How marketing can grow business via the ‘missing middle’ – AdAge.com

All marketers know that brand marketing does its most important work over the long term. They understand how the cumulative impact of brand investment adds up over the years and how sustained investment translates into improved awareness, increased preference and competitive advantage.

They know that brand marketing is a long game, and therefore can’t be judged in the same terms as this week’s performance (short-game) marketing tactics. In fact, many believe that a brand’s creativity and effectiveness depend not on tethering it to short-term numbers, but on seeing the wider picture in its ability to grow markets and market share.

But to some this may seem like a lack of accountability, used as a shield for brand marketing creativity. In fact, the notion that the fruits of our labor are not immediately evident feels increasingly outdated.

Marketing’s measurement disparity

Marketers are under pressure. In a recent survey from Deloitte, 58.7% of CMOs report that their CEOs demand proof of the value of marketing.¹ As a result, brand advertising is the only category of marketing investment where growth is now declining following the pandemic.

In between the long (aka brand marketing) and the short (aka performance marketing) there’s a huge space, a big swath of the customer journey where marketing’s impact on the bottom line takes shape. And marketers have spent far too little time engaging with it. Let’s call it the “missing middle.”

Don’t miss the missing middle

The missing middle of the marketing funnel is a critical and often overlooked reality of how audiences experience advertising. It’s the way in which broader brand awareness translates into relevant mental availability. It’s also the way that intentions and emotional associations slowly form, often beneath the surface, before translating into action.

Your future customers don’t know that a performance ad or a search ad isn’t supposed to have any long-term impact on their impressions of the brand. They don’t know that a purely awareness-driving video ad, making no bold call-to-purchase reference, isn’t supposed to make them want to buy. They don’t know that a piece of thought leadership content or a case study isn’t supposed to generate a sales inquiry.

The fact is, different touchpoints play different roles simultaneously. All are creative opportunities, capable of establishing brand memories and brand associations. All contribute to eventual decisions to buy.

Take native advertising as an example. Native can span the long and the short, from building brand awareness to driving leads. In reality, it’s not either-or; it spans the missing middle since native programmatic advertising can provide a richer, more integrated advertising experience that is contextual to the consumer’s experience.

Our Microsoft Audience Network programmatic native offer has seen these ads deliver outcomes throughout the funnel. In our studies, users exposed to native ads demonstrated a threefold lift in awareness for a brand, a fourfold increase their likelihood to deliver to a brand’s website, and a five-times increase in likelihood to purchase.

We’ve also seen programmatic native on our network used to drive traditional performance outcomes, such as cost-per-click (CPC) or cost-per-acquisition (CPA). L.L. Bean, for example, was able to improve its return on ad spend (ROAS) by 52% while decreasing their CPC’s by 25%.

Take control of the middle of the funnel

Brands can’t rely on investing only in the top and/or the bottom, hoping that everything connects or acts in synchronicity. They need to plan for the middle of the funnel, to signpost and connect different experiences, whether brand-related, demand-related or purpose-related. And they need to carefully analyze how it all come together to generate action.

The digital transformation of marketing that has grown in momentum over the last couple of years provides us with more options than ever to map the missing middle:

• We’re able to use share of search as a real-time indicator of awareness and mental availability.

• We can analyze audience trends to understand the priorities of our consumers and the context in which the middle of the buyer journey takes place.

• We can capture and segment signals of intent, analyzing how they are influenced by previous engagement with brands, and how they go on to influence brand engagement in the future.

• We can benchmark the timeframes over which we can reasonably expect all of this to take place and start to answer enduring questions about how and when different types of marketing activity drive return on investment (ROI).

Even despite the obfuscation of digital identity, marketing pioneer John Wanamaker’s old adage: “Half of my advertising budget is wasted but I don’t know which half,” is starting to erode. As digital experiences accelerate, there’s greater visibility than ever into how marketing works. When done right, we can see how brand and demand interact in the missing middle. We can see what drives value and when and how it does so.

To start to bridge the “missing middle,” access our The Future of Native Programmatic webcast today.

¹ The CMO Survey: 28th Edition, “Managing Digital Marketing Returns, Privacy and Climate Impact,” commissioned by Deloitte, Duke FUQUA and the American Marketing Association, February 2022.

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