It’s a question that pops up in marketers’ minds far and wide at least a few times a year: is the marketing funnel, as we know it, dead?
The digital revolution has transformed the buyer’s journey so profoundly that there’s no “typical” journey from awareness to purchase anymore. Why? Because multi-channel marketing and dozens of touchpoints make it difficult to track where the buyer ever enters or exits the funnel.
Influencer marketing has also become a major force as buyers can view a story promoting a product and jump straight to purchasing it without doing any research.
This challenges the traditional linear understanding of the marketing funnel: i.e. building credibility step-by-step from buyer awareness of a product all the way to closing the sale. So if that doesn’t win you a sale, what does?
First, A Primer On The Traditional Marketing Funnel
The marketing funnel is a term marketers use when strategizing how to convert someone just learning of your brand into a loyal, repeat customer. It comprises five main steps: awareness, interest, consideration, purchase, and retention.
It’s a funnel because as the customer moves through each step in the journey, they reach a narrowed point where the sale is presented, which comes in the form of a direct ask to “buy this product or service.” For this example, we will consider how a traditional business-to-consumer (B2C) company might use a marketing funnel.
Top of the funnel means the customer is doing their homework
In the awareness and interest phases, the company is focused purely on being helpful. They nurture the customer by providing all the information needed to make a buying decision. Price comparisons to competitors, product descriptions, videos, and webinars all qualify as top-to-mid funnel activities.
Once a customer warms up to the idea of the company in question and maybe spends some time checking out the landing pages, they can move deeper through the funnel. Maybe they take an action like sharing their email to receive marketing updates or download a promotion.
The middle of the funnel means the customer is saying “tell me more”
Now the customer is at the consideration/purchasing stage. Here, they are more serious about purchasing but aren’t totally sold. This is where nurturing again is key to closing the sale. The customer may need more information or social proof in the form of reviews or case studies, or maybe they’d like a free trial to take it for a test drive.
The bottom of the funnel means the customer is ready to make a choice
So when you hear a marketer talk about “bottom of funnel” activity, this is where it’s at. It’s close to asking for the sale, but not quite. The true end of the funnel is when the customer makes the purchase or becomes a promoter of the product or service to another. A quality referral is the highest praise a company can earn from a customer because it’s not just a one-time purchase but an ongoing review that perpetuates your brand’s credibility and reach.
The Marketing Funnel Is Always Changing
So the marketing funnel is an effort to provide relevant, timely, genuinely helpful information to aid the customer in their own timing of making a purchasing decision. Now that you know what the traditional marketing funnel is, you might be wondering: What’s the big deal? I thought that’s how every company did marketing. Well, here’s the rub and it has to do with buyer behavior.
Traditionally, a buyer would move from “top-of-funnel activities” like brand awareness and engagement to the “middle or bottom of the funnel” things like consideration, purchase, and retention. But in the digital era, things are rarely so linear.
Digital disruption is unseating everything we know about the marketing funnel
Digital access and social media have changed every interaction we have with a brand. We are wired to the world on our phones and watches at all times. While we’re working, while we’re on vacation, and on our weekends, there are perpetual opportunities for marketers to grab our attention. This means multiple entry points into all stages of the marketing funnel at any point in time.
How influencer marketing is changing the game
Say you’re looking for a great protein powder. But instead of signing up for emails with protein powder companies or reading a blog about it (traditional top-of-funnel activities), you follow your trusted fitness accounts on Instagram.
The influencer you follow doesn’t work for the protein powder company full-time, but they do act as a kind of wellness guru to their audience. And as luck would have it, your favorite influencer is plugging her go-to brand of protein powder for smoothies and after-workout shakes.
Sometimes this is monetized content by the protein powder company for the advertisement, but other times, it’s just spontaneous. The person really likes this brand and is sharing it with other like-minded people.
So the audience sees the Instagram or Facebook story about the protein powder and thinks: I trust her. She seems legit. I’ve consumed dozens of her videos, tried her workouts, and she hasn’t steered me wrong before.
And before they know it, they’ve bought the protein powder without any prior research. Seemingly out of nowhere they went from the top of the funnel straight to the bullseye with no research on this brand of protein powder. This is the power of a good referral.
The takeaway for brands is this: be ready to engage customers at all levels of the funnel at all times. And this is where social media traction helps. It’s like taking your audience and putting them in a grab bag of content, so they can take whatever they need, whether video content, testimonials, inspiring quotes, for whatever stage they are in. Be ready to sell, but also be ready to just be that friendly voice providing as much information as they need to make a decision when the time is right.
If Buying Decisions Are A Self-Led Experience, What Does That Mean For E-Commerce User Experience (UX)?
By inviting people to explore on their own, you allow them more freedom to interact in ways that are meaningful to them. But, you’ll also need to make sure things are adequately explained and to support a positive user experience. In marketing, that often means intuitive website design and a strong content marketing strategy.
Having a killer, easy to navigate website accomplishes a few things with marketing. It helps funnel people through the door with a strong reputational presence, including a great logo design and a multi-pronged SEO strategy to bring people in, because looking good online is less fun when no one can find you!
Once you are found by customers, collapse your distinction between sales and marketing
Most things that used to happen sequentially are happening now in real-time. This shrinks the experience window between when a customer interacts with marketing and when they interact with sales. This is especially the case for big B2C brands that already have a lot of social capital and less to prove.
So that means buyers could come in at the top of the funnel, the bottom of the funnel, or anywhere in between. So how do you measure your marketing efforts?
You know your sales funnel is working if you start to see an uptick in some of these key metrics:
- Time on site is up
- Content engagement rates are up (blogs, email campaigns, landing pages, newsletters)
- An uptick in new leads
- Inquiries on site or downloads of resources
- Close rates
Of course, which metrics are important to you will vary based on your business. Still, every piece of your marketing counts now more than ever toward making the sale. This is because we don’t always know what stage the buyer is in.
Nurturing leads is an artform of focused, meaningful interactions
The old ways of cold-calling people are over, thankfully. So we can tap into more empowered ways to nurture people through the sales cycle that feel sustainable and human. Our advice is to get creative! This means shifting your mindset toward the ongoing interaction with the customer vs. the sale as the end game.
Want to nurture better leads? Start by being helpful. Loyalists of your brand aren’t just made after the sale is completed. Sometimes they don’t ever buy but share your brand with others because they liked it. Creating a clear brand identity is something that others can rally around. If people don’t know what you’re about or are confused by your brand, it’s less likely they tell their friends about you.
Savy Can Help You Master Every Step Of The Marketing Funnel
In the end, it’s about great UX, providing loads of interactive content at every stage of the buyer’s journey, and clear brand identity that helps your brand stand out. Do you have a wealth of helpful information on a particular topic you could give your customer for free? Could you indirectly sell something by way of being helpful? How’s your website looking these days?
If this all sounds like a lot, we get it. Savy can help. We’ve been around since the earliest days of content marketing, and our experience proves we are sticking around! So we’re in your corner, whether it’s branding help, print collateral, digital marketing strategy, or SEO help to get more clicks.
Check marketing funnel research off your list for 2023 and watch your brand grow after getting us onboard. It’s not magic: it’s marketing!
I don’t have the time to invest in becoming a social media guru. I want to find a company that is efficient in providing social media content on the major channels (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn(?) etc., to grow recognition, engage clients comments/feedback, blog and post listings. Uncertain how much is the cost but I don’t have $1000s to spend.
Hi Leanne, it takes time, and time is money. So the best options would would to invest having someone manage your social media content at Noble for you — an agency such as Savy, could do this — or put in the time to grow your channels and your audience.