Product recommendations are usually thought of as vehicles that work at the bottom of the marketing funnel. They are used to increase the chance of converting an actively-looking customer or to motivate the customer to spend more than they otherwise would.

This view makes sense given the context in which recommendations usually appear:

  • when a shopper is browsing a product detail page
  • when a shopper is about to complete a purchase
  • when the shopper receives an order or shipping confirmation email

In all these contexts, the customer is close to the bottom of the marketing funnel.

But what about higher up the funnel? Is there a role for product recommendations here?

I think there is. In creating a favorable brand image.

Consider this thought experiment. My twin brother and I make our first purchase from a retailer at the same time. At the POS, we opt-in to receive marketing emails. He receives the standard batch-and-blast email every week while I receive emails where products are chosen based on my behavior and preferences.

Months go by. Who do you think is more likely to be still opening the retailer’s emails? Who do you think is more likely to have gone back for a second purchase?

I may not open or click through the recommended products in every email. But as long as I find the recommended products relevant*, I won’t unsubscribe. My opinion of the brand gets more favorable over time. The brand gets credit for taking the trouble to understand my behavior and personalize my emails.

My improving opinion of the brand is very valuable to the retailer.

Importantly, the retailer gets to keep the email channel to me alive for longer. Since I am opening/clicking on emails somewhat regularly, my ISP’s smart inbox technology (e.g., Gmail Priority Inbox) will not divert the retailer’s emails out of my sight.

As a result, the retailer is in my consideration set longer (than for my twin brother) and has more opportunities to recommend a product that piques my interest. And who knows – I may buy again! It may take weeks, but when it happens, it will help the retailer make a dent on the notorious one-and-done problem.

Furthermore, maybe, just maybe, I share my favorable opinion of the retailer with my social network.

Much like a well-designed ad campaign, a sequence of relevant emails gradually builds a positive impression of the brand inside my brain.

And much like a good ad campaign, relevant email streams lead to longer-term sales effects.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

*Recommending relevant products to a customer several months after their first and only purchase isn’t easy. This is one of the areas we focused on when building out the CQuotient platform.