The Hourglass Funnel Changes Everything

Thursday, September 19th, 2013


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hourglass funnel. Most funnels stop at the thin bottom, when a customer “drops” out, having made the journey through awareness, interest, desire and action. After the “action,” or purchase, the customer gets put into a CRM to be included in more traditional marketing outreach efforts, such as calls, e-mails, and catalogue mailings. In the past, marketers often thought about how to turn customers into advocates, but couldn’t figure out how to do it at scale. Companies that were really good at multi-level marketing, like Amway, didn’t have easy-to-replicate business models.

Today, the situation has changed. Social-media platforms give marketers tools to engage customers in their CRMs and bring them back through the bottom of the funnel, turning them into brand advocates — and maybe even salespeople. This is why Salesforce has been snatching up social-media companies like Radian6 and Buddy Media, while Oracle bought Vitrue and Involver. These platforms can help get people talking about your brand– and, in turn, you get to listen to what they have to say. These platforms also can help you understand what it takes to get your customers to move from liking your page to actively sharing your content and to actually recommending your products and even selling them as an affiliate.

The ad-tech revolution of the last several years has supercharged our ability to drive people through this hourglass-shaped funnel. But instead of enabling this movement, we have instead – for the most part — focused  on wringing efficiency out of reaching the customers we’re already very close to getting. For example, programmatic RTB makes it easy to bid on people in the “interest” layer, who behave like existing customers. Additionally, it’s a no-brainer to retarget those customers who have already expressed “desire” by visiting a product page or your website. And technology also makes it increasingly easy to invite customers already in your CRM to “like” your Instagram page, or to offer them incentives to “recommend” products through social sharing tools.

But what about the very top of the funnel (awareness) and the very bottom (advocacy)? Those are the two most critical parts of the marketing hourglass funnel, but the two least served by technology today. While we have tools to drive people through the marketing process more quickly or cheaply, technology doesn’t create brands or turn social-media fans into brand advocates.

However, the right strategy for both ends of this funnel can still boost awareness and advocacy by creating a branding vortex that is a virtuous circle. Let me explain:


You can’t start a customer down the sales funnel without making he or she aware of your product or service. Despite all of the programmatic promise in display, technology mainly emphasizes reaching our known audience most efficiently. It simply hasn’t yet proven that it can create new customers at scale. That’s why TV still gets the lion’s share of brand dollars. Cost-effective reach, pairedwith a brand-safe, viewable environment, is what TV supplies.

In my opinion, the digital answer for raising awareness is starting to look less and less like programmatic RTB and more like video and “native” formats, which are more engaging and contextually relevant. Also, new programmatic direct technologies are starting to make the process of buying guaranteed, premium inventory more measurable, efficient and scalable.

Programmatic RTB advocates will argue that you can build plenty of awareness across exchanges, but it’s hard to create emotion with three IAB standard units, and there still isn’t enough truly premium inventory available in exchanges today to generate a contextual halo for your ads. New “native” display opportunities, video and tablet advertising are where branding has the biggest impact. Adding those opportunities to social tools, such as Twitter and Instagram, would help you leverage your existing brand advocates and amplify your message.


Great digital branding at the “awareness” level of the funnel not only helps drive potential new customers deeper into the sales funnel, but also can help engage existing customers. This amplification effect is extremely powerful. Old-school marketers such as David Sarnoff understood that folks make buying decisions through their friends and neighbors. He also understood that, when you’re trying to sell the next big thing (like radio), you have to leverage existing media (print). Applied to digital marketing, this simply means leveraging awareness media — TV, video and “native” advertising — to stimulate word-of-mouth advertising, which is still the most powerful type. By using Facebook and other social sharing tools, the effect of any campaign can grow exponentially in a very short period of time. This virtuous circle of awareness media influencing brand advocates, who then create more awareness among their own social circles, is something that many marketers miss when they lead their campaigns with data rather than with emotion.

