Brand Marketing vs. Funnel Marketing: What's the Difference?

Phil Nottingham


You might’ve noticed that all of us at Wistia have been talking more and more about brand marketing. Our view — as we outline in our Brand Affinity Marketing Playbook — is that the next stage of investment in video marketing will be long-form, serialized content designed to increase brand affinity. And when it comes to brand marketing, this method is a different type of investment than the one you’d make in typical, straight-forward digital advertising. Let’s take a look at the differences between brand marketing and funnel marketing and why you might want to invest more in your brand.

What is brand marketing?

Brand marketing is the investment in marketing activities designed to associate imagery, ideas, and feelings with a brand in the mind of consumers. It typically takes the form of creative content that’s distributed through advertising, organic channels — or both.

It’s not a new concept. Brand marketing, in various forms, has compromised the lion’s share of investment in marketing since the 1950s. TV, print media, and billboards are all created in an effort to tell a story and increase emotional connections between a consumer and a business. It’s how most established major businesses have built a name for themselves.

But the promise of more trackable, directly attributable advertising and marketing activity, led by innovations in CRM and digital advertising over the past 15 years, has shifted the default approach to marketing most new businesses now take.

Typically defined as performance marketing, inbound marketing, or digital marketing, the new “funnel-centric” approach starts with the premise that potential customers go through a linear process called the “buyer’s journey.”

Image credit: HubSpot

The idea is that businesses can — and should — reach their users (“prospects”) at each stage of this journey, providing appropriate guidance at each point that eventually leads to users choosing their product or service.

The growth of the buyer’s journey mentality has ensured businesses move away from one-size-fits-all messaging, toward offering more targeted and focused offerings for individuals based on their particular situational needs.

However, it’s also meant that a huge number of small businesses today aren’t doing any brand marketing at all. The shared thought is that brand marketing is something big companies invest in, which smaller companies can afford to avoid, since an investment in targeted and specific messaging will yield returns more efficiently than expensive creative content.

How is brand marketing different than funnel marketing?

Brand marketing and funnel marketing essentially use the same tactics, with different foundational strategies. Both heavily rely on using content to acquire users via search, social media, advertising, and email. But, they differ in terms of the audience, the intention, and the success metrics.

“They differ in terms of the audience, the intention, and the success metrics”

Let’s compare:

Funnel MarketingBrand Marketing
Audience is potential customers Audience is potential influencers
Goal is to drive conversionsGoal is to drive engagement
Reach people when they’re looking for solutions to problems your product solvesReach people when they’re looking for general information and entertainment
Convince people of the value of your product or serviceExplore an idea or topic your audience cares about
A focus on acquiring leads A focus on acquiring fans and subscribers

While funnel marketing treats each new user as a potential new customer on the first step of their journey, brand marketing treats each new user as a potential advocate who can further spread a company’s message.

“Brand marketing treats each new user as a potential advocate who can further spread a company’s message.”

Funnel marketing, therefore, focuses on nurturing new users as individuals, with a single end goal for each user (revenue). Brand marketing, on the other hand, treats users as members of many different communities, providing an opportunity to further amplify a brand message through word-of-mouth.

Why you can’t survive with just funnel marketing

Relying solely on conversion-oriented investments has several flaws.

The modern buyer’s journey relies much more on word-of-mouth than individual research

With the growth of private, ad-free social messaging platforms, more than ever, consumers are researching products on platforms that marketers can’t see or track — in a phenomenon ominously (and excellently) called “dark social.”

For example, if I want to buy a new monitor for video editing, my first step is not to search Amazon or Google, but instead to text Wistia’s ultimate gear-head, Chris Lavigne. And if I want to find a new small-business banking service, I don’t start with searching comparison sites, but instead sending a message to a Whatsapp group of self-employed friends from college.

This trend isn’t only reserved for B2C businesses; it holds true for B2B investments, too. If I want to buy a new rank tracking software to provide data for some marketing dashboards, I won’t shop around. I’ll just ask for tips in a private Technical SEO Slack community.

In all of these cases, I’ve bypassed the awareness and consideration stages of the funnel, and gone straight to the decision phase before any business had the chance to market to me at all.

Google and Facebook completely control what’s left of the funnel

As pointed out in this study, the big tech giants are steadily taking over the entirety of the buyer’s journey, and filling it with ads. One of the smartest strategic plays of Google and Facebook over the last few years has been to convince marketers that all marketing investments are now quantifiable, all the while ensuring the only truly quantifiable activity available are ads on Facebook and Google. The removal of keyword data from Google Organic referrals (i.e., not provided) in 2011 was the first stage of this, and more and more control has been asserted ever since.

Both Google and Facebook seem to share the goal of being a one-stop-shop for advertising and marketing, where marketers can go to buy access to an audience of potential customers, and reach them efficiently with appropriate messages for their stage in the buyer’s journey. And, they’re doing a very good job of it. The problem is that this trend involves all businesses being completely reliant on just two giant businesses to survive, at which basic rules of the market mean advertising costs are going to increase significantly, punishing any business that hasn’t been able to break away from the “pay-to-play” model.

Investing only in funnel marketing means investing only in conversion-centric content

As the adage goes, you get what you measure. And if you only measure the value of content in terms of its contribution to a sale, you’re going to inevitably start shifting all your creative energies towards things that look like ads and product videos.

Even if the desire initially is to do something more creative and entertaining (perhaps under the framing of “top of funnel” content), measuring success based on sales will mean you end up wanting to include product value propositions in everything you do — hampering the initial intent and its efficacy.

Principles of effective brand marketing

Success with brand marketing relies on two things: consumption and conversation.

1. Consumption: Are people engaging with your content and message?

2. Conversation: Are people talking about your content and message with others?

Obviously, to start with, you need to have a great message and brand identity.

Get Inspired
Need help getting started? Ogilvy’s Big Idea framework is a great resource if you need help refining your brand identity.

Once you have a solid message and identity, the challenge then becomes how you can maximize consumption and conversation with your creative assets and distribution:


Creatively, you need to come up with something that will get people talking. Word-of-mouth relies on galvanizing communities and subcultures, which you can achieve by targeting a niche audience.


On the distribution side, you need to get in front of people in the places they’re looking for distractions, like social media. You also need to make sure whatever you’re creating captures the attention of anyone who comes across it and captivates them enough to keep exploring, all while providing sufficient reason for sharing — on both private and public platforms. At Wistia, we believe the best way to achieve all this is by marketing like a media company, which, in short, means marketing your content like a product.

How can you measure the ROI from brand marketing?

One of the reasons why businesses are reluctant to invest more in brand marketing activities is that the return is inherently much less directly measurable. For example, If you spend $10,000 on PPC ads, and implement a sensible attribution model (e.g., linear or time-decay), you can arrive at a very straightforward “money in, money out” figure. This then makes justifying further investment very straightforward, since you can say with an extremely high degree of confidence that this activity will be worthwhile.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for brand marketing activities, where the direct benefit is in changing the way people think and feel about you — something which doesn’t necessarily manifest itself outside of the minds of consumers. So, to effectively measure brand marketing, we have to use a series of proxies which likely represent a shift in attitude and behavior. But the one, single most important metric to quantify value from Brand Marketing is time spent with your brand.

While funnel marketing has helped dictate our strategies in the past, it isn’t the best way to build a lovable brand in the future. When it comes down to it, if you want to grow your brand, you need to combine funnel marketing with Brand Affinity Marketing, investing in tactics that increase word-of-mouth and create more meaningful relationships with your customers.

Phil Nottingham


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