Agency Opportunities in Marketing to the Missing Millions
By Mike Carlton

The opportunities here are huge!
Years of best marketing practices are being trashed.

Who Are the Missing Millions?

Missing millions sounds pretty grand. And if youíre like me, at first blush this felt like just some new hype or mumbo-jumbo. However, on closer inspection marketing to the missing millions represents a concept that has very significant value. With some very specific benefits for agencies.

First, here is a definition:

The Missing Millions are persons who have shown specific and tangible interest in the marketerís product or service but have not yet made the purchase. Marketing to the Missing Millions is first identifying them and then communicating with them directly in an individualized personally relevant way through multiple media.

Each person among these missing millions has started the purchase process for the marketerís goods or services and then, for reasons of their own, dropped-out before buying. They are a gold mine. The marketerís potential with them is huge.

To put this all into perspective, we need to go back and review some principles from Marketing 101. This may seem a bit tedious, but it is important in putting the concept in its proper context.

Steps to a Purchase

We all learned early on that in making any purchase the consumer goes through four, highly predictable, steps. They are:

1. Awareness
First of all comes awareness. The consumer must become aware of the product or service, the category it is in and its brand name. The fact that it even exists. This is fundamental. Without awareness, nothing happens.

2. Comprehension
Once the consumer is aware of the product or service, the next step is to understand the benefits that it provides. Comprehension answers the consumerís questions, ďWhat does this product or service do?Ē And most importantly, ďHow relevant is it to me?Ē

3. Conviction
With an understanding of the benefits the product or services offers and its personal relevance, the consumer is then prepared to move on to conviction. This happens when the consumer comes to believe that acquiring this product or service is important to her well being. And within her economic resources. She becomes convinced that this is the right thing for her.

4. Action
If the consumer has come through the first three steps it is now time for him to take action. He is faced with the need to do something to make the purchase. This may require extensive negotiation with the provider. Like buying a car. Or it may be as simple as picking the product off the supermarket shelf. But in every case it requires making a contract, be it very simple or very complex, to purchase the desired product or service.

Only after the consumer has completed all four steps does a purchase happen. And the marketer makes a sale. Sometimes the consumer goes through all four steps to a purchase almost instantly. Sometimes it can take months or years. And with repeat purchases the consumer may just move intuitively to action.

But for each purchase the consumer has gone through the entire process.

Elements of Communication

Against the framework of this immutable process marketers from the beginning of time have used two basic forms of communication to help the consumer move through these steps. Those two forms are:

1. Mass Communications
This is where the marketer sends one commercial message to many. One-to-many. Whether it is a simple sign hanging in front of a primitive shop or a Superbowl TV spot. It is a commercial message of one to many.

It is what traditional advertising is all about. And the historic foundation of the advertising agency industry.

2. Individual Communications
This is one commercial message to one consumer. One-to-one. The historic model of this is the salesperson. The messaging is tailored to the individual consumer. And communications is usually dialogic.

How They Work Together

The interaction of these two forms of communication has always been critical to successfully moving consumers through the four steps. Chart A shows the role of each form in the historic model. The four steps to a purchase are shown on the horizontal axis with the degree of responsibility of mass and individual communications on the vertical axis.

Mass communications traditionally carried most of the responsibility for consumer awareness. And much of the responsibility for comprehension. But with a steadily declining role as the consumer moved through the four steps. The flip-side of this model was that the importance of individual communications grew as the consumer progressed.

This was a simple model that was widely practiced by successful marketers.

Marketing Efficiency

Because of economies of scale, mass communications historically was much more efficient than individual communications. As it was traditionally implemented by a human salesperson, individual communications had high labor costs.

Thus, marketers and their advertising agencies sought to move the crossover point to the right, as shown in Chart B. Generally they did this with large and comprehensive advertising programs.

The more of the load mass communications could carry in building comprehension and very importantly, conviction, the more efficient the model. And with catalog and direct marketing the consumer could sometimes go all the way to action with little or no individual communication.


Over the years there was a ceaseless momentum that built within the advertising community. That was to increase advertisingís responsibility for consumer comprehension and conviction. Increasingly message content focused on these middle steps of the consumerís journey to a purchase.

And advertising became quite good at effectively demonstrating product function and benefits, and building brand preferences.

The World Turned Upside Down

Then along came the internet. Closely followed by email. Then by mobile. With interactive TV ready to join the party. This changed everything!

For the first time marketers could start to practice mass customization of their commercial messages. They could begin to automate individual communications. And in doing so, wring out some of the high labor costs that for so long had be a characteristic of effective individual communications.

Wow! Years of best marketing practices were being trashed.

Technology began moving the crossover point back to the left (Chart C). The consumer could individually interact with the marketer. First through the marketerís website. And then with email and mobile.

And with the role of individual communications changing in the purchase process the role of mass communications was being called into question. Particularly in the areas of product demonstration. But even more importantly, its role in building brand preference.

No wonder the entire foundation of the agency business is under so much stress.

The Law of Numbers

Marketers have always known that for every person who went through all four steps and made a purchase there are hundreds, maybe thousands who started the journey but dropped-out somewhere along the way. This is the logic behind the classic sales funnel.

Everyone knew that you have to have a lot of people beginning the steps to a purchase for every one who actually bought. While there arenít precise figures, most experts agree that something more that 95% of those starting the journey to a purchase never make it to the action step (Chart D).

This law of numbers was, and is, fundamental to all marketing. And marketers readily accepted playing this numbers game.

