Demystifying The Fashion Marketing Funnel

The "Problem/Solution" Marketing Funnel Doesn't Work For Fashion; Here's What Does:

A lot of eCommerce marketing advice is framed in terms of “the funnel”: the customer’s journey from zero awareness of your brand to conversion.

The standard advice: aim your first ads at prospects who are both problem- and solution-aware. This audience will be the easiest to convert because they have high intent.

There is one major issue with this approach: most fashion brands don’t solve a problem.

Before we get into it, I want to thank this week's sponsor: Goodo Studios. Goodo Studios produces content that helps your brand grab the attention of the right viewers and turn them into customers. If you're looking for killer Meta ads, check them out.

The fashion consumer might be shopping for a specific occasion, or they might feel they have “nothing to wear”. A single garment can solve thousands of similar "problems"; speaking to all of them isn't scalable.

So, how does the fashion buyer journey work, and how should fashion brands think about advertising at each stage in the journey? I’m going to answer that question here.

The Standard Problem/Solution Funnel

First, let’s review the standard problem/solution marketing funnel so we're all on the same page. For this example we'll use a product that eases PMS symptoms (like this).

These are the stages of the problem/solution funnel from top (least aware) to bottom (most aware/highest intent):

In Total Addressable Market:

Anyone in the relevant audience for the product who can afford to purchase it.

The TAM for a PMS product would be women between 18 and roughly 45 (pre-menopause) who experience unpleasant premenstrual symptoms and who can afford to spend ~$35/month on a supplement.

Just because someone falls into your brand’s TAM, it doesn’t mean that they are aware of the problem you solve, or that they feel particularly motivated to solve it.

Problem Aware:

Anyone in the TAM who knows that they have the problem your product solves.

In our example, the problem aware consumer has made the connection between their symptoms and the onset of their period, and they know that the concept of “PMS” exists.

Solution Aware:

Anyone who is problem aware and who has researched different potential solutions for their problem.

In many product categories, consumers orient themselves towards a subset of solutions based on the broader context of their belief system.

In our example a “crunchy gal” might look towards herbal solutions inspired by Traditional Chinese Medicine while a “wellness gal” might take recs from her favorite fit-fluencer, ignoring formulation.

“In Market”/Consideration:

Anyone who is so motivated to purchase that they’ve researched one or more specific solutions.

They’ve visited the brand website and reviewed the product details. Unless they’re highly oriented towards a single solution, they’re comparing the price and potential efficacy of different solutions.

When you turn on Meta conversion ads with existing customers excluded, this is the audience the algo tries to find first.

High Intent/Meeting Objections:

At this stage the consumer has a “front runner” brand, but they may have a few reservations.

If the brand handles objections successfully, they’ll close the sale. However, there is still room for another brand to swoop in if they can offer better pricing, faster shipping, more certainty, etc.

Most DTC marketing advice tells brands to validate their product with Consideration phase consumers (usually via Meta). When the brand has tapped out the audience pool in Consideration, they move up the funnel to Solution Aware, then Problem Aware.

To understand why this approach is challenging for fashion brands to implement, let’s examine the fashion customer's unique buying journey.


Why do so many fashion brands struggle to move up the funnel? Because top of funnel ads require different creative.

Many fashion brands are great at producing photo shoots that showcase the product. That type of content can work really well with in-market audiences, but it can quickly hit a plateau.

But developing video ad creative that doesn't feel like an infomercial is challenging. Most creative shops simply aren't up to the task.

If you want a creative partner who can help you make ads that are effective and on brand, you should work with Goodo Studios.

Goodo Studios has worked with over 100 DTC brands across multiple product categories and price points. Their ad concepts are informed by deep customer research. And they can produce a broad range of styles and tailor the shoot to your brand's needs.

If you're looking to unlock the next level of growth for your brand, or if you've struggled to find winning Meta ad creative, book a free creative assessment today.


The Fashion Buyer Journey

In Total Addressable Market:

Anyone in the relevant audience for the product who can afford to purchase it and who likes the way it looks.

Lilly Pulitzer and Dolls Kill both sell clothing priced under $250 to women. They don’t have the same TAM.

Brand Aware:

Someone is in your TAM, is aware that your brand exists, and knows what types of products you sell.

Many (not all) fashion consumers learn about brands outside of the buyer journey. I.e. they’re browsing brands and products even when they’re not “in market” and filing them away for later.

In Market:

Someone is in your TAM and motivated to purchase.

There are many different motivations that push someone “in market”: an occasion that requires a specific outfit, feeling bored with one’s closet, seasons changing, seeing a new style you really like, etc.

Some of these “purchase catalysts” are discoverable. Example: someone googling “wedding guest dresses”. But many catalysts are not discoverable. People just start browsing a bunch of clothing websites and (maybe) adding items to cart.

Some shoppers become “brand aware” via the research process involved in being “in market”. When a fashion brand runs a conversion campaign on Meta, these are the folks the algo will try to target first.

Consideration/Meeting Objections:

To vet a problem/solution product you need to use it to see if it works. For that reason, people are more likely to buy one product at a time, especially given online return windows.

