How to light up your community with a full-funnel performance strategy

Fashion brands can’t afford to leave the top of the funnel to chance in the race for efficiency. Sustainable growth does need a longer term strategy to attract new audiences.

Chris Howard, Nest Commerce’s Chief Operating Officer, recently took to the stage at Drapers Future of Fashion to explore how brand advertising can drive online growth for fashion retailers. 

His session – How to light up your community with a full-funnel performance strategy – examined the digital marketing tactics that can light up fashion retailers’ communities.

Here’s what was said. 

Community takes centre stage

The fashion representatives in the room identified digital marketing as the main area for investment over the next 12-18 months. Chris cited his own personal experiences to illustrate how this can be a stepping stone to forging connections with consumers.

“Community has always been at the heart of brand growth; it was certainly the case 20 years ago when I was starting my first role in digital marketing at eBay. The trend is especially true for pure-play online brands that don’t have the face-to-face connections that traditional retailers do. For them, performance marketing has been a key growth engine to generate communities through customer acquisition.” 

This has also been a recipe for success for Nest client Adanola. “Community has been one of the key considerations for them when determining how they interact with their audience. They go beyond pure-play digital marketing, using pop-up events and in-person activations to forge relationships.”

Using influencers to… influence

Fortune favours the brave, and Chris was quick to point out that it’s not just a community-centric mindset that has contributed to Adanola’s prosperity. 

“They’ve been very forward-thinking in the way they’ve embraced influencers. Rather, it’s an important collaboration that feeds directly into their marketing strategy – they ensure it works closely with their product teams and then push that out through their marketing channels.” 

This is at odds with the way that brands have traditionally interacted with influencers, opting to build a large influencer pool as opposed to a more focussed, relevant set. Shallow connections may drive a short-term sales boost, but it does little in the long-term. Partnerships should be built on working with influencers that are selling the brand – not the products. 

However, Chris argued that there’s plenty of channels outside of creators that can open the door to improved brand-consumer relationships. “Google and Meta remain the performance marketing powerhouses. They’re not just driving the majority of consumer connections; they’re also responsible for the majority of sales and customer acquisitions.”

Outside of the tech titans, there is one platform that has shocked even the more experienced industry experts – Chris included. “Most of the brands that we work with have enjoyed better returns and more successful customer acquisition on Pinterest as opposed to TikTok, which goes against the wider narrative. TikTok still has its place in the marketing mix, but Pinterest has upped its game. Our proprietary data set that spans 30 UK retailers illustrates that the average return on ad spend (ROAS) for advertisers working with Pinterest increased by 65% between Q1 2023-24.”

Going all-in on full-funnel

Honing in on the fashion industry, Chris argued that few brands in the sector have cracked the interrelationship between stores and digital – and this is where omnichannel brands can use full-funnel strategies to full-effect.

“Fashion brands that can understand the relationship that performance marketing channels have on stimulating in-store footfall and sales – and the halo effect that that retail estate can have on the effectiveness of this activity – will gain a competitive edge over the majority of the market.”

If brands want to tap into full-funnel’s potential, they’ll also need a measurement framework that drives traffic and sales whilst optimising spend. Whilst this will always be brand-specific, Chris offered some guidance on what this could look like in practice. 

“The bottom of the funnel will always centre around ROAS; obviously, every brand wants to spread that money as far as it possibly can be. Shifting to upper-funnel activity, the optimal route is to focus on the middle-of-the-line with traffic and new customer acquisition – the kind of activity associated with reach.”

Brand list studies allow you to track all of these things holistically and ensure that your activities are having a positive impact on brand awareness and generating positive sentiment towards your brand. Ultimately, the trickle-down effect of that in the long-term, in terms of whether you’re seeing improved customer acquisition growth. 

From a financial perspective, there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ to full-funnel performance marketing. As Chris acknowledged, “every brand has its own nuances – which growth stage they’re at, which objectives they’re trying to drive for the business. It’s impossible to say that you should have a 60:40 split between brand awareness and lower-bottom funnel activity. 

For those businesses that have never invested in anything other than the bottom of the funnel, we’d recommend that you start relatively small in your awareness spend – maybe five or ten per cent. Dedicating a smaller proportion of your budget allows you to identify the areas that it works and then scale it up.”

Avoiding any faux pas

This is not to say that full-funnel performance marketing comes challenge-free. There are still hurdles to be overcome, as Adanola found with its preference for exclusive product ranges. 

“They had a leggings line that went viral. Adanola put marketing support behind it, but hadn’t planned appropriately for the amount of stock needed. Thankfully, this wasn’t a lost cause as they were able to capture data on the customers unable to complete a purchase, and translate them into future buyers.”

This scenario shines a light on one of the key differentiators between the fashion elite from those languishing behind the curve: organisational alignment. “Marketing activities shouldn’t be planned in a silo. You should be working closely with all departments across your business – with a particular focus on the relationship between marketing and product. This ensures that you’re delivering a positive end-to-end experience.” 

Too often, fashion retailers have become obsessed with the wrong thing – namely, driving short-term sales as efficiently as possible. Whilst Chris recognised that there are “pressures from different stakeholders within the business to make every point work as hard as it can, this often leaves brands running out of road. Unable to attract new audiences, they instead talk to the same customers time-and-again.”

So how can brands navigate this issue? Chris believes the solution lies in refocusing their performance marketing strategies and ensuring they use platforms such as Meta and Google across the funnel. 

The final problem that Chris addressed concerned creative requirements. “Many brands will treat their performance marketing team as purely media buyers. This means that they won’t be thinking about the actual creative requirements that are going to make that activity successful across the platforms they’re working with.

This is particularly pertinent for social platforms. Some of the recently-released video formats on Meta such as Reels, as well as TikTok, are very creative-hungry. Being successful on these platforms hinges on organisational alignment, and ensuring you have the right range, quality and diversity of creative.” 

Looking to the future

Chris rounded off the session by contemplating the learnings he’d taken from previous collaborations with fashion retailers. 

“The main thing that separates fashion retailers making performance marketing work effectively for them, and those struggling in their space, is that end-to-end organisational alignment. This means being really clear around what the business objectives that you’re striving for as a company, and the role that you want performance marketing to play within those. 

Once you’ve got that clear understanding, it becomes far easier to make smart decisions about how you’re using performance marketing – whether it’s the platform you choose to work with, the people and that sort of thing. Customers can kind of understand what your brand is about, engage with you – or whether the specific formats and optimisation tactics are working. 

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