Everything In Between

I’m not saying that marketers can simply feed the top of the funnel with great branding and ignore the rest. That’s not true at all; the middle of the funnel is important too. I think it’s relatively easy, nowadays, to build a stack that also helps support all the hard work that brands are doing to create awareness. Most large marketers reinforce brand efforts with “always on” programmatic RTB that targets based on behavior, and all brands employ as much retargeting that they can buy. Once customers are in the CRM, it’s not hard to maintain a rewards/loyalty program, and messaging to an existing social fan base also is relatively simple.

But marketers are making a mistake if they think that this kind of programmatic marketing can replace great branding. With so many different things competing for customers’ attention, capturing it for more than a second is extremely difficult, and the challenge is only going to get harder.

The Datalogix Effect

So what does all this mean for for ad technology? The best way to think about this is to look at theDatalogix-Facebook partnership. Datalogix’s trove of customer offline purchase data essentially enables brands to measure whether or not  all their social-ad spending resulted in more online sales. A few studies have pretty much proven that media selling soap suds on Facebook created more suds sales at the local Piggly Wiggly. In fact, ROI turns out to be easy to calculate, as well as positive.

This type of attribution seems simple, but I don’t think you can overstate its impact. It’s the way we finally move from clicks and views to profit-optimization metrics such as those offered by MakeBuzz. And this method of tying online activity with offline sales is already having a vast impact on the ecosystem. It shows, beyond doubt, that branding sells product.

Getting the attribution right, though, means that brands are going to have to care about creative and content more than ever. It means big wins for video, “native” ad approaches, and big tentpole marketing campaigns. If quality premium sites can be bought programmatically at scale, then it may also mean big wins for large, traditional publishers.

It also likely means that many retargeters, programmatic RTB technologies and exchanges could end up losing in the long run. Don’t get me wrong: These technologies are needed to drive the “always on” machine that powers the middle of the funnel. But just how many DSPs and exchanges does the industry need to manage its commoditized display channel?

As marketers realize that they are spending money to capture customers that were going to convert anyway, they’re likely to focus less on audience targeting and more on initiatives to create new customers — and turn existing customers into advocates.

[This post originally appeared in AdExchanger]

NextMark Now Enables Private Deals for Direct Ad Buys

Friday, August 23rd, 2013


NextMark today unveiled new features in its Digital Media Planner tool that enable media planners to record and utilize private advertising deals when creating their media plans.

Keeping track of special advertising deals is a challenge for advertising agencies and for their media planning teams. In the past, media planners had to rely on their own memory and files to recall the special deals they’ve made with publishers. And it was difficult to know if others at your agency had already established a deal with a given publisher. With these issues combined with time pressure and the high turnover in those positions, special deals deals are often overlooked and negotiating leverage is lost. Ultimately, advertisers’ working media dollars are wasted every time a deal is missed.

NextMark Planner solves this problem by enabling you to enter your private deals directly onto the publisher’s data card adjacent to their standard placements and prices. With Planner, you can now set your own prices and create your own custom placements. You can see if others at your agency already have a special deal in place. Your special deals are stored securely and only available to authorized planners at your agency.

These special deals come in handy when you’re creating your media plans. Planner automatically displays all your agency’s custom placements and automatically defaults to your special rates. You’ll never again be embarrassed by missing out on a deal.

Along with the previously released private marketplace features, these new features give you a powerful tool to create and maintain your own directory of preferred vendors, contacts, and deals.

You can request your free trial of Planner here:

NextMark Now Enables Private Marketplaces for Direct Ad Buys

Thursday, June 27th, 2013


The latest release (version 2.2) of NextMark’s Digital Media Planner enables you to create your own private marketplaces of digital advertising programs. With tens of thousands of choices available, it’s a living nightmare to navigate to your ideal media plan. With NextMark’s Planner, you and your colleagues can now “endorse” preferred media programs and make them part of your private marketplace. Once endorsed, those programs get special priority in media plan formulation.

