What the Traditional Marketing Funnel Doesn’t Tell You!

As a mother of two, Mother’s Day is a special holiday for me, but for retailers it’s big business. As the year’s third-largest holiday, we’re forecast to spend a record $21.2 billion in the U.S. on gifts. And like me, you’ve probably seen an escalating number of email offers, banner ads, and in-store promotions touting “gifts for mother” in recent weeks.

All this promotional activity puts a focus on one of marketing’s biggest challenges. Retailers must take advantage of sales spikes triggered by holidays. But how do you make good decisions about campaigns and promotions − leveraging a combination of channels and platforms − to drive the most revenue across the omnichannel customer journey? Will it be your new mobile app in combination with a Facebook campaign, or the email campaign encouraging last-minute flower purchases, that elevates sales?

Finding answers comes down to the science of attribution, which is getting a good deal more complex as consumers interact with brands across an increasing array of traditional and digital channels. Attributing credit to what leads to the customer to purchase − among a myriad of interactions and influences − is critical to making decisions about the marketing mix. But it’s not as simple as it used to be.

Attribution, of course, does mean different things to different marketing teams, so let’s clarify the term. The science of attribution enables marketers to truly understand the combined value of marketing efforts − across data silos, at every digital touch point, and throughout the customer lifecycle − to drive smarter marketing programs to yield higher ROI. Best practice attribution should enable marketers to track consumers across all engagement channels and platforms. The end game: Optimize the marketing mix to deliver the right content, at the right time, on the right platform, to the right audience to achieve desired conversion rates. No more, no less.

Given this definition, let’s start by looking at the science of attribution in the context of the marketing funnel used broadly as a model to plan the marketing mix and allocate budgets.

traditional-conversion-funnel

The traditional marketing funnel positions awareness at the top, spotlighting the types of marketing activities intended to call attention to the brand, while the lower end of the funnel relates to customer conversion, or the purchase. Theoretically, the customer traverses this linear line from awareness to buying. In actual fact, of course, the customer journey is no longer linear. Your average gift buyer for Mother’s Day may begin by clicking a banner ad or researching gift ideas online, then check social media reviews as he or she begins to narrow down what they might buy. Our consumer may “showroom” an item by visiting a retail store to view, use a smartphone to price compare, and go to a nearby coffee shop to buy the gift on a tablet. Or he or she may follow the reverse direction, researching online, but eventually driving to a store to make the purchase.

From the marketer’s view, the customer journey is made even more complex because of the number of vendors that help you follow the breadcrumbs that consumers leave behind in the form of data. Your search agency, for example, has one view of your data while your display agency has another. It can be difficult to get a true picture of the customer journey when different agencies and partners are buying media for you. No wonder marketers are tempted to go with the “first-click” or “last-click” to attribute a sale to a particular marketing action. But this narrow view distorts an understanding of what’s actually on and can lead to any one of the following problems:

  • Paying duplicate vendor credit
  • Incorrectly assigning credit
  • Not knowing which channels or marketing strategies to invest in
  • Not understanding the combinations of influences leading to a sale

And, that’s exactly why I believe it is time to revisit the traditional marketing funnel.

Splitting the Funnel

split-conversion-funnel

The split-funnel attribution model − linked to impression, click, and conversion data − gives marketers new and better visibility into how each channel contributes to conversions. This approach literally splits the funnel activity between “prospecting” and “retargeting” to deliver better insights into the effectiveness of each stage.

Let’s take display advertising as an example. Display starts many customer journeys, but what campaigns does the consumer interact with next? You know how well retargeting performs based on the last-click data, but how does it truly perform when you look beyond the last click? Display advertising value is often challenged as interactions occur higher up the booking funnel and rarely “win” last-click conversion credit. Split-funnel attribution offers a new way of identifying and reporting on the effectiveness of display advertising because it splits marketing activity into the prospecting activities that come before the first site visit and retargeting efforts that follow. It also provides the information required to trigger retargeting so that your brand can engage a consumer at the later stages in furthering the buying process. As an added benefit, this prevents duplication of payments to media by more accurately revealing the truth of vendor performance. You don’t end up paying media commissions more than once for a single conversion.

Better attribution is clearly is vital to the marketing team, and even more so in light of the latest announcement from Google, which last month began rolling out a new algorithm penalizing websites that haven’t been optimized for mobile viewing on smartphones. The announcement puts increased focus on our continuously changing omnichannel landscape where marketers must think not just about the variety of channels and platforms required to reach consumers, but optimizing the experiences across them. It is time to re-examine both our tools and methods for a more accurate picture of the customer journey.

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