The Hourglass Funnel

HourglassSocial media stands to help marketers better work the newly-emerged hourglass funnel.

Marketers have been using the AIDA model in one form or another since its invention in 1898. The path of “awareness, interest, desire, and action” has been relevant for more than 100 years, and even if individual marketing channels have their differences, the way people are brought through the purchase funnel has changed about as much as human nature over the same time period.

That is to say, very little.

Consumer behavior is the same, even if the tools of the trade are different. For example, Pinterest activity demonstrates “desire” in the lower part of the funnel just as much as clipping a coupon does. The fact that Pinterest activities are measurable (and infinitely more cost-effective and scalable) makes all the difference.

What has changed a good deal over the past several years is what happens when a consumer drops out of the bottom of the funnel. It used to be that a purchaser was put into a marketer’s CRM system, where he or she would start to receive new marketing messages via established channels like mail, telemarketing, and loyalty programs.

Of course, that is still happening, but now there is a whole new part of the funnel to work through. This new, inverted funnel explains, for instance, why Salesforce purchased Buddy Media and Radian6 — the marketing is just getting started after the consumer purchases.
Today’s CMO has to have a more developed strategy for what happens after the purchase than ever before. This new socially-enabled funnel means closely linking the traditional CRM to social platforms — not only for “listening” to what your customers are saying, but also to give them an opportunity to start selling on your behalf.

After purchase, you need to encourage your buyer to join your social sphere, and start extending the conversation. This means not only listening to sentiment, but also giving the consumer the incentives to get to the next phase in the post-conversion funnel: social activation.

Migrating customers from being passive “likers” and “followers” to socially-activated users with true brand affinity is difficult. How you communicate within platforms like Facebook and Twitter (both on an earned and paid basis) is critical, along with providing key incentives for such participation. Ultimately, the affinity group you curate can be turned into sellers, either real affiliate salespeople or, in a softer sense, “brand ambassadors” that go beyond social sharing to influence others to purchase.

Today’s successful CMOs have been seeing through the bottom of the funnel for a long time, and putting together the tools and support needed to migrate post-purchase marketing activity from CRM-driven tactics to social activation strategies.

[This post originally appeared on The CMO Site on 3/15/13]

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Underneath the Funnel

How Social Data Flips and Extends the Purchase Funnel

The traditional purchase funnel hasn’t changed much since its invention in 1898. Although there are many different versions of it, the basic “AIDA” model (awareness>interest>desire>action) remains the same:

Top_Funnel

  • Awareness: The traditional digital customer funnel starts at creating product awareness through impression-based display advertising and sponsorships.
  • Interest: The consumer continues down the purchase path when consumers demonstrate intent through behavioral and contextual signals. Those consumers can be targeted using a large variety of pre-packaged 3rd party segments.
  • Desire: Digital marketers capture a user’s desire, when they demonstrate affinity by clicking on an ad or visiting a product’s website. These consumers can be reached digitally through retargeting.
  • Action: Finally, the consumer purchases the product, at which point he “drops out of the funnel.”

Until recently, once the consumer entered the company’s CRM, he was marketed to in a more traditional way, via e-mail, postal mail, and telemarketing. In the case of digital media tactics, the consumer could reasonably be expected to be bombarded with retargeting ads for the remainder of his life (or, until he cleared his cookies), but that was the extent of things. Fast forward a few years, and all of the sudden Salesforce and Oracle are snatching up social media and measurement companies like they were going out of style. As I was writing my recent report on data management, I wondered:

Did they see this?

Bottom_Funnel

The perfect storm of advanced, extensible CRM platform technology, near ubiquitous availability and scale of social signals, and ability to activate first party data has extended the purchase funnel. Once the consumer “drops through” the real action starts.

  • Joins: Once in the customer database (CRM), the post-purchase journey starts with a commitment beyond the sale, when a consumer joins an e-mail list or signs up for special offers on the company’s site.
  • Likes: The next step is an expression of social interest, when the consumer agrees to make public his “like” for a company or brand by “friending” a company’s Facebook page, following a company’s Twitter account.
  • Recommends: Beyond the like or follow is true social activation, wherein the consumer actively (not passively) recommends the product or service, through commenting, sharing, or other active social behaviors, thus showing his brand affinity.
  • Sells: The final step is having the consumer sell on your behalf (directly via affiliate programs or, in the softer sense, as a “brand ambassador”).

To navigate the consumer from brand awareness, all the way through to actually selling on behalf of a brand takes an understanding of data and its application to each step in the journey. The most successful companies leveraging this new inverted funnel paradigm are aligning their first party CRM data with social affinity data to get a 360-degree view of their typical consumer—and modeling against that view to produce repeatable marketing outcomes.

What does that mean? It is not enough to understand your brand’s core demographic (e.g., male, aged 25-36, single family home, income >$125,000). That data is important, and you can certainly make somewhat efficient digital media decisions with it. Once that person expresses “desire” by visiting your website, you can certainly retarget him. And, once he finally purchases, you can pretend you “own” him, and deploy the various traditional CRM marketing tactics to create return purchases. All well and good.

The challenge is getting that person to like you back, and mutually engage with your brand. Once he is in your CRM, are you prepared to deliver new content to him via social media channels? Can you find the linkages between him and his internet friends, and get downstream of his activity via social affinity signals? Ultimately, can you create enough incentive, through affiliate programs, social gaming, couponing, or other active programs, to enable him to actually sell on your behalf? That is today’s digital marketing challenge—and it resides inside an integrated social CRM.

That’s why Salesforce bought Radian6 and Buddy Media, and why Oracle bought Vitrue and Involver. It will take some time for these new social data tools to get properly embedded into the traditional CRM, and even longer for marketers to get adept at leveraging them at scale—but we are now living in an inverted funnel world. Be prepared to turn your thinking about digital marketing upside down.

[This post originally appeared in ClickZ on 12/21/12]