A lot has been said about the purchase funnel.
In fact so much has been said about it that many feel it has been exhausted to death. In its wake, a smorgasbord of geometric configurations have been posited: cylinder, concentric circles, orbits, spindles, dodecahedrons (ok, I added that one).
Type 'purchase process' into Google Images and scroll away: everything from crazy path diagrams, the old funnel, cartoons and one that suggests it’s now a pretzel! Personally, I prefer the poetic variety such as the 'consumer journey'.
It suggests a Tolkien-esque epic requiring consumers to circumvent mythical creatures and fiery environs. Which is a typical experience for any of you that have hazarded Bluewater on a Saturday!
But whether it’s a funnel, a journey or a cycle the one thing that is generally the same is that it has a recognized objective beginning and end. That is to say, one of the chief goals of any marketer is to create awareness of their product or service and ultimately keep people interested enough to drive them to purchase.
Now, the 21st century has brought us some amazing innovations and marketing practice has seen its fair share. Ad networks, real-time bidding systems, automated work flow systems, CRM, content management, email management and on and on.
At this rate you would think the marketing department had been replaced by a single computer (or more specifically in the case of an ad agency, a MacBook air.) But it hasn’t.
You’re looking at the wrong part of the funnel
Marketing professionals still manage decisions about where to focus. But there is some bias going on.
Much of the marketer’s time and resources are aimed at the very top and bottom of the funnel. This has created a gap, one which costs firms a lot in terms of money and lost opportunity.
The middle of the funnel or the journey is where most prospective customers are lost. Potential customers enter the journey by saying “Hey, I’m interested...tell me more”, yet most acquisition strategies keep pushing them to just buy.
'Here is an offer' is the usual next response to some anonymous web visit. Go to just about any company’s web page, click around and then exit.
Watch what comes next…a steady barrage of display ads, interstitials and emails offering you deals if you’d only come back. This is retargeting.
A lot of money is spent on it but, unfortunately, a majority of that spend is either too early or too late.
Retargeting is usually too early or too late
When a prospect steps up and says 'I’m interested' this typically means, 'tell me more. Not 'make me an offer'.
The more consideration going into that purchase means they really want you to tell them more, not be shouted at. Perversely then, investment in retargeting that constantly shouts 'Buy, buy, buy!' has gone through the roof.
The underlying idea of retargeting is that when a person lands on a site and clicks around that they are ‘in the purchase moment’. If they don’t make a purchase and instead leave, this suddenly qualifies them to become a prime prospect that deserves being chased down.
This is how things work in real world isn’t it? You browse in Oddbins and in the event you have to leave, it would not be unreasonable for the cashier to follow you for weeks after you’ve lost interest saying, “Buy this ‘Banner Ad du vin’- it’s only £8.99' over and over again.
For sure, there have been some nice successes from retargeting but it also has its problems and many of those protential customers will ultimately go on to buy from a competitor…thus all the efforts to drag them back are too late. You’ve lost their interest.
Content marketing: maintaining interest in the middle
The good news is that many companies already have the assets in place to change the way this happens.
For the past several years the focus on generating ‘content marketing strategies’ has increased significantly. The idea of one’s own media is not novel anymore,it’s a requirement. However, the focus has primarily been on content creation and curation.
The next evolution of content marketing is to apply the similar focus on technology and automation that we’ve seen in the paid media space. Technology is emerging that can utilize the knowledge of how people consume content in order to optimize what type of content, when and through which channel to serve it next.
Done well, with an understanding of what drives the most efficient journey for an individual consumer, amazing results can happen in the middle of that purchase funnel/journey/pretzel (please delete as appropriate).
A lot of marketers, in the face of diminishing returns from increasing paid media spends, are wondering where the next incremental performance increase is going to come from.
If you’re going to maintain that potential customer’s interest - it won’t be through paid media or offer retargeting, it will come from brand’s own media efforts that meet the intersection between customer interest and brand offering in a timely, non-shouty and interesting fashion.
Econsultancy's Funnel B2B event is where marketing meets sales. More than 600 marketers will be at Old Billingsgate, London on October 8 to discover the tools and tactics that are delivering results. This event forms part of our week-long Festival of Marketing extravaganza.