Are ladders and funnels the keys to today’s advertising?

Been writing aabout advertising and marketing – on and off – for quite a while now so how come “funnels” and “ladders” (they seem to mean roughly the same thing but may not) have eluded me? Ignorance, obviously.

But they do seem to explain a lot of what’s going on: “purpose” ads in the case of ladders, the irresistible rise of “performance” ads (at the expense of brand building) with funnels.

Here’s the always estimable Dave Trott on ladders.

That’s how it is with all the half-baked, half-truth theories in marketing.

Take brand-purpose, the belief that if we “ladder up” our brand, people will buy more of it.

So we have the first rung on the ladder: functional benefit, what does it do?

Second rung on the ladder: how does it make us feel?

Third rung on the ladder: how will that transform our life?

Fourth rung on the ladder: how will that change the world?

Dave isn’t a fan of the fourth rung, you won’t be surprised to learn.

Now VCCP’s Charles Vallance on funnels (part of a longer piece in Campaign.)

Is your funnel top-heavy, bottom-heavy or perfectly proportioned? This question has come to dominate budget discussions, almost more than raw value for money. And there is a good reason for our funnel fixation. There has always been a balance between top-of-funnel brand building and bottom-of-funnel trading….Of course, there will always be a need to invest in hard-working performance and trade marketing. Inventory will always need shifting. Price (although only one third of the value equation) will need promoting.

At given moments, the investment may even exceed 50% of budget and the funnel will be inverted. We are coming up to one such moment in the Black Friday discount derby. But for most of the year, in most categories, the balance should lean in favour of long-term brand building, where the funnel goes from wide to narrow.

On ladders we can cheerfully agree with Trott. A very few brands might have a role to play in saving/transforming the world but for most it’s an (annoying) irrelevance.

Vallance’s point has been made before (although he does so with characteristic elegance.) But, as he says elsewhere in the piece, it’s hard to make it stick when performance marketing seems so much easier to measure and, somehow, scientific.

As Just A Planner commented on a recent piece in MAA: “Agencies are rapidly becoming the only parties who actually value advertising.”

Maybe the only chink of light is that some of the tech giants – notably Amazon which has the performance economy well and truly taped – definitely do seem to value brand advertising. Then, again, they have rather more headroom than most.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

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    An honour to be quoted!

    But to expand on your closing point: Amazon, Google and Facebook grew their businesses without the need to advertise. It’s only since they’ve become monopolies, threatened by activists and regulators, that they see the value. They’re advertising to defend their market power, not to grow their revenues or differentiate from competitors. Advertising is a luxury good rather than a necessity, if we use their frame (and all those “5 Lessons Every Brand Can Learn From Amazon” articles encourage people to do precisely that). Hence Mr. Trott’s fourth rung: for how else to defend your dominance than to assert it’s to the benefit of humanity?

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