Dear Digital Marketers: For The Best Results, Forget The Funnel

A debate has raged on whether or not digital is a branding medium. I for one think it's a ridiculous debate. All bias aside on what the proper way to do brand advertising on the Internet is, how can a medium so rich, engaging and massive not be a perfect branding channel? And yet a majority of digital marketing activities focus on the lowest portion of the purchase funnel (direct response) because it is the most measurable, where branding efforts are much harder to define. I think the point marketers are missing is that it doesn't have to be one or the other in digital. In fact, in digital media one marketing unit can address the entire funnel. 

In a great conversation with IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg, he said having marketing efforts historically divided by various points in the purchase funnel, didn't necessarily make sense any more. Even beyond the traditional purchase funnel described on Wikipedia, the new marketing funnel would include two steps past driving purchase -- to manage customer loyalty (CRM) and advocacy (sharing brands with social graphs). Mass awareness campaigns and perception would be handled by one type of agency, couponing to drive product trial by another, local retail by another, CRM and customer loyalty by yet another agency. Finally, driving consumer word-of-mouth and advocacy would be handled by yet another agency. But with digital marketing, a single consumer engagement touch point, properly designed, could add value to consumers at all points in the new marketing funnel -- and more importantly, for consumers moving from one point to another in the funnel.



If marketers considered each consumer engagement as an opportunity to address all points in the purchase funnel, they would get the most ROI on their digital marketing efforts. For example, a good digital marketing experience would start with an overarching brand message driving awareness and product/service positioning. After the consumers engage with the brand messaging, perhaps they are ready to move to the consideration portion of the funnel (wasn't that the purpose of your creative?) and would like to know where their local provider of said product or service is. A great digital engagement would allow for the ability to let that subset of consumers continue their engagement by entering their Zip code and returning local results. Then, the funnel tells us, some subset of those consumers may be interested in trial, so a good digital engagement would allow for conversations to sales, be it coupons or e-commerce.

If consumers enjoyed the entire experience, some subset who spent time engaging with the brand might want to enter into a loyalty program or "like" the brand on Facebook (fast becoming the digital CRM tool of choice). Finally, some subset of consumers will share with their social graphs the results of their interaction with a digital marketing engagement, generating consumer word of mouth about a marketing campaign; this is usually highly correlated with the creative messaging.

The key is that if digital marketing effort is done in silos and measured as such, marketers are not getting the full ROI. The ROI from a campaign like the one mentioned above is best measured not by any one point in the new funnel, but by adding up all the values. Therefore a good digital engagement marketing campaign will deliver awareness and perception + consideration + trial + loyalty + advocacy.

Have you seen this in action? Drop me a line on Twitter at, and drop a comment on the Spin board!


This post in 140 characters or less: According to @joemarchese digital marketing won't work until marketers plan for and take into account the entire funnel

5 comments about "Dear Digital Marketers: For The Best Results, Forget The Funnel ".
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  1. Ken Mallon from Ken Mallon Advisory Services, April 27, 2010 at 3:05 p.m.

    Joe is absolutely right. Any media that is personalizable and interactive, is well-positioned to be effective throughout the marketing funnel. This was part of the positioning of the internet 10 years ago. So, why does it have to be repeatedly stated?

  2. Rich Benci from Benci Consulting, LLC, April 27, 2010 at 3:37 p.m.

    Relationship Marketing is a good moniker to use for the type of campaign Joe describes ... and NOT to be confused with CRM. Leveraging third-party sites that engage users on a single topic is an efficient way to do this versus trying to find people within a specific stage of the "funnel". BabyCenter is a good example where an advertiser can reach consumers as they move through the funnel on everything baby, and my former company RealAge did this very well in the health vertical.

  3. Michael Senno from New York University, April 27, 2010 at 7:40 p.m.

    Isn't this Marketing 101, Joe? Digital should not change the approach you describe, all it does is provide more tools to better reach consumers in each part of the funnel and provide a way to increase the percent of consumers that make it down the funnel.

  4. Chuan jer Lim from Yahoo! Southeast Asia Pte Ltd, April 27, 2010 at 10:28 p.m.

    I believe Joe is addressing the pertinent problem we are facing in the world of online advertising. practically every agency, advertiser i'd come across looks at the last mile. whatever happened in the funnel is taken as an obligation from the publisher/media owner.

    While I agree with Michael that this is marketing 101, but when it comes down to accountability, this 101 hardly stands.
    To the extent that I feel this is one of the major contributor of why the shift of ad spend to digital is not as fast as it should be.

  5. Cece Forrester from tbd, May 4, 2010 at 11:23 a.m.

    No no no! Consumers are not supposed to enjoy the experience! If you keep on talking like this, next thing you know they will start questioning the idea that their place in life is to obey orders from their superiors and suffer annoyance without attempting to avoid it. Then marketers might have to put on their thinking caps, use some imagination and figure out what the consumers would actually like.

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