Planner Playbook: How to move shoppers stuck in the funnel

New research reveals strategies on when and how ads can be placed to drive consumers closer to purchase.

There is new research that confirms what the industry has known all along: delivering the right ad, to the right person, on the right channel, at the right time will increase the chances of a purchase being made – by 15% to be exact, according to Initiative, MAGNA and the IPG Media Lab, the agencies behind a new Mediabrands study.

But more interesting is that the group of agencies found that optimized creative also increases the rate at which people move through the funnel.

“In the planning stages of campaign development we often think about telling our stories in fixed formats – :30s, :60s, :15s and :6s,” says Nish Shah, VP Strategy at Initiative. “What’s interesting about this research is that we can think instead about the right story that we need to tell and then sequencing it in the right way to drive effectiveness. The research shows that more than five exposures help to accelerate people along the journey. Now we can use a combination of formats to deliver both message and improve performance.”

The agencies conducted a test with two brands, a coffeemaker and a vacuum cleaner, in three groups. The control group was sent optimized ads (based on where they were in the purchase journey) for non-competitive brands, while ads for the non-optimized group were delivered randomly, regardless of where the consumer was in the purchase journey.

Research participants were recruited if they sat within each brand’s audience demographic and if they were open to buying a product in that category in the next six months. They were randomized into three groups and then asked to visit a YouTube testing platform over two-plus weeks to watch pre-roll ads prior to watching content that fit with their interests.

Optimized awareness-focused ads were served first, when the consumer wasn’t open to buying. Then, perception-focused ads were served in the middle of the journey when they intended to buy products (although not just from the advertised brand). Finally, purchase-focused ads were served during the last stage, when the consumer planned to buy soon and they were considering the advertised brand.

Different creative executions were served each time even when the shopper was stalled in the road to purchase. Switching to “feel good” ads as opposed to product-focused proved to be a successful tactic for consumers stuck in the middle of the purchase journey.

“Another interesting part of the research is that it reveals the role and impact that branded content can have for consumers who are stuck in the purchase funnel,” says Shah. “We see a 12% increase in conversion when consumers who were stuck in the middle are delivered a branded content spot. This is exciting because we finally have research that provides a clear role of how branded content can help when thinking about full-funnel marketing strategies. Planners can use this research to make a case for when and how content should be used, moving it further upstream in the planning conversations with brands.”

After three ad exposures, the optimized group showed movement towards purchase. After five optimized ads, 15% of participants were closest to purchase. When the same ads were delivered at random without optimization, there was no progress on the path-to-purchase. In addition, when ads were optimized, consumers felt they offered more information while decreasing ad annoyance.

Finally, the research also found that searching for the category or advertised brand is a strong indicator that a person will skip steps after ad exposure, revealing that search may be used as a key targeting and re-targeting component. And according to the agencies, people at the end of the purchase journey are 33% more likely to use very specific search terms.