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Native programmatic advertising takes marketers to the heart of ‘the missing middle’

By Ian Darby | journalist

Microsoft Advertising

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June 27, 2022 | 6 min read

The conversation about brand versus demand marketing needs to change. Brands can’t rely on investing at the top and the bottom of the funnel and hope that everything connects. Here, we look at why marketers need to take control of the middle of the funnel to drive value.

It’s well-established that brand marketing does its important work over the long-term. And that “short game” performance marketing can deliver immediate numbers. But what sits in the middle?

There’s a huge space, a big swathe of the customer journey where marketing’s impact on the bottom line actually takes shape. And marketers have spent far too little time engaging with it.

‘The Future of Native Programmatic’

‘The Future of Native Programmatic’

Ravleen Beeston, VP at Microsoft Advertising explains that “the missing middle” of the marketing funnel is where audiences experience advertising: “In particular, it’s the zone in which broader brand awareness translates into important and relevant mental availability. It’s the area where intentions and emotional associations slowly form, often beneath the surface, before translating into action.”

This is important because buyers of products or services aren’t aware that a performance ad, or a search execution, is designed for the short-term rather than having any long-term impact on their impressions of the brand. They don’t know that an awareness-driving video campaign making little reference to a product isn’t supposed to make them want to buy that item immediately.

“Various touchpoints matched with a range of creative solutions play different roles simultaneously,” says Beeston. “All are creative opportunities, all are capable of establishing brand memories and brand associations. All contribute to eventual decisions to buy.”

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Native advertising’s rich experience

Take native advertising as an example. Native can span the long and the short, from building brand awareness to driving leads. In reality, that’s not an “either/or” because, in practice, native advertising spans the missing middle.

And, says Beeston, native programmatic advertising has the qualities to provide a richer, more integrated advertising experience that is contextual to the consumer’s experience.

“For instance, the Microsoft Audience Network enables marketers to engage meaningfully in brand-safe environments where people are working or playing,” she said. “And exposure to brand ads can be tracked to see whether it leads to increased engagement with other touchpoints, as well as the frequency of exposure required before engagement rates tick up."

This is making a real impact for advertisers. LHA London, which offers affordable accommodation in the city, boosted its conversion rates by 50% with audience ads. Working with its agency, Infoserve, LHA used native advertising to attract customers.

Dan Lezcano, Infoserve’s head of paid search, says that the activity shows the flexibility of the form: “When people think of native advertising, typically they think about brand awareness, but the audience targeting capabilities of the Microsoft Audience Network make it a fantastic tool for converting customers.”

Meanwhile, RVshare, the US-based RV rental brand, has used native advertising as part of its broader mix of digital marketing activity. While investing in paid search, RVshare also turned to Microsoft Audience Network to reach a wider audience of RV renters and to encourage owners of the vehicles to join its platform.

“We use the Microsoft Audience Network to reach audiences that have an intent to travel outdoors on the renter side, while we also target RV owners so we can match them up with our renters,” says Martijn Scheijbeler, vice-president of marketing at RVshare.

Take control of the middle of the funnel

This successful application of native advertising demonstrates that brands can no longer rely solely on investing at the top and the bottom of the marketing funnel, and just hoping that everything connects. Microsoft Advertising’s Beeston says: “Advertisers need to plan activity for the middle of the funnel, signpost and connect different experiences, whether brand-related, demand-related or purpose-related. And then analyze carefully how they come together to generate action.”

The digital transformation of marketing that has grown in momentum over the last couple of years is providing more options than ever to map the missing middle. Beeston explains how, for instance, it is able to use share of search as a real-time indicator of awareness and mental availability, analyzing audience trends to understand the priorities of consumers and the context in which the middle of the buyer journey takes place.

She adds that Microsoft Advertising can also capture and segment signals of intent, analyzing how they are influenced by previous engagement with brands – and how they go on to influence brand engagement in the future.

“We can benchmark the timeframes over which we can reasonably expect all of this to take place – and start to answer enduring questions about how, and when, different types of marketing activity drive return on investment,” they said.

Long gone are the days of John Wanamaker’s old adage that, “half of my marketing budget is wasted but I don’t know which half”. With the full range of brand and demand experiences available digitally, advertisers now have more visibility than ever over how their marketing works. And native programmatic advertising is a powerful way of taking brands into the heart of the missing middle to understand the activity that drives the most value at a crucial stage.

To start to bridge the missing middle, access Microsoft Audience Network's ‘The Future of Native Programmatic’ video today.

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