Why do top of the funnel insights measures such as brand health not perfectly translate into actual brand choice at the bottom of the funnel? If it did you would have a pipeline and not a funnel. Is the reason that what drives brand preference is not what also drives brand choice or is it simply that for brand marketers ‘there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip?’
At the top of the funnel, brand health is the likelihood that your brand will be the prospective buyer’s first choice. First choice is a product (dependent variable) of the prospective buyer’s rational and emotional appraisal of the competitive set. For commercial markets, rational assessment centers on value for money. That is, value in the economics sense of the word – as it relates to the price and quality trade-off. Beware, on the price side of the value equation, the most common folly is for brand managers to assume price elasticity is based on actual price and not perceived price. To read more, please see here.
In this context, emotion is the neutral pathway between what emotional benefit the category facilitates and the brand. If winning the lottery is perceived to bring happiness, and the pursuit of happiness is the human motivation for buying lottery tickets then, the brand selling lottery tickets needs to have created a neural pathway or non-conscious association between the brand and the discrete emotion, happiness. Implicitly measured, Mars has achieved that non-conscious association between the discrete emotion happiness and M&M’s.
Brand tracking tends to focus on gauging brand health at the top of the funnel. This can lead to a lot of back slapping about the terrific job the marketing department and the creative partners have achieved however, the endgame is not about brand preference but rather, brand choice. The intention of the shopper as they turn into the “shopping aisle” might have been to select your brand however, as they physically or metaphorically travel the “last three feet,” their preference criteria can be diluted by competitors amplifying lesser criteria.
The endgame is not about brand preference but rather, brand choice
Let’s say for mobile phone carriers, network performance has been instrumental is driving your brand preference. However, at the point of purchase, a lesser choice criterion such as a bundled in streaming service or free international roaming causes interference between brand preference and brand choice. The interference leads you to choose a competitor. You trade-off inferior network for a “free” Netflix subscription. The greater the competitive intensity in a category, the looser the top of the funnel brand preference measure is as an approximation for brand choice.
So, the crux of the question for marketers is, why bother building top of the funnel brand preference and instead, why not just hang out at the bottom of the funnel redirecting your competitors’ preferences? The answer is, brand preference largely does equal brand choice. Forethought modelling consistently shows that top of the funnel brand preference correlates strongly with third party validated, measures of actual choice. Top of the funnel brand health is a predictor (albeit an imperfect predictor) of bottom of the funnel, brand choice. Therefore, brand building remains an essential activity for a successful brand.
Top of the funnel brand health is a predictor of bottom of the funnel, brand choice.
The link between preference and choice can be best illustrated in markets where the government regulator requires brands to submit what is effectively change in market share. For example, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) collects movements in numbers of superannuation fund members. Exhibit One illustrates the relationship between the top of the funnel brand health and according to APRA, the bottom of the funnel, growth in membership. The correlation between brand health and membership growth is 0.81. Therefore, for the better part, what drives brand preference is also what drives brand choice. Incidentally, in this highly competitive category, the correlation is at its strongest when the choice data is lagged three months behind the brand health measure.
Exhibit One – Relationship between brand health and growing membership
And yet, it is not a pipeline and the fact remains, top of the funnel brand health does not perfectly translate into brand choice at the bottom of the funnel and, the prosperity of the business could easily turn on those prospects being captured rather than having them diverted to a competitor.
Unfair share and the bottom of the funnel
The competitors most vulnerable to losing out at the bottom of the funnel are those in highly competitive markets with weak brand health compounded by poor physical availability. The battle at the bottom of the funnel is to maximize the conversion of your brand preference while minimizing the success of your competitors’ bottom of the funnel, diversionary tactics. The trouble is matching competitors’ tactics involves diluting your own enterprise value by giving away value to those who would ordinarily come to your brand without further inducement. The question becomes one of marginal costs versus marginal benefit.
How then do you maximize the success of your own bottom of the funnel tactics while minimizing the loss of enterprise value? The lowest cost tactics are those that simply reinforce at the point of sale your top of the funnel, brand health drivers. Returning to our telecommunications example, you execute bottom of the funnel tactics to reinforce your network performance. Alas, for some, the lure of superior network coverage is not enough to offset the bargain of a free streaming service and so you need more (Exhibit Two).
Exhibit Two – Diversionary tactics to win the battle of choice over preference
Building an efficient bottom of the funnel playbook
For digital media, feedback on the efficacy of creative can be almost instantaneous and approaches such as A/B testing enables performance marketing to be continuously improved. A more efficient and scientific means to optimize diversionary tactics is to run MaxDiff[i] (maximum difference scaling) experiments using the brand and advertising tracker data collection. The fast and simple method bely the power of the resultant discrete choice model and the guidance it provides for optimizing bottom of the funnel performance marketing.
Unlike top of the funnel brand preference methods that screen the full array of hypothetical drivers to identify the primary behavioral motivators that maximize brand preference, MaxDiff scientifically identifies the tactics that work at the bottom of the funnel to maximize choice for the “last three feet.” If the market prefers your competitor’s product or service, MaxDiff enables you to cost effectively identify how to augment your offer to diminish the competitor’s advantage.
The need to optimize performance marketing is continuous and therefore, MaxDiff experiments should match the cadence of the brand and advertising tracker data collection. The approach Forethought uses is to progressively assemble a playbook of learnings. Learnings are initially “written in pencil” and as they are successfully applied in-market, “written in ink.” The playbook becomes jointly developed by the client, creative and insights partner.
The need to optimize performance marketing is continuous
The dichotomy between brand preference and brand choice or alternatively, brand building and performance marketing may lead some to consider these Forethought findings are complementary to those addressed in the 2013 IPA, Binet and Field study based on advertising awards submissions, ‘The Long and The Short of It.’ On the contrary, our work which is based on unbiased, market performance data proves that building brand preference based on the rational and emotional drivers of choice at the top of the funnel, in most instances leads to brand choice at the bottom of the funnel and it is essentially the presence of those pesky competitor’s tactics that requires bottom of the funnel initiatives otherwise, we’d have a pipe.
For a more detailed discussion please see ‘The Folly of the The Long and the Short of It’[ii] and ‘The funnel alibi: Why brand building and activation should be undertaken simultaneously.’ [iii]
All in all
Brand owners lament that their brand health at the top of the funnel does not entirely translate into brand choice at the bottom of the funnel. Turning the funnel into a pipeline requires marketers to understand why buyers’ first choice preferences do not necessarily translate into buyers’ choice. The most common reason is competitors’ tactics that elevate diversionary, secondary attributes in the buyer’s mind during that all important “last three feet,”
[i] The Forethought approach is Prophecy® Deflection™ This method is used to deflect prospective customers whose first choice is a competitor away from the competitor and towards our client.