Don’t Underestimate Top-of-Funnel Digital Marketing Strategies

Marketing Funnel

Top-of-funnel marketing focuses on building awareness and generating demand. At this stage, consumers are still identifying their challenges and pain points. They’re formulating the questions that need to be answered. Most importantly, they’re identifying the brands they can trust most.

Marketers understand the importance of brand awareness, yet it often gets de-prioritized favoring direct response or more last-touch measurable tactics. When incorporating brand awareness strategies into your next campaign, remember the value proposition that comes with top-of-funnel marketing and focus on the appropriate KPIs that align with the goals of a brand awareness campaign.

Managing Expectations as You Develop Funnel Marketing Strategies

When you work in marketing, one of the hardest things to manage are expectations around a campaign’s success.

It’s understandable. Company leadership needs to feel that the dollars they’re investing in marketing are paying dividends.

Unfortunately, too many companies have been fed too many promises by marketers in the past. They’ve mistaken tactics for strategies. They’re convinced that a specific tactic will be a magic bullet, and they zero in on a single Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that will prove whether a campaign is a success or a failure.

The result is less understanding about which metrics best fit which marketing goal, and a lot of frustration when an analytics report doesn’t translate into more quality leads. That’s why understanding the specific goals for each stage of the funnel and communicating them early on is vital. Here’s how.

Establishing Goals, Identifying KPIs and Developing Messaging for Every Stage of the Marketing Funnel

As you develop a marketing funnel strategy, remember that just setting goals isn’t enough. You also need to establish which goals correspond with each stage of the customer journey.

Let’s say a brand has four overarching goals:

  • Boost brand awareness
  • Improve website engagement
  • Generate qualified leads
  • Increase customer loyalty

The KPIs that track progress toward achieving these goals will differ at each stage of the funnel. The metrics we use to gauge brand awareness in top-of-funnel marketing, for instance, are not the same metrics we use to evaluate conversions lower down in the funnel. Similarly, digital marketing tactics and messaging should vary from stage to stage.

Most marketers know that brands shouldn’t measure top-of-funnel strategies with bottom-of-funnel KPIs, but without properly setting expectations and developing clearly-defined strategies for each stage of the marketing funnel, that’s just what they may end up doing.

Understanding the Value of Top-of-Funnel Marketing Strategies

Many of Lean Media’s clients have long sales cycles. It takes time to build brand awareness and generate demand. With a long sales cycle, strategically building new audiences through top-of-funnel marketing strategies is vital to long-term success.

Once marketers consider the amount of time it takes to move potential customers from the awareness phase and research phase to the consideration phase (never mind conversion), the importance of top-of-funnel strategies becomes clear.

There’s value in having broader reach at the beginning of the customer journey—maximizing unique audience reach. There’s also value in fine-tuning content marketing and developing ads that address different pain points so that potential customers see a variety of messages as they travel through the funnel. That way new customers get a broader understanding of what a company is about without experiencing ad fatigue.

What does that mean for a company’s digital marketing campaign? It means that in the early stages of the customer journey, unique reach, frequency and ad placement quality will matter more than counting clicks.

Identify the Digital Marketing KPIs that Really Matter

Before we discuss which KPIs are most important when it comes to top-of-funnel strategies, let’s define a few terms.

You already know what KPIs are, but KPIs can also be broken down into output and outcome metrics and into leading and lagging indicators of success.

Output metrics measure specific marketing activities—for example, the content we write, the ads we produce, and all the other aspects of branding and marketing we control. These metrics show what tactics are being used to reach customers.

Outcome metrics measure the impact of marketing materials. These metrics might include social media impressions or the number of ad views over a particular period. They represent the kind of results a company’s marketing efforts are really getting. They also help marketers decide whether output needs to increase or a particular campaign needs to be adjusted.

Leading indicators are metrics that will lead to better results in the future; they’re used as a predictive measure of performance. For example, the number of landing page sessions attributed to a particular ad could be considered a leading indicator. If click-throughs increase, marketers can reasonably expect to see an increase in newsletter signups, article downloads or lead generation.

