Google Marketing: The Google Media Lab team manages the media strategy for all Google advertising campaigns. Here they share their findings about effective marketing in the middle of the tunnel.
The brand marketing and effectiveness teams can traditionally be separated, focusing separately on the top and bottom tunnel of the consumer journey. This means that the middle of the tunnel is often overlooked; that’s when consumers explore and evaluate their buying options. At Google, we also overlooked this crucial part of the consumer journey. But now we’re changing.
Inspired by research into the “dirty middle” of the buying path, we did data analysis that showed we needed to double down on marketing in the middle of the tunnel to attract more customer demand. We found that we could attribute a 16-fold increase in sales to previously unused channels in the middle of the tunnel. And by focusing more marketing efforts on the middle part of the tunnel, we saw an additional increase in phone sales.
Here’s how we did it – and what it means for marketers and their teams.
Using multi-touch attribution to re-evaluate mid-tunnel marketing
The Google Media Lab team manages the media strategy for all of Google’s advertising campaigns, including the Google Store, our online retail platform for devices like the Google Pixel and Google Nest. While we use a variety of digital marketing channels to engage users, those in the middle of the tunnel, such as display and video, were often ignored in favor of those channels we generally considered more cost-effective.
The key to changing our approach was knowing which customer touchpoints really drive sales. Last-click attribution, now used in many marketing campaigns, tends to undervalue marketing channels in the middle of the tunnel. However, advertising channels don’t work in isolation. We knew it was important to improve attribution to better allocate budgets.
To understand the value of the middle channel, we worked closely with the Google Store marketing team to conduct our own data analysis, testing real digital ad campaigns across 14 markets. The analytics team built a custom attribution model using Ads Data Hub and then used search tactics to reach audiences that are in the smartphone market on channels like Display & Video 360, Google Display Ads and YouTube. The analysis showed that these tactics played a much larger role than we initially thought.
We measured the results with a multi-touch attribution analysis and a conversion lift study – and they were impressive. The multi-touch attribution analysis showed that these channels can actually drive 16 times more sales than the last-click attribution model. Moreover, during the 2020 campaign, we saw an increase in sales over what it would have been without using these tactics in the middle of the tunnel. We saw a 12.5 percent increase in phone sales from people who viewed our ads on mid-tunnel displays. And we saw a 31.5 percent increase in phone sales from users who viewed our YouTube ads mid-tunnel.
While the results may be different for other campaigns or brands – and worth checking for gains – attribution analysis and conversion lift studies showed us that midtunnel marketing can provide real business impact. It changed the way we think about marketing budgets, campaigns, teams and marketing messages.
Marketing messages in the middle of the tunnel
People want to buy smartphones all year long; consideration happens all the time. And consumers need more help than ever in exploring and evaluating options in the complex “confusing middle” of the buying journey.
Previously, our marketing focused on ongoing direct response advertising and bursts of campaign activity, focusing on the last leg of the buying journey. Incorporating the middle of the tunnel allowed us to be present where it mattered: reminding users about the brand and revealing key product benefits that were relevant to them. When we shifted our focus to an ongoing mid-tunnel presence strategy, we had to tailor our messaging accordingly.
We prioritized value messaging for consumers browsing the pages, creating urgent offers for people ready to buy. Here you can see an example of the display ads we used in our mid-tunnel marketing tests:
The first ad prompted consideration by introducing the new Pixel model to consumers who were researching smartphones. The second ad, which reached an audience ready to buy through remarketing, was accompanied by a special offer. These ads are tailored to the consumer’s buying stage, but they are still fairly generic. We are planning more creative testing in the future.
Ultimately, the research showed that we need to look at our marketing campaigns more holistically, rather than separating brand and effectiveness. After the first tests on the Google Store, we plan to use what we’ve learned in the middle of the tunnel in all of our marketing campaigns. And we’re doing research all over the world. We’ve already done similar tests in markets like the U.S., Japan and Australia, and we’ve had positive results, which suggests that our research can be expanded to other regions.
How to combine brand and performance in the middle of the tunnel
Consumers face a tremendous amount of choice and information as they navigate the complicated “messy middle” of the online shopping journey, where customers are won over and lost. By bridging the gap between brand and performance in the middle of the tunnel, you can be present and help consumers as they explore and evaluate their options. You can provide them with the information they need to make a buying decision.
A strategy of always being present in the middle of the tunnel also allows you to be more flexible to adapt to changing consumer behavior all the way to purchase – now and in the future.
Here’s where you should start to bring brand and efficiency together:
- Break down organizational silos. Understanding consumer behavior and translating it into media planning is where we’ve had success. Create integrated marketing teams where brand and effectiveness come together to drive business impact.
- Develop your attribution model. Think about how you can proactively move from last-touch attribution to multi-touch attribution to better understand the added value of each channel.
- Allocate your marketing budget in the middle of the tunnel. This will allow you to bridge the gap between big brand campaigns and ongoing advertising.