You’ve done everything right. Your messaging is tight, your targeting surgically precise, and your creative racks up sky-high conversion rates. Still, your customer acquisition costs keep creeping up. New customers get harder and harder to find. Your growth is sputtering—and you’re worried your marketing has hit a scaling ceiling.
If so, you’re not alone. Many fast-growing ecommerce brands reach this frustrating plateau. Pumping more money into performance marketing offers diminishing returns. You need a fundamentally new approach to lift your ceiling and unleash new growth.
The answer is that you create your own market through branding.
Specifically, you need to embrace the same “full funnel” strategy deployed by leading consumer brands:
- Awareness campaigns to reach untapped audiences
- Consideration content to nurture prospects
- Conversion tactics to close sales
Done right, this balanced approach transforms how you find, engage, and convert new buyers. Rather than just scraping the bottom of the funnel for conversions, you actively shape and expand your market.
The payoff? Lower costs, bigger reach, and growth that scales sustainably over the long-term.
How can you start to capture the attention that big brands have in generating awareness for their brand and products? According to Tier 11 founder Ralph Burns, it starts by borrowing their strategies and adapting them to the small and middle-sized business:
Pivot BEFORE You Hit the Ceiling (Or Lift the Ceiling Higher)
If you don’t want your marketing to hit a ceiling, you need to look at how you’re leveraging brand-building activities to build a long-term business, not just generate money today. Thinking only about ROAS right now is a short-sighted mentality that won’t serve you for the longevity of the business.
Flip the paradigm from cost-per-acquisition to cost-per-content
Moving to a “cost per content” model helps you connect generating high-value content to acquiring more leads and generating sales.
Build Reach Campaigns
Video view campaigns, social media engagement, and non-salesy and value-added content expand your reach to new audiences through the power of platform algorithms.
Shift Your Spend Across All Three Awareness Stages
Direct response marketing and advertising is geared to hitting the 1-3% who are ready to buy right now, but that ignores 97-99% of the market who could be addressed with full-funnel marketing. If you shift your spend and activities, you’ll be more likely to be top of mind when the remaining 97% is ready to make that buying decision.
Landon adds, “We don’t need to land in the extreme of either brand plays like Coca-Cola and hard direct response-style performance marketing. We can land in the middle. There’s a reason why there’s brands that do nothing but branding ads who are billion dollar companies. Branding starts to create a moat around your business. When you have brand, you have intangible things that impact the success of your business.”
- Trust. Think about a product with 10 reviews and 10,000 reviews. Which one are you going to buy? It’s probably the one with more reviews. That’s brand equity.
- Authority & Reach. Think about someone with 387 followers on Instagram versus someone with 38,000,000. Which are you going to listen to, follow, and buy from?
- Entertainment. When McDonald’s has an ad about going into ChatGPT and asking, ‘who has the best burger?’ and it spits out McDonald’s… that’s branding.
- Competitiveness. As more and more brands compete for attention, having a bigger brand that’s more recognizable than your competitors is one way you can stand out in a crowded market.
- Makes Your Marketing More Efficient. When you’ve built a brand, you don’t have to market quite so hard for market share and to stay in the mind of the consumer.
These strategies work for small and medium-sized DTC businesses, but it does require a shift in the mentality of, “We can’t look at what we made today or in the last 7 days.”
Building brand awareness through digital marketing
Big brands are all doing this, but your takeaway shouldn’t be that you ignore these tactics completely because you don’t have their budget.
Instead, start thinking about this paradigm shift. Make it a part of where you are at so you can build a moat around your business through branding.
Example: Athletic Greens
Tom says, “For a long time, their marketing play was to associate themselves with different podcasters and sponsor podcasts. When they started, that wasn’t very expensive, but over such a long period of time they built this brand equity and associated themselves with Tim Ferris, Lex Friedman, David Sinclair, people who are biohackers who are aligned with their ideal client. Now they can go both lower and higher funnel because they have such a branding base. They can reach out to larger audiences through TV ads and direct response.”
