Hockey and the marketing funnel: An exercise in awarding credit

In digital advertising, everybody is seeking the credit.

In ice hockey the player responsible for putting the puck in the back of the net gets most of the accolades from the fans. However, the sport knows it is also crucial to remember the passes that led to the goal.

That’s why in hockey, when evaluating a player’s offensive prowess, statisticians use a points system to attribute each goal scored. A player gets one point for each goal. They also get a point for a direct assist to the goal. And they can also get a point for an assist to the assist (assuming the opposition doesn’t touch the puck in between.)

The goal and assists each count as one point for the players involved. Same credit. Across the board.

When rewarding actions in digital marketing, the best campaigns use a similar approach. Give credit where it is due.

The first assist: Putting the goal in motion.  (Awareness)

Just like on the ice, this involves seeing the big picture. And setting the campaign up for success. In terms of advertising, the emphasis is on reach and scale, and targeting tactics that are as broad as possible. Just as every pass won’t always lead to a goal, the more you make the more likely you are to eventually score. Same concept applies here, the more prospects, the more eventual conversions.

The second assist: Quality targets (Cultivation)

Shots on goal. Whereas awareness might skew a bit towards quantity, this is where quality really shines. These are the quality passes, the one that leverage the moment and set up the eventual score. When shifting from hockey back to marketing, this is where a campaign is utilizing awareness to drive a higher-quality cultivated audience to take increased actions.

The goal: Lighting the lamp (Intent)

This is where all the previous actions reach their payoff. Each pass has put the team in a better position to score the goal and all that is left is burying the puck in the back of the net. In hockey, these are the highest value shots, in advertising these are the highest-value audiences. Set up for success due to the strategic plays that proceeded it. When done correctly, these high-quality attempts are likely to lead to a goal. In advertising, similarly, dialed in tactics help to drive positive outcomes and complete the conversion.

In summary, just as a player trying to be a hero and progress past defenders on their own rarely leads to success in the rink, advertisers can’t just rely on direct response marketing to drive meaningful results.

Instead of celebrating only the goals (let’s take a lesson from hockey), and give a little more attention to the assists.

BONUS FACT: If you take away all of Wayne Gretzky’s points from goals, he would still be the NHL’s all-time points leader, with his assists totals alone.


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