NextMark’s private marketplace is an antidote for the infamous clutter of the Display Lumascape. Now, media planning teams at advertising agencies can easily create and share a preferred vendor list.Instead of sifting through thousands of unqualified options, only those that are approved by your agency rise to the top of the heap.

For publishers, earning an agency endorsement gives you a huge advantage in winning the next media plan. Your work in building the relationship will be recognized in a concrete endorsement. And your endorsement will pay off every day by earning top placement in searches and recommendations.

NextMark is the first media planning tool to enable the creation of private marketplaces. It was created in response to frustrations expressed by both media planners and ad sales teams. This new feature is available immediately and free trials are available at

SRDS vs. NextMark data card database updates

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

SRDS vs. NextMark Data Card Updates

This morning, SRDS posted a tweet proclaiming, “Our data team made 8,501 updates the database in April.” One of our clients forwarded this to me and asked, “How many updates does NextMark make in a month? How does this compare to SRDS?”

Those are important questions. Having access to up-to-date data cards in a searchable database of media programs is critical in making efficient and effective media purchasing decisions for your clients.  So, we did the research to find the answers.

During April 2013, we made 63,991 data card updates to the NextMark database. That’s more than 7.5 times the number of updates SRDS made during the same period.  Furthermore, our monthly average for 2013 is slightly higher at 66,005 updates per month. As the numbers have proven, NextMark is delivering on our commitment to provide you with the world’s best database of advertising opportunities.

Want better media planning decision-making data in 18 different media channels? Use NextMark’s Multi-Channel Media Planner for traditional direct marketing channels and the new Digital Media Planner for digital advertising channels.

RFP and proposal management just got easier with Planner 2.0

Thursday, April 18th, 2013


NextMark today announced an upgrade to its digital media planning software, which adds key functionality for handling RFPs and media proposals.

The Request for Proposal or RFP process in digital advertising is well-known to be a frustrating mess. Despite recently celebrating the eighteenth anniversary of the banner ad, sending RFP requests and handling proposal responses is still a highly manual effort involving emails, Excel spreadsheets, shared file folders, phone calls, sticky notes, and plenty of manual labor. Despite its many failings and costing agencies more than $3,000 per campaign in labor, nobody has yet developed a widely adopted alternative to this time consuming and expensive process.

NextMark streamlines the RFP process with the latest upgrade to its Digital Media Planner system. Version 2.0 of Planner extends the platform’s functionality by enabling media planners to directly interact with publishers to request and manage media proposals. Now, instead of using spreadsheets and e-mail to negotiate pricing and placements, Planner’s Proposal Manager module enables you to:

  • Quickly and easily request proposals from any publisher
  • Automatically track the status of all RFP requests
  • Source additional proposals through Media Magnet
  • Receive proposals online with all documents automatically organized
  • Collaboratively review and negotiate proposals online
  • Accept proposals directly into your media plan with a button click

Unlike prior efforts to solve the RFP mess, NextMark has invested heavily into the design of the user experience for both buyers and sellers. Unlike other solutions, NextMark employs two modes of sourcing proposals: The typical RFP method and a new patent-pending Request for Consideration (or RFC) method. That latter enables qualified publishers to request consideration for plan-appropriate media, giving planners a wider array of choices when they construct their media plans.

“NextMark has been listening to its customers, and is building the right tools for digital media planning,” said Sean Cotton of True Media, an early Planner pilot user. “Adding RFP functionality to the planning tool really extends the functionality, and puts more of the workflow in a centralized place. Agencies have to start leveraging web-based tools to get smarter and more efficient about the way they plan and buy media—and get their planners to focus on more high value tasks that drive their clients’ success.”

Since its initial release only four months ago, Planner has already been upgraded four times based on new ideas from customers.

