Digital Marketing, Social Advertising

Don’t Buy Your Programmatic Audience, Build It

Don’t Buy Your Programmatic Audience, Build It

The funnel is dead.

Don’t be sad, it had a good, long life and now it will retire to a nice farm where it will live with the CueCat, the three-martini lunch, and other advertising ideas that are past their prime.

But, chances are, if you were a direct-response marketer, you probably shut your office door and shed a tear for the funnel. Because the funnel was like the mullet of marketing: you knew exactly what you were getting. Brand awareness up top, conversions at the bottom – a nice, easy to understand chart that was simple to explain to the CEO. We started with this many prospects and we ended with this many sales. The funnel was awesome that way.

In its place, the good folks at both McKinsey & Company, Forrester Research, and Scott Brinker at ChiefMarkeTec have proposed maps of the customer journey that reflect the actual complexity of buying behavior. No longer a simple funnel, we now have a complex ecosystem of online research, social proof, and point-of-decision content consumption that consumers can move in and out of at will.

First Generation Pipe Clogging

Now, as good funnel marketers, we knew what to do with leakage – just pour more into the top of the funnel. The more eyeballs that go in, the more likely you’ll have enough to see you through to your marketing goals.

But, in reality, the customer journey is more like a complex plumbing system with elbows bumping every which way. Simply shoving more folks into the pipeworks won’t work. What you need is some marketing Drano to make sure you are targeting exactly the right people with the right message at every moment of truth – moving them along to the next point in the journey.

First-generation programmatic marketing is built on a funnel mentality: Buy a pre-packaged audience segment, target them with advertising, and then use all the post-impression data available to narrow that segment down to quality conversions. The only problem is, once you get to that conversion, you have no idea what happened pre-impression that put them in the audience segment in the first place.

You meet your customers at the end of their journey, but you really have no idea how they got there.

Cleaning the Pipes with Precision

Precision programmatic marketing uses unstructured data to build custom audiences and optimize them on the fly. Using unstructured data allows marketers to target, optimize, and report using element-level data–important details like search history, site visits, recency, context and location, that provide clues to the customer’s progression toward purchase.

Unstructured data enables the use of pre-impression as well as post-impression data, so now you can build audiences that go on the journey versus forcing them down a funnel that doesn’t exist anymore. You can flush out prospects that are no longer interested, or use what you do know to find accurate look-a-likes to push through the pipes.

Transparency Reveals Results

As a programmatic marketer, you deserve to know the following about your campaigns:

  • You should know exactly who you are targeting. You should have an understanding of the behaviors, search keywords, contextual content, or sites they visited that made them a highly-qualified lead.
  • You should know precisely what it costs. This means two things: you should be able to calculate the relative value of a potential ad target to your business based on pre-impression data and you should know exactly what your DSP’s data and media costs were. When you have this level of control, you can wring out every bit of inefficient spend from your budget.
  • You should know your results are real. Click fraud is a beat down, but bots and malware are a reality. You should ask your DSP what proactive measures they have in place to combat bots and malware and safeguard your media investment. You should also demand complete transparency when it comes to where your ads get served – the domain, the context, page position, and viewability.
  • You should know why it works. Campaign performance is table stakes. Using unstructured data, you can combine your first party CRM and social data with your DSPs data to create a whole new level of insight into your campaign and your customers.

With the funnel, you have the conversion, but you always ended up with less than you started with. By using unstructured data in your programmatic marketing campaigns, you get the conversion, but you also get much more: You get deep insights into the route your best customers took to get to the end of the road. These insights can create shortcuts to conversion in the long and winding road that is the reality of today’s consumer journey.

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  1. Rodger says

    Oh, another one of these posts. Again? I appreciate your insight, but nothing has died. THe funnel is an easy-to-understand illustration of traffic flow. To your point about “audiences,” I think once marketers adopt the idea a “publics” — as PR professional segment people — inbound marketing will see more success.

      • Amber Benson says

        Bobby, I think it’s more like pattern recognition. Now we have the tools to build more sophisticated models that mimic our best customers’ buying journeys.

    • Amber Benson says

      Rodger, I think the funnel metaphor can work well on a tactical campaign level, however, I do believe we have evolved beyond it for describing and measuring the impact of an integrated marketing program. I personally don’t want a board of directors or CEO measuring my programs on reach or one-touch conversion metrics. I much prefer to be measured on a lead-to-revenue management measure such as lead quality or velocity to SQL. I think the funnel metaphor leads to the “bigger is better” concept of marketing spend, which has been proven, particularly in extremely targeted markets like B2B or considered purchases, to be inefficient use of funds. Unstructured data allows you to build hyper-targeted audiences or accurate look-alike models that can basically make the “funnel” look like a nice little cylinder. Thanks for commenting!

  2. says

    Completely agree that the funnel is off. It’s linear thinking from point A to point B, yet behaviors rarely follow a straight line. We are curious creatures, easily side tracked and need a different nudge at different points in the cycle. I like to say circle not funnel, although a twisted web of infinitely unique plumbing is pretty creative.

  3. says

    That’s why everybody has been so generous with their donations. This is the first time I’ve done any fund raising like this but it won’t be the last. I might look to do a sky dive next year or even grow my beard.”

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