Latest-and-greatest. Cutting-edge. First-to-market. In a world where change is the only constant, traditions get the short end of the stick. This is especially true in the world of digital marketing. Yet, there is a 100-year-plus model that has stood the test of time: The Marketing Funnel.
Like many methods and models, this concept has evolved. It started in the 1800s with advertising and sales pioneer, Elias St. Elmo, as a four-phase linear process including Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA). Then, in the 1920s, Edward K. Strong, an organizational psychology specialist, fine-tuned the AIDA model into one focused on hierarchy, believing that not all customers who enter into relationship with a business will take action with them. It is from Strong’s adjustment that modern marketers came to call the method the Marketing Funnel.
Related: What Is A Marketing Funnel?
Over the decades, the name of the method has changed and the categories within it have be labeled differently. Loosely speaking, there are three core phases in the method as it is understood today. For the sake of this article, Funnel-Based Marketing encourages a customer to become Aware, then Consider and then Purchase.
Explaining Marketing Funnels
The term “funnel” has stuck because it most accurately conveys how marketing today pulls a lot of customers in at the beginning of a campaign; think of how wide a funnel is at the top. But as the campaign continues to ramp up, customers naturally drop out; think of how narrow a funnel is at the bottom. The customers at the bottom of the funnel are the ones taking the action(s) that the campaign was activated to fulfill. These customers have followed the steps you established to continue through the funnel and make it out with the final sale.
Digital is an ideal space for Funnel-Based Marketing due to the metrics available to understanding customer experience and habits. It’s easier to monitor how a customer navigates from start to finish online than it is in a store. Take your favorite online retailer for example. When you are on their website, it is likely that you go through a version of this standard online shopping process:
- Visit store website address
- Browse products, individually or by category
- Select desired product(s) and add to your digital shopping cart
- Click into digital shopping cart to checkout
- Utilize electronic payment to complete purchase
Now, step backward and think of the different reasons why you would be on that website in the first place. Did you see a flash sale ad on your social media feed? Did they email you a special first-look as a subscriber to their newsletter? Do you browse their site for new items on every payday?
Related: A Guide To Marketing Funnels
The reason that a customer ends up interacting with a business is the Awareness phase in Funnel-Based Marketing. Many marketers struggle with this phase because it requires trust in the customer; trust that if the product is of quality and you provide enough information about it, the customer will find it. If you are looking for solace about the first part of that statement, turn to digital and shopping trends. Today’s customer is not looking for a perfect product; they are looking for the product that is perfect for them. With the massive amount of inventory and information out there, they can find it anywhere, anytime.
Content Is King
For the part about having enough information on a product, that’s where you come in. “Content is king,” is a phrase that has been run into the ground in marketing. Yet, many people don’t know why content is important. Funnel-Based Marketing is one of the many “whys.” Think of content as a crumb trail for customers. Today’s customer wants a hefty bite of what they’re getting before they get it. And not a grocery store sampling kind of bite. It’s an appetizer, salad and soup before the entree portion they are seeking.
An Entrepreneur Magazine article reported that 82% of customers view at least 5 pieces of content from a business before they become a paying customer.
So what kind of crumbs do you feed them in this process? The possibilities are pretty endless actually. You’re speaking to the customer base as a whole at this point, catering to broad demographic data you know about them. When you hear someone say, “keep the funnel wide,” this is what they’re referring to. Ways to loop a customer in include: ads, webinars, videos, social media, SEO, and public relations.
When you’re building this content, it’s important to focus on the “why”, as was mentioned in the scenario about shopping on your favorite website. There are two points to keep in mind in narrowing down why the customer is going to shop: 1.) problems 2.) needs. Your content in the Awareness phase should address the common problems and needs of the customer base you have identified and are targeting.
Again, there will be no shortage of competing information out there. According to a Pardot blog post, 70% of customers turn to Google at least 2-3 times during their search to find out more about a business, its problems or solutions, etc.
Layering the content that you create is key to the customer feeling fully and genuinely informed. In an ideal world, you want that customer to hear from the business, with webinars, tutorials, white papers, and blogs; from other customers, with testimonials, social posts and reviews; and from experts, with awards, media placements, and endorsements.
Guess what? That content was just for them to find the business. Once the customer finds the business, you have to develop interest in the product specifically. Only the most interested customers will continue moving further down the funnel. This is where your marketing database, marketing analysts and CRM will be put to the test, as all of the content will have to be personalized as much as possible to each customer and not the entire customer group.