Lagging indicators are the actual results used to measure past performance—for example, the number of conversions that result from a targeted ad campaign. These metrics help businesses understand the later-stage results of their marketing efforts.

While leading indicators may provide valuable insights throughout the sales cycle, lagging indicators will tell the whole story of a marketing campaign effort.

We encourage our clients to work backwards: identify the lagging indicators that align with their goals, and then consider what to do (output metrics) and the best numbers to watch (outcome metrics, leading indicators) as they measure progress.

Again, measuring the right KPIs depends on understanding the goals your company is trying to achieve. When it comes to top-of-funnel strategies, it makes no sense to focus on the number of conversions. But it makes a lot of sense to measure reach.

Identify Metrics that Measure Top-of-Funnel Strategies

For our clients who are primarily concerned with brand awareness, we recommend optimizing for reach and frequency first. While it may seem obvious, these top-of-funnel metrics are sometimes overlooked. Metrics like click-through rates, new page visits and other soft conversion-level numbers that correlate to other goals can be measured further down the funnel.

  • Reach and Frequency

    Reach refers to the number of unique devices, people or households that have been exposed to a campaign. By analyzing reach and frequency data, marketers gain an understanding of how many people have been presented with an ad and how frequently they may have seen it over a period of time.

    For a company focused on the awareness stage and reaching new audiences, this information is vital. It tells you whether you are delivering a desired frequency and maximizing reach relative to your budget. It also helps ad buyers know when they need to adjust frequency to reach more unique viewers across more devices.

  • Impression Delivery, Viewability and Clicks

    Many marketers put a high priority on clicks and click through rate. However, clicks as a KPI at the top-of-funnel can misinform optimizations and result in campaign adjustments that are counterproductive. Overvaluing clicks at this stage devalues quality impressions to meaningful audiences. Combined with reach KPIs, impression characteristics like viewability and ad environment ensure audience reach is optimized with quality and control.

  • New Site Visitors and Returning Users

    It’s also valuable to keep an eye on site traffic, and whether visitors are new users or returning users. A high percentage of new users may indicate that an ad campaign is successfully boosting awareness. A high percentage of returning visitors, on the other hand, may help marketers judge the quality of page content or get an idea of how many customers are moving from the awareness stage to the consideration stage.

    An increase in website visits also increases the scale of website retargeting audiences. Measuring the size of your various site retargeting audiences can be used as an awareness KPI and provide insights to your upper funnel prospecting audiences as well.

  • Branded search and organic traffic

    Tracking website visits referred by branded keywords on search engines can help marketers better understand how well an awareness ad campaign is performing. A lift in branded search terms over time can indicate an increase in the number of unique people reached.


Additional Tips for Top-of-Funnel Marketing

We can’t stress enough the importance of developing both an upper-funnel strategy and a middle- to lower-funnel strategy. Once you recognize different stages of the sales funnel, get to know your audience and tell them a compelling story—one that will reach and appeal to them at different points in their buyer’s journey. Identify the KPIs that matter to each stage of the marketing funnel and understand how to optimize toward the right performance metrics. To recap:

  • Consider the full funnel and Identify campaign KPIs that fit top-of-the-funnel goals. Setting proper expectations will go a long way.
  • Create a variety of ad messaging that support the various stages of the marketing funnel and the customer journey.
  • Investing in upper funnel campaigns can strengthen bottom funnel campaign performance.
  • Don’t mistake tactics for strategy. A holistic marketing strategy that gives customers several touchpoints will be more effective over time than a single campaign effort.

Let Us Help You Find Your Target Audience, Drive Awareness and Feed Your Sales Funnel

So, stop fighting over a limited supply of leads. By including top-of-funnel marketing tactics in an overall strategy—and emphasizing the value of these tactics—marketers can tell a proper story of success. We can help you leverage big-picture thinking and make your marketing efforts count. Give us a call when you’re ready to learn more.



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