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The marketing funnel: managing complexity

May 19, 2021

By Andrea Tartaglia – Co-Founder/Director @ The Marketing Leaders Ltd.

 

My exploration of the marketing funnel continues with some more considerations on its use in the context of the complexities associated with developing and managing a Brand and its marketing strategies. 

Here is a brief recap of the journey so far:

 

For completeness, I want to talk about some limitations of the marketing funnel, which come to light in real life when things are not simple nor ‘text-book’. 

As mentioned in the articles listed above, my strategic thinking takes in consideration the stage of the funnel the consumers or potential consumers are in, the interaction of the various touch points activated by the marketing activities and how they work together to influence the journey consumers take to reach my end goal (say a purchase).

There are a couple of big considerations related to the funnel and the connected consumer journey worth mentioning:

  • the nature of the goals I intend to achieve and how they inform the strategy, including the timeline by which the results are expected,
  • the different stages of the funnel in relation to the various consumer types and where they are in their journey, collectively and individually.

Let’s talk strategy first.

Here I make a big distinction between Brand building and tactical commercial goals. The two are interconnected. It is not a binary choice between one or the other. Both are relevant and can work together to deliver sustainable growth over a long period of time (keep reading for more on this).

However, I find a lot of attention is directed to the tactics and their results while there is some ‘frustration’ with Brand building activities as they take longer to produce outcomes, and the results are not as tangible (but in my opinion still strategically important to secure longevity).

It is the good old debate about long-term and short-term strategies and activities.

Brand building happens typically at the top end of the funnel. This is where marketing, and any other touchpoint reaching potential consumers, work to establish the Brand equities and strengthen the affinity, which as mentioned earlier, drives interest, and eventually generates a purchase.

The benefit of this work pays off in the long term, giving the Brand the opportunity to build loyalty and withstand challenges thanks to the acquired trust built among consumers. For example: most people think that established brands were best positioned to face the impact of the pandemic on business, in a time when consumers preferred to stick to the tried and tested rather than risking disappointment by trying something new. (For the record, I think that it is true, but it is not the only truth, as demonstrated by a number of new brands and products that established themselves during the pandemic).

The effectiveness of brand building activities can be measured but cannot be associated directly to commercial indicators (for example short term revenues). Of course, the funnel suggests that you need a certain level of awareness and affinity to generate conversion: the higher the awareness and affinity, the higher interest levels and purchase intent are. But generally speaking, the correlation is not immediate.

Tactical activations happen at the bottom end of the funnel and can (and should) have a direct impact on sales. These are also measurable and the correlation between activity and ROI is much more immediate.

Think about a marketing communication offering a discount for a limited time. You can certainly measure how many people were exposed to that communication and how many have decided to pick up on the offer and have made a purchase. And based on these basic data points, it is easy to calculate the exact ROI of the activity (in whichever way is appropriate to measure it).

Some people in the organization will pay attention mostly to the tactical activations (think sales and finance). These are easy to ‘sell’ internally.

Fewer people beyond the marketing team would pay attention to Brand building and the long terms risks of eroding Brand equity.

Resolving these dynamics can lead to rewarding success both in the short and the long period. And the solution is simple (on paper): pivot the thinking by considering both the long term and short-term impact of each activation and build plans that address both the Brand building needs and the tactical, hard selling activities.

 

The other big consideration is that different consumer types will be at different points of their journey from awareness to action. And even within the same consumer type, there will be people spread across the 4 phases.

 

Again, this is an element of complexity that needs to be managed. 

And this reinforces my thinking that you need both brand building and active selling elements in each marketing activation to be able to reach consumers in a meaningful way wherever they are in the funnel. Long-term and short-term, Brand building and sales activation need to work concurrently across the spectrum of current and potential consumers, all driving towards the end goal: sustainable growth.  

Furthermore, the inverted pyramid shape of the funnel suggests there are more people at the top and fewer at the bottom. This is both obvious and understandable.  There are more people that have a shallow relationship with the Brand and fewer that have a deeper level of engagement.

Understanding this fact has an impact on the kind of activities that are more appropriate at the top of the funnel than at the bottom.

For example, broad reaching media like TV might be more appropriate to generate awareness (as you need a lot of people to be aware to start generating conversion into affinity, interest, and action); while a more personalized approach (say a CRM activity) might be more appropriate at the end of the funnel when we are talking to fewer people we know relatively well.

What I am getting at is that the overall journey of consumers through the funnel is not linear. I wish it were…

 

Does this undermine the usefulness of the Marketing funnel?

Personally, I do not think it does.

The funnel can still be used to understand consumers and where they are in relation to their relationship with Brands and products. It helps with simplifying the complexity that surrounds us. However, a more sophisticated approach is needed to go deeper in our understanding and develop highly effective marketing strategies and activities.

It is up to us as marketers to decide how much we want to push the sophistication of our approach, balancing the need to be as accurate (dare I say it: scientific) as possible with the need to deliver results in a timely manner. So, add sophistication but do not get lost in it, causing paralysis.

All this is clearly very generic. The business context will play a big role in defining the most appropriate strategy, the actions, and channels to use. And this is why insights and data play such a big role in informing the thinking, the planning and finally the implementation of effective marketing strategies.

Ultimately, I find the marketing funnel helps me with starting a rigorous process of understanding and kicking off from my strategic thinking. It forces me to put the consumers at the center of the strategic development and think carefully about the cause-and-effect implications of each planned marketing activity in relation to the objectives I want to achieve, for each relevant consumer segment.