Moving Further Down The Funnel
In the consideration phase of Funnel-Based marketing, your primary goal is to move the customer from a general interest in the business to specific consideration of a product. You are nurturing the customer by using content that either further develops an existing relationship or cultivates a new one.
Social media and email have become key to this phase because of their personal nature. It is important to remember that these are leisurely spaces for most customers. You must be genuine, approachable and casual in how you communicate with them. They should feel like they are being gifted, educated, or celebrated.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it is in this phase where you begin to lose customers. Sometimes, because the alternative just wins out. But oftentimes because you give them content that contradicts the behaviors, lifestyle or interests that you have learned about them. Even worse, because you have skipped to the hard sale too fast.
The 2016 Demand Gen B2B Buyer’s Survey report showed that when customers are ready to buy they will find you.
Here’s the type of content that you should be distributing in the consideration phase:
- Case Studies
- Freebies (trials, samples, etc.)
- Pricing Guides
- Industry Forecasts
You had to trust the customer’s access to information and judgment of that information in the awareness phase. In the consideration phase, you will have to be patient with them. Continue to study what they are doing throughout the process and pivot to improve the content you’re giving to them based on how their behavior is meeting or not meeting your predictions.
The Final Push
What you’re waiting for is that first time that the customer shows you intent to by following content to the business website or heading to the website directly themselves. Notice the word “intent.” A customer may visit the business site multiple times before actually purchasing. That’s why you have to be strategic and quick in your reaction when they do. It is this interim period between the awareness and purchase phase that has made the digital shopping cart an integral tool in Funnel-Based Marketing.
The business website’s calls to action need to drive the customer to add items to their digital shopping cart. The digital shopping cart allows you to confirm their interests while also sending them content that helps them evaluate products.
This content includes metrics on how many other customers have purchased the product, what ratings other customers gave the product, how much the product’s price has been marked down, the number of the product remaining in inventory, and the other products that customers purchased on the website when they purchased that one.
The content can be distributed as quick alerts and pop ups on the site or as additions to the product pages and descriptions. The content can also be sent to those customers who visit the website multiple times without purchasing as check-in emails and native online and social media ads.
Related: What Are The Goals of BOFU Content?
If the data is correct, the content is effective, and the engagement is strategic, the final purchase is inevitable. As the purchase is being made, your work as a marketer pauses for a brief moment while the sales team and customer service team ensure a seamless transaction. But, after that short window closes, you are back in the game to meet the customer with post-purchase content.
After a client makes one purchase, you want to are start a new Funnel-Based Marketing process with them for their next product purchase. You need them to tell you want they liked about the process and product so that you can make their experience even more personal the next time. All of the content that you direct to them across mediums should invite them to review the product that they purchased.
You can see how marketers can end up developing tons of funnels over time, especially in this current state of targeted marketing. But, there is a way to play it smarter. Use the data you collect across your clients to create customer groups and funnels that correspond with them directly. These will just be starting points for each client you take on, but having a template will be helpful as your clients will likely be from the same markets and have overlapping customer profiles.
Metrics will help you develop the templates. You will need to start with the data in your database management software and CRM to prototype the customer groups. But the metrics from actual funnels that have been executed will be the key to properly developing funnel templates. Metrics that you want to utilize include: point-of-entry, point-of-exit, time spent per phase, overall time spent, content engagement rates, sales conversions.
Many of the metrics listed focus on timing. That’s not because speed is your focus. That’s because you need to be able to manage expectations with the client for the overall timeline of the funnel and benchmark the average time spent in each phase in the funnel.
You also want to figure out if customers are exiting the funnel in high rates in certain phases for a certain reason that you have the power to fix. Additionally, if the trend is for customers to enter the funnel after the consideration phase you need to know that because it means your strategy in the awareness phase is unsuccessful. This can be because you’re not meeting them at an effective place or that your content is not robust or enticing enough for them to find you.
While availability of content is a key part of the Funnel-Based Marketing model, it does not mean there can be filler or throwaway content. It’s important to monitor content engagement so that the ones that don’t perform well can be replaced. Additionally, the sales conversion metric is obviously important. Not just because it’s what the client is focused on, but because it determines if the entire funnel you have created should be kept, adjusted, or tossed.
Metrics are the differentiator between how Funnel-Based Marketing has been used in the past and how it is used today. It’s the difference between knowing and theorizing what works.