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Performance Marketing Needs Top of Funnel Awareness

By Zachary Rozga

As this year ends and we turn the page to 2023, it is startling how so much can change in such a short period of time. What changed so dramatically this year in advertising? The answer: diminishing return on performance marketing spends.

As recently as the beginning of this year, startups and stalwarts alike could focus marketing dollars on performance advertising with reliable results. If you wanted a return on investment (ROI), pay minimally for it.

Over the last year, several things have changed, making marketers rethink their strategy. I was struck recently by a post by Cody Plofker of Triple Whale, in discussing performance marketing:

"Up until Tim Cook waved his magic wand, storytelling and brand strategy were not all that important. Facebook's targeting and algorithm were so good that a brand, paired with a skilled analytical media buyer, could literally media buy and hack their way to 8 figures pretty easily. They could get away with mediocre creative, a not so compelling product, and very little focus on brand storytelling and still grow profitably."

As he observes, and I've observed, this is no longer the case. For several reasons – increased data privacy, shrinking engagement, bots, and shifting algorithms – performance marketing alone is less and less effective. Ads cost more and convert less, which is a problem if you are trying to grow a new business in a nascent space.

This is not to say that performance marketing is dead or useless, just that it needs more top funnel support to increase efficiency.

Bots don't care about ROI.

One of the big problems I heard repeatedly is that, even if there is a high click through rate for ads, those clicks have a shrinking conversion rate. This is partially due to the rise of fraudulent clicks from bots in the world of social media. Recent studies show that 14 percent of clicks for paid search campaigns are fraudulent, which is a sizable impact when taking into account the $209 billion spent on Google ads alone in 2021.

Setting aside the fraudulent or "ghost clicks" made by bots, the bigger problem is that too many clicks are by real users who do not have the intention of buying or engaging with a brand's products or services. This is where top-of-funnel brand awareness marketing makes its biggest impact.

Customers need to spend time and give attention to a brand before they are offered the chance to "Buy Now." That means storytelling at a high level, giving potential customers a chance to learn about the brand, and allowing a brand to connect their products to their customer pain points.

Bots don't care about storytelling, but people do.

Building brand awareness helps create brand trust.

The 18 to 34 year old demographic is savvy when it comes to digital marketing and needs time to engage in indirect ways with brands before it trusts their offerings. This means they need to see content on platforms that already garner their attention.

This is the power of good content marketing: brand trust. If we want better conversion at the performance marketing level, brands need to spend the time, energy, and finances on strategic awareness and engagement marketing.

Brand trust creates customer intent.

The goal of performance marketing is sales, not clicks. That means the individual clicking through needs to already have the intent to buy. When someone trusts a brand, they are more likely to click through with intent. They are already sold and just need to know how to add to cart and purchase.


Marketing and advertising trends can change faster than a flat tire at NASCAR these days, which means we need to quickly spot, adapt, and respond to trends. I don't believe the shrinking efficacy of performance advertising is a blip or anomaly. Brands that want continued advertising success going into the new year need to invest in top of funnel awareness and engagement marketing. Without it, potential customers are not spending the time with your brand that is necessary to drive conversions.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

Zachary Rozga is the CEO of Thece.