Fashion is different. Shoppers take the “dressing room” approach home. They might order options from several brands, or several options from a single brand, and return all but one.

Winning the conversion doesn’t require you to beat out the competition. But winning the revenue (i.e. avoiding a return) requires the brand to be transparent about what they’re selling and provide as much relevant info as possible.

For that reason, you don’t want to “meet objections” too well. Making exaggerated claims or misrepresenting the fit and details of a product will lead to higher return rates. As we saw in the KPI setting newsletter [link], returns are a huge drag on profitability.

See It, Like It, Buy It (SILIBI)

This is the compressed fashion buyer’s journey. Admit it, you’ve seen something really cute in an Instagram ad or in a newsletter and purchased it with little hesitation. You didn’t wake up that morning thinking “I feel like shopping”. It just happened.

This compressed journey is relatively unique to fashion as a product category. Fashion is relatively low-risk compared to other categories. The “dressing room” mentality enables consumer confidence with trying and returning items from new brands.

The see it, like it, buy it journey is brand aware -> in market -> conversion. The shopper skips the consideration phase. Ads and products that appeal to SILIBI have higher conversion rates and ROAS, but often have higher return rates and lower customer repeat rates.

“BOF” Ads For Fashion Brands

Bottom of funnel (BOF) ads for fashion brands target “in market” shoppers and leverage the SILIBI effect. My Meta Ads Playbook for fashion brands and Meta Quickstart Guide [link] are how-to guides for leveraging SILIBI.

The key BOF channels are Meta Ads and Google Ads, specifically Google Shopping. BOF ads put you in front of an audience of qualified “in market” shoppers, so CPMs are high.

At scale, BOF ads become a brand awareness vehicle. Even if fashion shoppers aren’t ready to buy from you now, they’ll click over to your site, browse around and file you away for later.

BOF ads strategy is relatively plug and play. Follow the "best practices" of the advertising channel, but put your spin on it. I publish a lot of step-by-step guides to scaling BOF channels, so I'm not going to dive deep here.

“MOF” Ads For Fashion Brands

Middle of funnel (MOF) ads for fashion brands are use case-specific. The goal is to create an association between your brand and a “purchase catalyst” moment. The goal of MOF ads is to get in front of shoppers right before the moment they become “in market”.

There are three ways to do this:

#1: Category-Focused Campaigns

You see multi-category retailers do this a lot: “the dress address” (some department store circa 2018), “the fragrance destination” (Macys). You’ll also see brands run Meta ads that focus on a product category instead of an individual product.

#2: Shopping Inspo Sources:

AKA the market pages of print magazines, shopping newsletters and other affiliates, influencers, etc. If you’re doing this online, you usually need to opt into an affiliate program to get coverage.

#3: Target Use Case-Focused Shoppers:

If a broad range of your products work for a relatively broad use case, target people who are looking for info on that use case. Examples: SEO, paid search, niche websites and newsletters, trade shows, educational influencers, etc.

This strategy is hard for a pure fashion brand to pull off. Some examples of broad use cases: occasions like weddings or job interviews and hobbies like hunting or golfing.

Because you’re not targeting in-market shoppers, the payback period of MOF ads is longer and less predictable. Your competitors could swoop in and steal the sale. But a strong MOF strategy can improve BOF performance.

It's almost impossible to provide a step-by-step how-to guide to MOF because the execution is so brand-specific.

“TOF” Ads For Fashion Brands

If MOF advertising builds an association between your brand and a product category, Top Of Funnel (TOF) advertising builds an association between your brand and a way of being, or a vibe.

Strategically, brands can accomplish this with either a push or a pull approach.

In the push approach, brands aim to endear themselves to an existing subculture or look–preppy, goth, boho, etc. The goal is to get the consumer thinking “I really like dressing [subculture]. I know [brand] always has cute [subculture] things. Therefore, I’ll check out [brand]’s new arrivals when I’m “in market”.

In the pull approach, brands aim to position themselves as status symbols, or as a marker of differentiation. Their products might fit into an existing subculture or look, but the brand usually puts its own original spin on those conventions.

From a media POV, the options are endless. You need to get your message in front of the right people with enough frequency to make it stick. A billboard in Times Square is TOF; so is sponsoring an art fair. TOF can be entirely digital, entirely “IRL”, or a mix of both.

Brands who are smaller or self-funded can develop TOF strategies where the returns are measurable on a three to four week timeline. But larger brands can (and often do) invest in activities that are nearly impossible to measure.

Never commit yourself to a marketing playbook from a brand that doesn’t share your financial objectives–it’s a great way to run yourself out of business.

Even Small Brands Can Do TOF. Here's How:

Next week I'm going to provide a step-by-step setup guide to three TOF campaigns that almost any brand can run using Meta Ads, Affiliate and Youtube.

I'm going to show you how to cultivate your own qualified audience of brand-aware folks, then convert a decent number of them within 30-90 days without breaking the bank.

Next week's issue will be for members only. You can get a monthly membership here or save 15% on an annual membership here. Only annual members get access to the archive; it's a great deal.

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