Woolley Marketing: Top of the funnel or bottom of the funnel? 

In his regular column for Mumbrella, Trinity P3 founder and global CEO Darren Woolley looks at the false dichotomy of the funnel.

It is interesting how discussing the sales funnel or the marketing funnel, or even the marketing and sales funnel, always gets a reaction from people. Some will maintain that the funnel is redundant, or even dead. Others will question why it needs to be a funnel. Why not a path or a journey? And modern sales insists it is a pipeline. 

The same applies when the discussion turns to where to invest in the funnel. Top of funnel brand marketers will tell you that building awareness and consideration fills the funnel to reap the benefits at the bottom. While their last-click attribution colleagues will insist that the bottom of the funnel is where the investment should be made. 

Cartoon by Dennis Flad, with permission (2022)

This is much like the television advertising evangelists of old pitted against their point of purchase (now called shopper marketer) associates of today – both insisting that the best return is found at the two ends of the same customer journey.  

For many years, Google was a big champion of last click attribution, on the basis that it not only accounted for the actual sales, but more importantly substantiated increasing investment in their paid search product, which exploded to an excess of $100 billion per year. 

Meanwhile, brand marketers appear to be fighting a rearguard action, pointing to the research by Field & Binet, which emphasises the need for a significant investment at the top of the funnel and a much lower level of investment at the bottom, transforming the argument into one of investing in long-term brand building over short term sales tactics.  

Of course, there is an easy allure in the apparent cause and effect at the bottom of the funnel. Pay to have your brand and offer presented to a customer when they are in ‘buying’ mode and then having them buy must seem like a good investment. Many on-line retail businesses and small and medium businesses have seen solid sales growth through a single-minded investment at the bottom of the funnel. 

But it is equally as interesting, as these businesses grow, to see they are increasingly investing in building top of funnel awareness and consideration as well. This is partly because their growth provides the resources to invest at both the top and the bottom at the same time. But it is also because they often reach the inherent limitations of focusing on the bottom of the funnel strategy to deliver growth. 

As one performance marketing specialist told me in a moment of transparency, there are only so many people in market at any one time and they are often the same people, so you realise you need to start filling the top of the funnel too. 

The problem with these two approaches is that they frame the funnel as a dichotomy, and a false one at that. Where does it say that there is only the top and the bottom of the funnel? In fact, McKinsey addressed this false choice so elegantly with the concept of Full Funnel Marketing. Not the top of funnel, not the bottom of the funnel, but right through the funnel from top to bottom. 

The funnel is one of those old marketing models, and it still provides an effective way to map the opportunities to influence the customer purchase decision. It allows for marketers to be able to consider and map their activities and investment to maximise return, to ensure that as many customers at the top of the funnel make it to the bottom of the funnel. 

The difference is that today, marketing mix modelling (MMM) is now readily available to any advertiser, through any number of AI driven platforms, to be able to model and understand the impact of investing at each and every level of the funnel. 

Darren Woolley is the founder and global CEO at Trinity P3. Woolley Marketing is a regular Mumbrella column.


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