. That said, forgoing upper-funnel priorities (like brand awareness) on account of a delayed return on investment isn’t sustainable for long-term brand growth.

 Marketers have learned to recalibrate their tactics to not only address our new realities but also pave the way for future success. Growth must be addressed through a balanced marketing strategy where upper-funnel brand-building efforts work in tandem with mid- and lower-funnel efforts.

Here is how brands can activate a balanced marketing strategy.

Consider the customer journey from start to finish

A consumer can’t engage with a brand if they’ve never heard of it, which is why marketers must target new prospects through brand awareness initiatives to create a pipeline for future sales. Once these prospects enter the pipeline, lower-funnel efforts have a larger pool of consumers to influence, thereby increasing the potential returns. In fact, a 1-point gain in brand metrics, like awareness, drives a 1% increase in sales, according to recent Nielsen research.

Brands arguing that their current focus is maintenance instead of growth must remember that even customers who have had a great experience with a brand and are loyal still need reminders to return. Even the most recognizable brands continue to execute upper-funnel tactics to stay top-of-mind for consumers. Given the prevalence of choice and access to a product or service, staying in consumers’ minds can be the difference-maker when a sale is on the line.

Target prospects with the right messages on the right channels

When consumers are getting to know a brand, presenting brand messaging that resonates is critical for capturing their attention and driving sales. For inspiration, marketers should consider any major trends or news events and articulate how their products or services align with them, thereby underscoring the brand’s relevancy. Once marketers learn more about their audiences, they can scope messaging to address the personal needs of those individuals and demonstrate to consumers that their business is valued. Similarly, individuals who recently learned of a brand may not respond to the same calls to action as those already loyal to the brand. Therefore, marketers need to mix the messaging they use to grow each audience along the customer journey.

Marketers must put similar thought into their choice of channels. In studying how a campaign by an insurance brand performed over nine different channels, Nielsen found that most of the channels that were effective in driving short-term sales came up short in raising brand awareness and consideration. This result was despite the portion of the budget put into it. Considering how consumers will receive a brands’ messaging is just as important as the content of that messaging. Failure to tailor messaging across platforms risks wasted spends on messaging that was otherwise well thought out.

Persuade business leaders of the importance of upper-funnel efforts

Business leaders will want to see results. However, marketers should educate the organization about the latent sales impact of brand building. Showing evidence of brand-building impact, done by measuring long-term sales and/or brand equity effects of upper-funnel marketing, will instill confidence among leadership that their patience for sales results will be rewarded.

While lower-funnel activity secures quick sales leaders like to see, it is largely ineffective at driving future sales. Therefore, overly prioritizing conversion-oriented marketing will soon cause sales and larger brand growth to atrophy. That is why lower-funnel activity alone cannot sustain a brand. Conversely, while upper-funnel marketing is less effective in showing immediate ROI, Nielsen research found that it still contributes to short-term sales in addition to fostering a pipeline of future ones. That is why upper-funnel activity should have greater prominence in the mix.

Still, sales is not the only metric to gauge marketing success. And given that lower- and upper-funnel activations work toward different goals, measuring the two through shared metrics risks depressing the aggregate impact of both. Upper-funnel messages can be assessed through metrics like awareness and consideration, while the efficacy of lower-funnel messages can be tracked via conversions. Conversions are more than sales, though: they can be a consumer signing up for email newsletters, downloading a whitepaper, listening to a webinar—the list goes on. By leveraging a measurement platform that captures action attribution, brands can see the long-term effects of brand building and awareness efforts to pinpoint areas of success and improvement.

The quick wins as a result of conversion-dominated marketing may feel rewarding at the moment, but it often does not lead to long-term brand growth. As brands continue to adjust to the ongoing pandemic and budgets recalibrate, marketing strategies should, too. Marketers should develop a plan that balances all parts of the funnel to stay on course and grow the business.

This article first appeared on Toolbox Marketing.

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