“This upgrade is another giant leap forward in delivering on the promise of programmatic direct buying,” remarked Joe Pych, NextMark’s President. “We’ve been getting fantastic advice from our development partner agencies, listening closely, and working diligently to realize this amazing vision. As a company, connecting media buyers and sellers is what we have been doing for 13 years, and I am glad we are starting to bring that same efficiency to digital.”

Planner 2.0 is available today. Free training is available to all registered users. To request more information or access to Planner, go to

NextMark nominated for ASPY award for “Best New Technology”

Monday, April 15th, 2013

nextmark aspy award nomination

I’m extremely happy to announce that NextMark has just been nominated for an ASPY award in the category of “Best New Technology” for our new Digital Media Planner tool. This award is given to “The company that has created the most impactful new technology platform specific to media, ad operations, social media, or mobile marketing. Nominees must include products specific to the advancement of media and advertising.”

It’s a tremendous honor to get this nomination because it comes from people who really know the business: highly respected industry veterans in the iMedia community who’ve seen just about everything and are experts in running digital advertising agencies. For them to select NextMark out of the hundreds of new technologies recently developed is a huge validation of the products we’ve been building to streamline digital media planning workflow. It’s also a huge validation of the fantastic advice we’ve been getting from our development partner agencies!

The winner will be announced on May 7th at the iMedia Agency Summit in Austin, Texas.

RFP Template for Digital Advertising

Friday, April 5th, 2013


After speaking with dozens of digital media publishers and planners, I’ve come realize that two things need to happen in order for more digital media proposals to be accepted:

1) The digital media planner (buyer) must communicate the campaign objectives, acceptance criteria, and detailed requirements in a manner that leaves no room for error or misunderstanding.

2) The digital media publisher (seller) must respond with a relevant proposal that includes all of the requested information. Take a look at the top 5 things you’ll find in digital media proposals that win.

The good news is that digital media spending continues to increase, and you can expect to see an even greater lift in demand for premium guaranteed inventory when interactive media buyers and sellers are effectively matched, consistently concise, and clearly understood.

Based on input from digital media buyers who have expressed their needs, I developed an EASY-RFP template using the desktop application most frequently used in 2012 by digital media planners; that’s right — Microsoft Excel!

I would like to thank Ali Hockenberry (IMM), Ed Frack (Klunk & Millan Advertising), Joel Nierman (Critical Mass), and Michelle Burnham (Burnham Marketing) for their insights and RFP template suggestions.

Click here to download your free RFP template for digital advertising. Feel free to use, modify, or incorporate this for your own RFP template. Your feedback is welcome!

You can use the Easy RFP template in conjunction with NextMark’s Digital Media Planner application. Planner eliminates the hassles associated with sending RFPs, managing proposals, and accepting proposals into your media plan.  Best part? It’s free. Request your access to NextMark Planner here.

Media Planning in Excel is a Fool’s Errand

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Yesterday, in a call with an agency president she said, “media planning in Excel is a fool’s errand.” This got me thinking about all the ways a purpose-built media planning tool like NextMark’s Digital Media Planner system gives a media planner a competitive advantage over those still using Microsoft Excel.

Here’s the list of the advantages (I’m sure I missed a few!):

Advantage Microsoft
Year built 1985 2013
Create your media plan YES YES
Purpose-built for digital media planning no YES
Built-in media-specific calculations no YES
Easy one-screen interface YES YES
Modern user interface no YES
Media planning dashboard no YES
Clone previous media plans YES YES
Clone rows in a media plan YES YES
Easily import Research from comScore and other tools no YES
Find media programs with search tool no YES
Save time with type-ahead no YES
Get media ideas via suggestion tool no YES
Supports IAB standards no YES
Perform what-if analysis no YES
Link to Publisher data including placements, rates, inventory, and sales contact no YES
Link to comScore data including audience trends, profiles, and cross-visiting no YES
Send Requests for Proposals (RFPs) no YES
Track RFP status online no YES
Receive and manage proposals online no YES
Receive Requests for Consideration (RFCs) no YES
Accept proposals into your plan with a button click no YES
Share your media plan online no YES
Lock your plan while you are working on it no YES
View a full history of changes to your plan no YES
Compare to a prior versions of your plan no YES
Revert to a prior version of your plan no YES
Export Media Authorization no YES
Export Insertion Orders no YES
Export to Google DFA and other ad servers no YES
Integrate with other media tools via APIs no YES
Streamline your media planning process no YES
Get better insights no YES
Position yourself for the future no YES
Price $109.99 FREE

