We are involved at almost all stages of online marketing plans. From really cool site development to video, display, re-targerting, rich media, search, lead gen, etc. Somewhere on our team at any given time, we are doing these. My background started in national brand advertising, and migrated to digital through the 1990s. So, it is not easy for me to say, stay mundane. Basic search covers much of what search marketers need, and indeed can afford.

I cringe when I hear clients tell us they want to expand their search program to cover higher-funnel keywords… for branding, to drive more searches at the lower funnel. I have mid and lower level search practitioners eager to take on this challenge, because it is fun, and more strategic in their minds. To be candid, I even like this idea. But, it is often not necessary and even a waste of marketing dollars. Sacrilegious, I know.

Here is the thing. Whether it is off-line advertising, WOM, brand awareness, or other marketing efforts, chances are there is more lower funnel potential than most search programs exploit. Unless you are at 100% impression share with branded and lower funnel keywords, and you have thoroughly optimized your CTR, and your landing page buy flow, then spending money on higher-funnel KW to generate more lower-funnel traffic through brand awareness is simply adding more volume to a channel you are currently under-leveraging anyway.

Marketing with no Brand awareness

There is the argument that if you do not leverage brand advertising, then your funnel will dry up and you won’t have the lower funnel activity volume you want. This may be true for high market share brands, where their demand ebbs and flows based on their brand marketing, but for many companies, their boats rise and fall with the tide.

As you look at any product group, you have two areas of development to consider: 1) Category Development (CD), and 2) Brand Development (BD)..

The Brand is what people experience and feel when they interact with you. For most brands, there is a history in the marketplace that influences the experience. But, to suggest that absent this history, you have no brand is to forgo a very powerful tool even as people are introduced to you for the first time, right before they buy.

In marketers speak, you have virtually no BD, Brand Development. Your share of the market is near zero. This is where you leverage the CD, Category Development. Your category has demand, and people are looking for options. In any given category, loyalty can only take a brand so far. There are decision points that impact the consumers, and if you understand your category and the consumers well enough, you can leverage these points to capture the moment.

But, you need to do so at the low end of the funnel. You can’t compete with the big brands for awareness; branding dollars are for future sales. If you are new to a market, chances are you can’t wait until some vague future point for your ROI. You need to leverage the lower funnel decision points, leverage the CD.

Nowhere is this more applicable than in search marketing. Take a look at keyword traffic in nearly every category and you can see that there are lower funnel terms that drive significant amounts of people. These are decision makers; they don’t yet know from which company they will buy. They may experience your brand for the first time, or they may have bought from you before. But, every purchase is a new game, a chance to win or re-win the customer.

In search, I have seen brands that do not fully leverage this lower funnel demand while they simultaneously try to divert funds to upper funnel keywords for branding purposes. They fail to leverage the traffic the category is already generating on the assumption that upper funnel KWs will improve lower funnel metrics.

This is an opportunity for lesser known companies. The lower funnel keywords are ripe with opportunity. If you know your category and the mindset of the undecided buyer, you can introduce your brand and gain the sale at the same time.