Finding the Missing Millions

But while weíve always accepted the loss of these missing millions, we never knew who they were. Or precisely at what step they dropped out. Or what they were specifically interested in before they dropped out. The fact is they were anonymous. And along the way they just disappeared.

Because the marketer didnít know anything about them, the missing millions ended up back in the big target market pool. They were automatically treated as if they had never begun the purchase journey. They were recycled back to the beginning.

Advertising, and other mass communications, addressed them as if they had never had any prior interest in the marketerís product. Yet common sense tells us that, if we could, it would be ideal to re-engage them where they dropped-out.

Recycling interested prospects back to the beginning is wasteful. And it also assures that many of the marketerís messages are probably irrelevant.

But Wait, Thereís Good News

Technology, which brought on so much of this disruption, is now promising a gift.

For the first time, we can begin to know who each of these missing millions are. What the specific interests are for each individual. And the step to a purchase at which each one dropped-out. We may even begin to know why they dropped-out.

This opens doors that were once unimaginable.

Increasingly, marketers can learn more about visitors to their website. What their interests on that site are. What email content gets their attention. What mobile messages engage them. And this knowledge is not about big faceless masses.

This is about flesh and blood individuals. One person at a time.

Delivering timely, tailor made, personally relevant messages to each of these drop-outs is what marketing to the missing millions is all about. That definition again:

The Missing Millions are persons who have shown specific and tangible interest in the marketerís product or service but have not yet made the purchase. Marketing to the Missing Millions is first identifying them and then communicating with them directly in an individualized personally relevant way through multiple media.

Think about it. The implications are mind-boggling!

Personal Privacy

Make no mistake. This treasure-trove of information is not perfect. Nor is it complete. But it is getting better and better. And great care must be taken so that its collection and use never violates the individualís right to privacy.

But the consumer is demanding increased personal relevancy in the commercial communications she receives. And there is increasing evidence that she will permit the usage of information about her if it leads to messaging that is more personally relevant. Thus saving her time and frustration.

Lots of openness, honesty and just plain common sense is called for. The marketer must earn and maintain the consumerís trust.

The Whys and Hows of Marketing to the Missing Millions

ďOK,Ē you say, ďI get it. So what does it take to make marketing to the missing millions work? And specifically, how can it benefit my agency?Ē

The Whys

From the marketerís standpoint only a small increase in sales to the missing millions can have a major impact on overall sales. If historically only one person in a hundred who started the journey made a purchase, think of what raising that to two people in a hundred would mean. The leverage is phenomenal.

But, mass customization of commercial messaging is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is the increased personal relevancy. And the power that relevancy has with the consumer.

The curse is that those countless different messages must be carefully crafted. And, if they are not fully aligned with, and supportive of, the brand position, confusion reigns among consumers. That can do more harm than good.

Ultimately, skilled market communications professionals must create and maintain a holistic, personally relevant message stream for each and every person in the missing millions pool. Thatís right, each and every one.

This is a high value opportunity for agencies. Making sure that the individualized messages that help the consumer move effortlessly through the steps to a purchase can have an enormous difference in the brandís success.

And can be a significant source of new income for agencies.

The Hows

Essentially, there are three elements required for a marketing to the missing millions program. They are:

1. Information Capture
When a consumer Ė who has granted identity permission - clicks on a website, answers a question, opens an email or responds to a mobile message, that action should be captured. In as much detail as possible.

For example it is ideal to know, keep and maintain as much as possible about the demographics and psychographics of that particular consumer. What previous contact he has had with the marketer. And the timing and pace of those prior contacts. What product he has shown interest in. And the specific information about the product that he has viewed.

And, of course, with particular interest in how far along the steps to a purchase he has come.

Clearly there is a lot of data here. Particularly if the marketer has a consumer base in the thousands, much less, millions. But, knowing the interests of each consumer is fundamental to successful personal relevancy.

2. Relevant Messaging
With the information above, the marketer is now prepared to address each consumer with a message individually tailored to what is most relevant to that person. Reflecting the marketerís understanding of his specific interests and where he might be on the steps to a purchase.

This obviously means assembling a staggering number of different, individually tailored, messages. This is done through an automated relevant message generator. This computer driven generator takes what is known about the prospect and tailors message content for that person that is personally relevant. And then it assures the timeliness of those individual messages which are served through an automated delivery system.

Clearly the trick here is to create and maintain pre-loaded message content modules which, when assembled in countless different ways, work harmoniously in moving the individual forward in the purchase process. And at the same time support the clientís brand position and values.

Building and maintaining the commercial content for the automated message generator is not the job for amateurs. If not done right the consumer may view it as not only not personally relevant, but actually disingenuous. Not good for the marketer or the brand.

Doing it right is a big task that calls for the best persuasive talent. Talent that most likely resides within an agency.

3. Continuous Feedback
Response to those marketing messages is then captured and fed back into the database for the individual consumer. That information helps shape future individual communications. And the cycle continues.

While this may sound terribly complex, there is now software for the technical side. And fulfilling the creative side precisely fits agency capabilities.

Advertising Ainít What it Used to Be

Creating and maintaining effective, harmonious structure and content for a successful missing millions marketing program is way outside the scope of traditional agency services. It takes us into a new paradigm.

Yet it reflects the new realities of consumers demanding personal relevance coupled with what todayís technology can accomplish.

It is a new type of service. One that serves the consumer well. One that serves the client well.

And one that also represents a huge opportunity for forward-thinking agencies.

© Carlton Associates Inc.

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