How to utilize the entire sales funnel in your advertising
So how should you go about advertising to the full funnel? Here are some suggestions from Senior Media Buyer Landon Poburan.
1. Ditch The Myth of ‘Creative Fatigue’
There’s this concept in the performance marketing world that creative “fatigues,” or stops working. At some point, you need to get with your team or your full-funnel agency and ask:
“Is our creative fatiguing every single week, or do we need to start expanding our audience and getting in front of more people (the 97%).”
Maybe the ads don’t need to change, but more people need to be brought into the 1-3% that are buying. Even further, ask your team:
“How would your marketing change if you knew that somebody who saw your ad today wouldn’t purchase for 90 or 180 days? How would that change how you went about marketing your business?”
You need to start going after people who aren’t yet ready to buy right now.
2. Address More Segments AND More Stages
In addition to adding more awareness stages into your marketing mix, think about adding different buying segments. Take a car company for example. Someone thinking about buying a car might do so for different reasons:
- One person might want to upgrade their vehicle for the aesthetics
- Another might have gotten into a car accident and so needs a great deal
- Yet another might want a bigger vehicle because their family is growing
These are all very different market segments and if you aren’t addressing each of these segments via education, inspiration, entertainment NOW, you’re missing out on future sales 60-90 days down the road.
Ask: “What content should we be creating to attract this part of our audience?”
3. Think About Measurement (and Marketing!) Differently
It’s easy to fall back on conversion ads because they’re easily measurable; one way to pitch this kind of marketing to your senior leadership is to add the metric of Cost per Content.
Cost Per Content: Measures the efficiency of being able to produce the right types of content
“This is a hard pill for most brands to swallow, that they won’t see return for a few months,” says Ralph, “But the new paradigm isn’t CPA. It’s cost per content. As long as you have tool in which to measure or get close to measuring which content at the top is converting, then you’ll do well.”
Think about Athletic Greens: they had purely educational content on influencer pages, which slowly pulled buyers through the customer acquisition path toward the sale. And this is how humans normally buy stuff.
Another example is Ralph’s experience with Remarkable 2 before he purchased it. “I think I counted 32 touch points before I bought it,” he says. It wasn’t just ads, it was content that was both relevant and irrelevant to him and hit him in so many different ways that he was finally convinced of all the features and benefits of the product… and made the purchase.
“That’s a lot, and if you understand that that’s how the journey actually has to occur, then you will be a better marketer.”
Measure the value of your content and the cost it takes to produce this content, rather than only looking at the bottom-of-funnel metrics. From an advertising perspective, you can use brand lift studies to see the longer-term results of your efforts.
4. Listen to the Signals From Organic Content
Not sure where to start with creating branding content? Check your social media! If you already have content that’s working, that’s where you should start with your advertising. Turn high view posts into ads or, if that doesn’t work, use those pieces of content to glean insights into what to create.
Landon says, “the algorithms will tell you what content people want, especially when that content has nothing to do with selling people something.”
5. Set Aside Your Biases and Get content Out There
“As long as it doesn’t denigrate your brand, just get it out there,” says Ralph Burns. Content marketing will give you an indication of what else you can create, be that other content, lead magnets, or ads.
The content creates the audience which creates the hook.
And remember: discovery platforms like Reels, TikToks, and Shorts can help you expand beyond your brand’s existing audience. And if the audience doesn’t like it, they’re not going to see it, because the algorithm isn’t going to show it.
6. Talk to Your Customers
Another way to avoid guessing about content is to get the ideas straight from your buyers. “Few brands actually talk to their customers,” says Tom Meredith.
Talk to your customers directly to find out:
- Why they bought the product
- How the product changed their lives
- What they would change about the product
- Comparing that product to a competitor
The scaling ceiling will hit every brand at some point, because that’s the nature of advertising to the 1-3% of conversion-ready audiences. If high CPAs and lack of scale doesn’t affect your brand now, then it will eventually. Incorporating full-funnel marketing into your mix now is the only way to build a solid moat around your business for the long-term.
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