Why You Should Invest in Full-Funnel Marketing

full-funnel marketing

TOFU, MOFU and BOFU – yes, these are real marketing terms. TOFU, also known as ‘Top of Funnel,’ embodies the starting point of a student’s journey. In the standard funnel, this student will progress from a prospect to a lead, and ultimately convert to an enrolled student. As institutions have adopted more data-driven efforts, many higher education marketers have oriented lower funnel digital marketing campaign tactics to be accountable for converting prospects into leads.

I don’t want to marginalize the importance of bottom-of-the-funnel marketing initiatives— here, I’ll emphasize the importance of measuring full-funnel marketing so the whole scope of attribution is realized.

Marketers often hold specific KPIs — such as leads generated, cost per lead (CPL) or last-click attribution — solely accountable for measuring a digital marketing campaign’s performance. By only holding bottom funnel KPI’s accountable, the importance and contribution of awareness and engagement campaigns aren’t entirely accounted for.

Instead, marketers should be running and measuring campaigns across the full marketing funnel (to include the top, middle, and bottom of the funnel) because this approach is advantageous in:

  • Reducing reliability on the bottom of the funnel initiatives. Lower funnel initiatives typically include direct, response-only channels, such as paid search (branded and long-tail keywords), retargeting and Facebook ads.
  • Creating scale for a school’s campaign in order to increase the volume of student leads
  • Reaching users early in the decision-making process and influencing them before they adopt another brand. Achieving brand awareness prematurely can help influence a prospect to prefer your institution over competitors.

In this blog, I’ll talk about how Katana approaches measuring the entire conversion funnel, and how we hold each stage accountable.

Breaking Down the Marketing Funnel: The Different Stages

Awareness and Reach, or TOFU (Top of Funnel):

This is the initial touchpoint a prospect has with a school’s brand and is often the preliminary exposure that drives traffic and converts a prospect into a lead. Since this is the widest phase of the funnel, the content shouldn’t be dense. However, the content should offer enough information to maintain a prospect’s engagement and initiate them to submit their contact information.

Creating digital awareness is a function of owned, earned and paid media.

  • Owned media includes a school’s social platforms, website, public relations. Markers should frame their social media presence to build brand awareness and position their institution with an image that resonates with the intended audience.
  • Earned media is impacted by WHO is sharing information about a school, whether it be online users or major publishers. Assessing earned media can be difficult since marketers don’t have control over what is being said, but ‘shares’ and unsolicited comments are good indicators of where a brand stands. When it comes to earned media, it’s more important to monitor WHO is sharing the information, since influencers imbue an opinion that online users might adopt.
  • Paid media accounts for Google AdWords, Bing, Facebook/Instagram ads and other digital channels that can be used to extend reach.

In this stage, marketers should consider the following fundamental elements:

  • Landing pages with contact lead form
  • Direct mail campaigns set up
  • Paid traffic campaigns set up
  • Retargeting campaigns in place [link to enrollment marketing blog]

How to Assign KPIs and Accountability

While the importance of each metric has more weight on certain channels, impressions, customer engagement, and reach and frequency are good indicators of a brand awareness campaign’s performance. To break it down:

  • Impressions: In digital advertising, impressions represent how many times an ad was served within an allotted amount of time, rendered as a cost-per-one thousand impressions (CPM).
  • Customer Engagement: Measuring engagement provides marketers with insight into how users are responding to an ad’s message. Knowing if your audience is responding well or not can help marketers make optimizations in real time. On social media or paid search channels, click-through-rate is a concrete metric to track customer engagement. Contrary, conversions are better benchmarks to identify customer engagement for banner ads, since ads are vying for the attention of a user more so than other channels.      
  • Reach and Frequency: Reach simply refers to the number of users who are receiving impressions from an ad, while frequency is the average number of times a person is exposed to an advertisement over a certain period of time. Although reach and frequency are the least complex, they are additional layers of analysis that can be used to further break down impression metrics

The purpose of this stage is to get your brand and message out to a defined group of individuals (based on demographics and behavioral targeting). As the ‘billboard’ adage goes, a prospect needs to be exposed to an ad at least seven times in order to fully digest and comprehend the message and have brand recognition.

