The marketing funnel is an age-old visual tool for the journey of a would-be customer or ‘prospect’. There have been many attempts to modify the marketing funnel to account for various changes in technology and consumer behaviour but, to all intents and purposes, the core principles of the funnel have stood the test of time. In this post, we’re going to look at how social media is applied to the marketing funnel and how this should be fundamental to your digital strategy.
Social media and the marketing funnel
Once touted as primarily a brand awareness tool, social media has application at all stages of the funnel. Social media has the power to influence individuals and build a relationship with them online. It is through various touch points and interactions that someone may consider making a purchase from a certain company. Let’s take a close look at the stages of the marketing funnel.
The four stages of our funnel
You’ll see some funnels that have only three segments, which include variations of; awareness, consideration and, conversion. You’ll notice that the main difference is that ours has four sections – the middle of the funnel has been split into two sections; interest and engagement and consideration. We’ve also named the bottom of the funnel ‘action’ as opposed to ‘conversion’ or ‘sale’. We’ll explain these in more detail below.
Okay, so as we’ve said, this is probably the most obvious use of social media. Virtually every social network can be used to get your brand’s content in front of new audiences to make them aware of what you’re doing. Paid brand awareness ads on Facebook are a great example of how thousands of people in a targeted audience can be reached for the very first time for a matter of cents or pennies.
The public nature of the social network along with the algorithmic approach to newsfeed population means brands can use the viral nature of platforms to increase reach.
Engagement and interest
Social media gives rise to a significant element of the consumer-brand relationship and this sits between initial brand awareness and more serious consideration. Being aware of a brand – its name, products and what it stands for is one thing – engaging with that brand and showing a serious interest in it is quite another.
This is the part of the funnel that most closely represents the decision-making portion. Social media can be used to influence the decisions of customers in several ways. Features and benefits and social proof assets like testimonials and reviews can be shared to an engaged audience. Other tactics such as creating urgency by offering a limited-time-only discount on products can get customers over the line.
The consideration phase is very different depending on the nature of the product in question and may involve other factors that lie outside the remit of social media, but social media can undoubtedly affect this portion, especially for consumer brands.
This is essentially the end of the marketing funnel – hopefully, the point at which someone decides to become a customer. However, depending on your business, the end of the marketing funnel might not be as simple as someone completing an online purchase.
‘Action’ caters for a variety of outcomes. If an online purchase can be made, great – that’s a conversion. However, if it results in an enquiry or sales meeting, the marketing funnel has done its job but the deal isn’t yet done!
It might also be the case that the action is to not purchase, which is sad. However, this means we’ll need to work out how to attract non-compliers back into the funnel at some point in the future.
Not all marketing funnels are created equal…
Depending on the nature of a product or service, the length of the marketing funnel, usually by way of time it takes to progress through it, can be wildly different. For a low-cost, low-importance purchase that can be made online, the entire funnel might take just two or three minutes:
> See a compelling explainer video > click through to the website > make a purchase.
Here, the explainer video is what has generated brand awareness and interest. There is only a simple decision-making or ‘consideration’ process before the customer takes the action to purchase.
For other businesses, the journey down the funnel may take several months or even years:
> Sees multiple ads on various platform over a series of weeks > decides to visit website for initial exploration > sees more ads or pieces of content > peruses social channels, watches some YouTube videos, browses website > checks out competitor sites and compares reviews > asks colleague their opinion > forgets the whole thing for a while > sees another ad that reminds them to ask for a quote > gets a quote > talks to team about initial outlay versus expected 12-month return > reads more reviews > decides to become a customer!
Multiple ads, blogs, LinkedIn messages or giveaways might be required for an individual to even take note or recognise a brand. For high-ticket items and considered purchases, it may take many more touch points before a user decides to take that final action, which might be a website enquiry. In these instances, that final ‘action’ only takes users into a ‘sales funnels’ because the actual purchase is not just a simple add to cart and buy situation.
Making the most of your marketing funnel
If you’re considering social media’s role in the marketing funnel, most likely you have a business you’re trying to advertise. Therefore, the nature of the purchase and decision-making process may not be a point of discussion. However, regardless of how considered a purchase may be, you can still work to ensure the final hurdle is as low as possible.
The smoother the user journey and the quicker the transaction, the faster the funnel will be. This is why making buying from or enquiring on your site super easy and intuitive is so paramount for digital marketing success.
Yes, social media is fantastic at helping increase brand awareness. In fact, it would be tricky to argue against social media being the BEST brand awareness tool at a business’s disposal. That’s from both a value for money and absolute standpoint.
Facebook ads and the marketing funnel
Facebook advertising is a perfect example of how social media can be used throughout the customer journey. Facebook’s ads platform is designed to complement the marketing funnel and campaigns are specifically used for targeting users at the various stages.
A full breakdown of Facebook ads and their application to the funnel is for another article. However, you’ll find a little more about the funnel’s use in scaling Facebook ad spending here.
Some considerations about the funnel
The customer journey to purchase is not linear
Depending on the purchase, an individual inside that funnel is likely to do some research of other options, read reviews and ask their network about their intended investment. Arguably, this is somewhat different to the pre-internet and social media era, when customers were likely to be drawn in by a flashy TV commercial or newspaper ad and, before you know it, they’re in the store buying the product without a second thought.
This phenomenon is nicely summarised by the Google concept of the “zero moment of truth” or ZMOT, which we explain in this post. Despite the non-linear nature of the decision-making process, the marketing funnel remains as-is, we should appreciate, however, that the ‘consideration’ element represents a potentially complex process.
Customers may appear to enter the funnel at various stages…
…but they always start at the top! There must have been a time before an individual was aware of your brand. Even if you’re McDonald’s, Nike or Coca Cola. Of course, household name brands are often in our consciousness before we have any concept of business or even money so, in a marketing sense, ‘brand awareness’ for these brands is really ‘interest and engagement’ – trying to build a rapport with people or deepen existing relationships.
Once someone is aware of a brand, they are almost by default in the second or third tier of the funnel provided they know the brand well enough to understand what its products and services do.
The marketing life-cycle doesn’t stop at the bottom of the funnel
Of course, once users have taken action, they don’t just fall off the face of the earth, as the funnel may suggest. These customers might be on a retainer or may make purchases regularly. Arguably, it’s now the job of the product or service to influence these decisions, but if they’re being enticed by other similar brands, they’re in that consideration phase again. It might be the job of the marketing team to get them to the bottom of the funnel again. In this case, they’re constantly looping between consideration and action, even if the quality of the product or service being delivered is more important than the marketing activity at this stage.
Ideally, those who take positive action and become customers should help increase brand awareness (adding new people to the funnel) and influence people in the consideration phase.
Whilst the modern consumer’s sales journey is multi-dimensional, the marketing funnel is as applicable today as it has ever been. Social media can influence every single part of the funnel and, therefore, is a powerful tool for today’s businesses, particularly those in the consumer market. Ensuring that each touch point along the funnel is designed to deepen the relationship or move the user along makes it effective.