Learn more about NextMark Planner at

Collaborate without fear with NextMark’s Digital Media Planner

Friday, February 22nd, 2013


NextMark today unveiled advanced collaboration features in its Digital Media Planner system. With this upgrade, digital media planners can collaboratively develop digital media plans without fear of losing their work, which is common using today’s solutions.

More than 80% of digital media agencies still use Microsoft Excel to produce their digital media plans. While flexible and easy to use, Excel has a long list of weaknesses that contribute to the high cost to create and execute a digital media plan. Some of Excel’s biggest weaknesses are it’s lack of support for collaboration and version control, which causes lost productivity.

Excel spreadsheets are stored in a file format. As such, only the latest actively saved version is available.  If you forget to save your changes or your machine crashes, your work is lost.  If you and a co-worker unknowingly work on the same Excel media plan at the same time, your work will be lost if he saves his changes after you save yours.  Or you will clobber his work if you save changes work after his. Either way, valuable work is lost. The problem gets worse when you use email to share your Excel media plan because having many files in different places compounds the problem. Good luck trying to merge changes from two or more Excel files; this tedious task takes forever and you’re almost guaranteed to lose some of the work.

Even if you somehow manage to avoid all the file versioning landmines, it’s practically impossible to keep track of all the changes made during the planning process.  When your client asks you “how did this line get into the plan?” you won’t find the answer in Excel.

NextMark’s new Digital Media Planner (v1.3) solves these problems. With Planner, you get the flexibility and usability of a spreadsheet plus a powerful collaboration system. That’s because with Planner your work is always saved securely in cloud database storage with built in collaboration controls:

  1. When you start working on a media plan, you get a lock on the plan so nobody else clobbers your work.
  2. If your co-worker tries to work on same plan at the same time, he sees a warning that you are working on it and is prevented from making changes until you are done.
  3. Your changes are saved immediately as you make them. You don’t even have to hit a save button! (If you’ve ever used Google Docs, you know how handy this can be.)
  4. You can see a complete history of changes to the media plan: when the changes were made and who made each change.
  5. You can easily compare two versions of your media plan and see all the changes highlighted.
  6. If you make a mistake on your plan, it’s easy to revert back to a prior version.

Basically, you’ll never ever again have to deal with a bunch of out-of-synch versions of your media plan. And you’ll never lose your work again.

If you work for an agency that deals with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance or just wants better management controls, the built-in audit trail and comparison features are a godsend.

And, despite all the power of these advanced features, Planner is super easy to use. Even easier than Excel!

Don’t you think it’s time to finally ditch Excel? Want to learn more about how NextMark’s Planner can help you? Request your free access here.

NextMark Opens New York City Office

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013


NextMark, Inc., a marketing and advertising technology provider, today announced it has opened an office in New York City. The new office, located at 53 West 36th Street, will be managed by recently hired Chief Revenue Officer Chris O’Hara and will be used primarily for sales and service.

“More than ever, having a daily physical presence in New York is important to properly serving our clients,” said Joseph Pych, NextMark’s CEO. “About half of our worldwide client base is in New York and the surrounding metro area. Although we’ve served New York well over the past 12 years, it’s clear we have to ramp up in response to demand for our new products for digital advertising.”

Since its launch less than 3 months ago, more than 75 agencies have started using or are in the process of being set up on the NextMark’s new Digital Media Planner system.