How Advertiser Sales Data Will Turn The Sales Funnel Into An Hourglass

John Piccone

Originally posted on MediaPost

We all know and love the sales funnel. What a simple metaphor to describe a customer journey: start at the top with awareness and finish at the bottom with sales.

Each customer journey through the funnel yields important information about brand interaction, and each media platform throws off distinct information that supports its role in the eventual sale.

For decades, TV has lived at the top of the funnel. With nearly ubiquitous U.S. penetration and a 50-inch screen to generate awareness for brand messaging, its predictable and proven programming and advertising formats made it arguably the easiest medium to purchase.

For as many decades, Americans have been sampled by third-party companies to get an understanding of their demographics and certain declared behaviors. This information was tied to the programming they viewed and, with it, audience targeting became a standard practice.


As digital advertising in all its forms has grown, so has the need to capture as much data about consumers as possible, leading to a meteoric rise in the use of data management platforms and customer relationship management systems.

One thing hasn’t changed in all these years of technology and advertising platform growth: Only advertisers get to see the aggregated sales numbers at the bottom of the funnel and, with it, information that informs their understanding of who is buying their products and how often.

Historically, this information has been used for below-the-line advertising tactics such as direct mail but not until now has it been used for television advertising. We are entering the stage where anonymous data-matching techniques are improving enough that an individuals television-viewing behavior can be directly matched to his or her purchase information.

This development will have a dramatic impact on how television advertising is bought and sold. In essence, advertisers will be able to look up from the bottom of the funnel, through the sales data, and see who was exposed to their message and the respective purchases they made versus those who were unexposed to their message and the purchases they made.

With anonymous direct-matching capabilities, advertisers will be able to understand the relationship of awareness and attribution (top and bottom of the funnel metrics) that only TV can deliver. Additionally, with more and more advertisers using data management platforms, advertisers will be able to append additional behavioral information about their customers. This will further inform their planning and buying activities and influence their creative messaging strategies.

So if television now has the ability to show which viewers are prospects and which are existing customers, and advertisers can plan their communication strategies accordingly, I would argue that it is time to retire the sales funnel as the sole metaphor for a marketers audience engagement tactics and replace it with the hourglass. Why? Because an hourglass is an actionable funnel, and with today’s dynamic marketplace being driven by actionable data, an advertiser’s relationship with a customer does not end when a consumer makes a purchase. It begins.

As consumers flow back and forth within the two funnels of the hourglass, black-and-white media metrics such as gross rating points and cost-per-thousand impressions will be colored by the reaction of the audiences as measured by their purchasing behaviors also known as return on ad spend.

The clarity to define which target audience is responding will help advertisers answer the crucial question confronting TV today: How do I know my TV advertising is working?

Hourglass marketing and television’s newfound ability to measure awareness and attribution will answer this question with the ultimate winner being the audience.

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