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Lately, I’ve seen more and more claims that the marketing funnel is dead — including from Googleitself. Of course, the consumer journey has drastically changed over time as user behavior has adapted to the internet. And nobody is going to deny that the exact journey to conversion varies from one person to another. But does that really mean that the funnel should be done away with? I don’t think so.

The beauty of the marketing funnel is that it can be modified to include new kinds of technology metrics and cater to different kinds of business models.

Anyone can make it their own, while still sticking to the framework of awareness > interest > desire > action. Sure, it’s linear where modern marketing has become a lot more circular, but it represents the stages of customer acquisition that are based on human behavior — behavior that hasn’t changed, for the obvious reason that people still need to be aware of a product or service in order to then build the desire to purchase it.

For those starting out in digital marketing especially, it’s always useful to refer back to the original purchase funnel when planning out campaigns. There’s no point in planning a strategy that looks great on paper but has nothing to do with actual user behavior.

Once you’re familiar with your brand and customers, you can tailor the funnel to your own needs. And honestly, it’s not just for beginners — we still use it all the time at Brainlabs (my company)!

A three-part strategy

So, what does a full-funnel strategy look like in programmatic display? Well, there are a lot of ways you can take advantage of Google’s many features to split out your campaign according to what part of the funnel you want to target.

But here’s the formula we’ve found to work really well: video for awareness, interactive display creatives and social channels for engagement, and product-focused creatives for acquisition. This is not just for a purely performance-based approach, but for encouraging account growth year-over-year with increases in traffic and conversions.

1. Drive brand awareness with video

Use YouTube as an upper-funnel tool to expand awareness of the brand beyond the standard top-performing audiences. The type of assets you use here will depend on the product or service being advertised, and will require some thorough testing to make sure they do a good job telling the brand’s story to new custom audiences.

A good approach could be to try user-generated content featuring people using the product or service, e.g. lifestyle-focused assets.

2. Drive onsite engagement

Use complementary display creatives to continue the story from YouTube. Although each stage of the funnel may perform better with different creatives and CTAs, make sure to serve a consistent message to new audiences cross-platform — I cannot stress the importance of consistent messaging and engaging creatives enough. Also, utilize custom audiences to expand your base of viewers.

3. Push engaged viewers to convert

Finally, use very focused creatives to drive site visitors to convert. In retail, for example, this means creatives with a central focus on product.

Employ a granular retargeting strategy to optimize the bidding and creative strategy used on these audiences. Make sure to sort out your attribution model to show the impact of upper-funnel activity on lower-funnel activity.

Great results at a lower cost

We used this strategy for a client in retail with some amazing results. They had great conversion activity but were limited in reach and wanted more growth, so we incorporated this full-funnel approach to expand brand awareness and audience size.

This entire setup was a year-long process: patience is key! Using a Brand Lift Survey we were able to show that groups shown the YouTube ads were 124% more likely to name the client as a brand they were aware of, versus three of their top competitors.

With the major increase in upper-funnel activity as well as the use of Custom Affinity and Custom Intent audiences to target people who matched the behavioral profile of engaged users, we were able to expand the number of people visiting the client’s site by 550%, also increasing our first party audience pools.

What worked really well for this client was using influencer-generated creatives in particular to drive engagement, and product-focused creatives to retarget audiences for boosting conversions.

Despite the fact that more spend was being allocated to upper-funnel channels, year-on-year cost per acquisition dropped by -23%. This was thanks to the initial push for brand awareness showing its impact as our display audiences journeyed down the funnel, making them more likely to convert and so decreasing the cost of attaining each conversion in the long run.

The bottom line

The steps I’ve laid out are just one example of how to incorporate a full-funnel strategy in display, but it’s a pretty good formula that might get you some remarkable results. Hopefully, this illustrates that dividing display activities according to their strengths along the purchase funnel makes perfect sense, and that the funnel model shouldn’t be thrown out just yet.

Whether you’re just starting out or planning your thousandth campaign, the funnel is your friend!