This rule is also applicable to digital ads, so it’s important that schools are reaching prospects with high-quality ads at a frequent cadence. Since the goal is to drive targeted reach at a minimum frequency, a KPI associated with this phase in the higher education enrollment marketing funnel is the cost-per-minimum-reach (CPMR).

Engagement, or MOFU (Middle of Funnel):

Once a prospect submits their contact information, the school now has the leverage to fortify a relationship with their now-lead. In this phase, marketing messages should focus on engaging the lead with educational and valuable information. Perhaps a school has notable accolades, boasts a renowned degree program or is centralized in a prime location that is of interest to the prospect. Once the prospect is aware of a school’s selling points, the enrollment team can prime post-lead conversations to transform the formal relationship into a transactional one.

In this stage, marketers should consider the following fundamental elements:

  • Enrollment/sales team with tailored scripts relevant to each lead
  • Retargeting campaigns in place
  • Direct mail
  • Trigger tags
  • Prospect and relationship-building engagement
  • Automated email sequences to educate and drives sales to a certain landing page
  • ‘Sales’ landing pages

How to Assign KPIs and Accountability

To reiterate, the engagement phase of the marketing funnel aims to drive users to interact with the institution’s brand. This is measured beyond just clicks to a site, but rather focuses on driving highly quality visitors that have a higher propensity to convert. In other words, prospects in this phase of the funnel should be taking action that can quantify the amount of purchase intent at the bottom of the funnel.

As such, engagement can be measured by the amount of high-quality visitors (HQV) to a school’s website. This KPI measures the number of individuals that either stay for a minimum amount of time (for example, more than one minute), or visit a certain amount of pages. Other middle funnel metrics include the number of leads in nurture campaigns, email engagement metrics (opens and clicks) and inbound calls to admissions teams/enrollment counselors.

Conversion, or BOFU (bottom-of-funnel):

Just because a lead converts into a student does not mean marketing efforts are done! Marketing and enrollment teams must emanate gratitude towards the lead for enrolling in their institution. There is still an opportunity to upsell services or provide additional solutions to other problems a student may have (perhaps room and board, study abroad programs, etc).

In this stage, marketers should consider the following fundamental elements:

  • Welcome email series
  • Customer surveys
  • Drip ‘new student’ and ‘welcome’ content
  • Scheduled triggers to plan follow-up calls (if applicable)
  • Additional up-sell or sales pages

How to Assign KPIs and Accountability

Since last-click attribution dominates the conversion phase (at least on desktop), assigning measurement and KPIs is easy for higher education marketers. Typically, the cost per lead (CPL) or conversion rate (CTR) is calculated and used for performance analysis. However, marketers should be wary of not overstating the value of the bottom-of-the-funnel’s contribution since awareness and nurturing programs are largely responsible for prospects that progress down the pipeline.

Since bottom-of-the-funnel metrics measure user interactions who are in the decision stage, marketers can assess actions that signal an impending enrollment (or conversion). This can include measuring on-campus visitation requests or phone calls with admission advisors.


To effectively measure the full marketing funnel, I recommend implementing and measuring paid search terms that have historically been too expensive on a CPL (cost per lead) basis but had acceptable CPC (cost-per-click). Measure terms based on the HQV (high-quality visitor) metric, such as minimum time spent on a page (for example, less than one minute spent on a particular web page). After about three or four months, analyze your data to see if lead volume on lower funnel initiatives picks up — particularly on branded search volume.

Upon implementing our approach to full-funnel marketing, institutions will see immediate impact that will justify engaging in other marketing tactics at each stage. Beginning at the top of the funnel, there should be a momentous flow of traffic that cascades throughout each stage of the funnel to meet enrollment goals.

From our experience, the awareness phase is crucial in increasing campaign performance and ultimately, the volume of a school’s conversion KPIs. At the end of the day, schools who holistically think about the entire marketing funnel will generate more demand for their brand, and prospective students will remember.