The Light at the End of the Funnel

Tim Bruyns

The consumer funnel has become the go-to analogy for how digital channels capture consumers and push/pull them from an awareness ‘moment’ to a sale. Traditionally, the sequence of every funnel goes from awareness to consideration to conversion/purchase.

It’s not perfect. People don’t behave like marbles. People can be fickle, frugal and biased – and their search and shopping habits are not linear from start to finish. And to complicate this, more than 70% of a consumer’s journey now start with an online search – with a plethora of channels influencing this start – meaning funnels become less like a funnel and more like a constantly shifting lava mountain.

Even worse for our funnel analogy: a lot of digital journeys are embarked upon with a pre-ordained purpose: I want ring / I search ring / I use magic clicker / I love ring / I buy my precious. End of story. No side-story. No consideration. No awareness. Simply click, click, click.

Sure, it works in helping marketers target specific moments in a consumer’s ‘ideal’ journey. The funnel helps illustrate the possible moments, or ‘touchpoints’, for reaching a consumer. There are more consumers the top of the funnel considering than there are at the bottom purchasing. It explains the ideal route for a business: a consumer thinking about buying a product, researching options, and then buying; maybe even liking, advocating and repeat purchasing.

But the funnel’s biggest flaw?

It’s blind to a long-term brand image.

It’s blind to how individuals are best motivated; and to what keeps them motivated.

Brand image relies on ‘pulling’ and not ‘pushing’; and the analogy of the funnel leads us to thinking that we can ‘push’ consumers down a funnel by using a natural force (‘economics’ perhaps). They can’t help themselves, we convince ourselves; it’s like gravity.

Now, you might have hit that consumer at the right moment of need, caught them in the right part of the funnel, with the right creative and message. This is a good start. But if a brand’s image is not up to scratch at the end of that moment’s cul-de-sac, you’ve lost that consumer. They look around and think, “I didn’t want this, why did I come here?” They turn around and remember to never follow that path again.

In plain terms, they’ve been enticed by your advert enough that they click through but then found your final delivery lacking. Or, perhaps worse, they clicked buy in that moment of need and forgot the brand instantly. Something about the brand image didn’t speak to them. There wasn’t a connection.

So, is there light at the end of the funnel?

Yes. And the solution for us digital marketers is two-fold.

Firstly, the funnel needs to warp into a cycle, becoming more like the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Customer Decision Journey. This term was coined by McKinsey, and it attempts to bring to life a more cyclical and holistic consumer ‘journey’. Journeys are by nature more like The Lord of the Rings, chaotic but full of narrative meaning. I don’t think if life were a funnel we’d enjoy the ride half as much. In other words, people respond better to the bumps and flow of a journey than they do to a cut and dry decision. And there are several variables that can take a consumer from awareness to purchase – some that marketers might never predict.

Take the words of Visa’s Chief Brand Officer. Antonio Lucio said that “when you change [focus] from decision to engagement, you change the entire model.” Going on to explain that it is more important than ever to make the relationship the focal point, instead of focusing – as the funnel does – on the purchasing decision or transaction.

Thus, we need to start telling better stories. Because relationships are built on stories – on journeys.

 

And so, secondly, our ad campaigns (from all channels) need to start aligning better with Content Marketing. And content marketing brings with it what we do in Organic Performance within Resolution Media.

Why does Content Marketing keep such company? Because websites reflect a brand like a shop front would have before digital; they are (still) the best canvas for portraying a brand’s story as it evolves over time.

Websites are one of the cornerstones of judgement for long-term brand image.

In fact, nearly 60% of consumers in this 2017 Global Brand Shopper Survey prefer to do their research and purchasing at a brand manufacture’s website, where the details are richer and the journey more embracing.

Of course, over time, several touchpoints – from the full spectrum of digital & OOH channels – will build awareness, inform considerations and shape brand image in a consumer’s mind. But if that brand is in any way digital then its potential consumers will inevitably end up judging them on their ultimate purchase/conversion destination – their website.

A single website hiccup can very quickly burn months of accumulated positive/neutral brand image  ‘engrams’ – a term marketers like using for the ‘memory bricks’ we subconscious build up over time.

Similarly, ads that lead consumers along a poor journey (whether that is a series of social media impressions or one that starts/ends on a website) can damage positive brand engram growth.

As digital marketers we want to attract consumers for our brands. But what actually moves a consumer down the funnel?

An experience. A story. A connection.

As digital marketers working for an agency, it is our duty to help our clients create a richer, fuller story. And this can come in the format of paid advert content, website and blog content, PR campaigns, influencer strategies – to name but a few.

If this all sounds a bit too Frodo in Sam’s arms for you, then remember you never grew up and neither did the consumers you are targeting.

Everyone still loves a bed-time story. The big difference is wallet-clad adults need their stories to connect to their story, their reality.

Sell them an enriching journey. Bring them There and Back Again and they’ll never forget.