If you are in marketing or sales, you surely have heard about the funnel.
O, how we love the funnel! Everything we do in marketing or sales, we do inside that funnel, and we measure in that funnel. And we love marketing so much because it’s so measurable.
But what many don’t see, or don’t want to see, is the dark funnel. It’s this scary thing online, with touch points that are hard or impossible to measure. Many marketeers ignore that dark funnel because everything needs to be measurable, there are targets to be met and actions to be taken to reach those goals. And with the rise of security and privacy measures, the dark funnel is something to be reckoned with more and more. This blog post is an attempt to explain to you what the dark funnel is,
The dark funnel is a part of your marketing and sales funnel where the conventional ways of tracking and analyzing don’t work. It’s part of the buyer journey where prospects and visitors remain anonymous, but are in your funnel nonetheless.
And by the way: when we talk about the funnel, we mean the whole thing, including the stuff that happens offline. Live events for example, or traditional postal mail.
You could we wondering what could possibly be hard or impossible to track, given the digital world we live in. But there are quite a few factors to take into account, like visits to other websites with information about your product or service, the impact of social media posts, conversations on dark social, team discussions on Slack and so on. And especially if you’re in B2B, you could be dealing with a potential lead that has a number of employees working on research on your products and services, with you not knowing who contributes in what way to a purchase decision.
What the dark funnel is certainly NOT: it’s not another marketing tactic, like email marketing or SEA for example. It’s also not something to ignore, despite the fact that many marketers do ignore it, and only focus on the measurable stuff.
Every organization is different: we all use different channels to reach our target audiences, and that goes for the dark funnel as well. Not every dark channel may be relevant for you, but here are some examples of dark funnel channels.
Lots of companies participate in trade shows, networking events hosted by the chamber of commerce, or participate in or host webinars. Business cards are exchanged but nobody remembers which one they got at what event. During these events, the goal is to connect with other people, whether it’s a digital or a live event. The conversations during these events are hard to track and measure. However, personally connecting with prospects or partners is highly valuable for your organization.
Social media platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram can be great places to find potential customers. Many organizations use social media to create brand awareness, attract leads, or just connect with their fans and customers. Their target audience spends lots of time on social media, as statistics prove again and again year after year. But a significant part of that time is spent on dark social media, meaning this is also a big part of the dark funnel. Dark social includes channels like WhatsApp, Messenger or text messages for example, or people just quietly consuming your content without reacting in any way. We’ve met plenty of people at a live event that explain how they have seen everything from a person or a company, while at the same time they never react. It’s very useful to know this.
If you want to generate brand awareness, public relations can be a great tactic. But it does contain some dark touch points, here are the most important ones:
These days, everyone seems to have a podcast. We know, we don’t, and it’s on our wish list, but hey… priorities! Anyway, there is a huge amount of people consuming podcasts, for example during their commute to work. Your potential customers often subscribe to podcasts about topics they care about before they make a purchase decision.
what you see in the image above, is a simplified example of what a dark funnel could look like. It contains some touch points that are not tracked, but every step of the way contributes to someone becoming a qualified lead for your organization. As you may notice, content marketing does play a big role throughout the funnel, also the dark one.
You may also have heard about dark social before. Is the dark funnel the same as dark social, or is it something different? The answer is that dark social is part of the dark funnel. Dark social refers to things like tags and likes to comments, views, and shares, or conversations on platforms and their respective messaging services.
The dark funnel contains all of these channels on dark social, but also other things. However, we do understand the confusion: dark social is in itself quite big, and it takes up a large chunk of your dark funnel.
Especially in B2B, most of your touch points with potential customers represent a tiny proportion of the total buyer journey. That being said, you need content for every stage of that journey, all the way from the top to the bottom. That means also in the ‘dark’ places of your funnel. People look for information everywhere. They can look up anything they want, and can take buying decision without you knowing. That only goes to show how important good content really is, and how much you need to take into account where and how your content may show up.
Another thing is that especially in B2B, you see groups of people taking purchase decisions. It could be the CEO, CFO and the marketing team researching a marketing agency for example. In this case, the marketing team will look at what the agency can do, while the CFO will look at the cost and projected ROI for example. Or it could be the legal department of a big company looking at information about legal tech for example. It’s often different people, and each of them looks at different pieces of information from a different angle. This will also have impact on the kind of content you need, as well as the way you need to nurture them later on, automated or not.
On top of all that, the average number of interactions is going up, from 17 to 27 to be precise. And these 27 interactions could be anything and they could happen anywhere, but in any case you’ll need content to get those interactions. 27 is a lot. It could be emails, social media posts, ads on different platforms, landing pages, ebooks, videos and so on.
These are the 3 major shifts reported by Forrester in their 2021 study. And with all of these changes, not only the need for quality content is increasing. Organizations also increasingly need to automate this whole process. Because without that, it’s very hard to keep enough potential leads engaged and to keep on consistently nurturing them.
Despite tracking challenges and the unknown factor of the dark funnel, there’s no reason to just ignore it all together. There are some things you can do to shed some light on the dark parts of your funnel.
If you don’t know what a UTM is: it’s short for Urchin Tracking Module, a piece of code attached to the end of a URL. UTMs help you figure out where your traffic comes from exactly, and what campaign a specific content piece belongs to.
With social listening tools, you can track whatever others saying about your brand or specific keywords. Your audience could be talking about you, but also about your competition, or your industry in general. You can use Buzzsumo for this, which is actually also a content analysis tool. Or you can get a social media management tool with social listening built in, like Hootsuite.
Like we said, live events are great for personal interaction with people. And these interactions often contribute significantly to sales, so keeping track of them is useful for your organization. You can use software that creates and tracks QR codes for you so you can keep track of events, business cards, flyers etc.
Whatever you do to keep track of leads, you can still end up not being able to use any software to keep track. But there is always the option to just ask the person you are talking to. If someone walks into your store, just ask where they found you. During a B2B sales talk, just ask them. And you know what? Many people will just tell you spontaneously anyway.
Last but not least: the dark funnel is just part of marketing or sales life. Don’t avoid it, and don’t pretend like it’s not there. Just embrace it as part of your marketing work. There’s no need to be afraid of the dark. Fear is a poor basis for decisions that impact your marketing and sales ROI anyway.
The dark funnel is not going to disappear anytime soon, and it doesn’t have to be a problem for modern marketers. By embracing the dark funnel and getting better insights, your organization can reduce marketing overhead and create a better user experience for your target audience.
Create an effective content plan that convinces attracts the right visitors to your brand and converts them into great leads!