Marketing's Last Mile Is a Marathon

Tim Munroe

Our ancestors drew pictures on cave walls and created myths to explain the mysteries of what they could see but could not explain. Until recently marketers did much of the same when it came to showing their contribution to a brand’s revenue.

Today, we rely on data and analytics to explain the mystery of how marketing converts to revenue—“the path-to-purchase.” Marketers now have data and real-time analytics to show how marketing gets really close to converting a sale. A marketer can now easily measure and show the value of content, as well as customers’ engagement with a brand.

But there’s still a persistent “gap” in the path-to-purchase that troubles most marketers. Word of mouth and relationship-to-relationship marketing is the last mile on the path-to-purchase. How can marketers bridge this gap and demonstrate that their efforts impact revenue?

Brand Content: Yes, marketers are generating lots of unique, sharable branded content across earned, owned, shared and paid channels in an effort to create awareness. However, generating content alone, even if it is spectacular, does not guarantee a brand being “found” by a potential customer; it only enhances the chances. And content’s long term viability (“shelf-life”) and transmittal (distribution) still remains a challenge for most resource-constrained marketers.

Engagement: Social media has allowed marketers to engage their audience like never before. However, social media does not take a vacation, and everyone knows social media can go sideways quickly if not managed properly and meaningfully. Marketers have found that engagement through social media may open the door to conversion, but keeping that door open can be challenging and taxing on a marketer’s time, creativity and resources. Community management, for instance, is a great way to engage your audience, but it needs to be sustained over time, and the engagement itself needs to be substantive (a full-time job in and of itself).

Analytics: Big data allows the marketer to “see” and understand how a customer engages with a brand. Analytics can show a marketer where the opportunity lies and provides focus. Yet it is still difficult for a marketer to connect engagement to purchase in an entirely fool-proof way. The science of marketing analytics still can’t explain what makes a buyer buy, or the impact of word-of-mouth on the buying decision.

All of these things only get marketers part-way there.

When a marketer’s brand is increasingly reliant on third-party reviews, brand ambassadors and communities, it gets a lot more difficult to complete the path to purchase. There’s an inherent difficulty in gauging, for instance, the impact of word-of-mouth on a person’s buying decision. How does a marketer demonstrate that a customer was motivated to buy, when the act of purchase was triggered by the recommendation of a friend, family member, colleague, celebrity, influencer or some other kind of relationship?

Influencing those communications is trickier for marketers and something that public relations professionals have grappled with for years. And as millennials assume and yield more buying power, this will continue to challenge brand marketers. Studies show that millennials are, in fact, more adverse to most brand marketing, and are indeed more influenced by their personal networks and experiences.

A marketer’s main mission has always been to put more information into the hands of potential customers and create awareness for their brand. The assumption has always been that awareness equals customers, and awareness alone would be enough to drive the customer to buy, recommend or evaluate. But this model has shifted and now marketers need to deliver on a continuous 1:1 relationship across every channel that a potential customer may prefer or risk losing that buyer. How does a marketer negotiate this “last mile” in the path to purchase? How does a brand show they have reached the customer through word of mouth and relationships?

I’d ask a PR person.


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