Funnel Marketing: definition and (really) concrete uses



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Funnel Marketing is a simplified visual representation of the consumer (B2C) or buyer (B2B) buying journey with a company. As buying behaviors have evolved, Funnel Marketing has migrated from a static, standardized model to a complex, omnichannel and evolving concept based on the buyer persona.

In this practical guide, Twilead breaks down the terminology, definition, stages and points of vigilance of Funnel Marketing and offers you concrete examples and uses. Let’s get started!

Funnel, tunnel : a review of the terminology

Before building the definition of Funnel Marketing, let’s take a few seconds to review the terminology. The term “Funnel Marketing” is often mistakenly translated as “Tunnel Marketing”.

In fact, the “Funnel” is not a tunnel, but rather a funnel. And as you will see throughout this paper, the difference is important, insofar as the modeling of the path starts with a wide end (Top of the Funnel) and ends on a narrow end (Bottom of the Funnel).

However, Google France returns more than 65 million results for the query “Tunnel Marketing”, compared to about 345,000 for the query “Funnel Marketing”.

What is Funnel Marketing?

The Marketing Funnel is a simplified visual representation of the different stages of the prospect’s journey, from the discovery of the brand to the completion of the desired action, notably the purchase, and even beyond, in a logic of loyalty via Customer Success Management (CSM). The most common marketing funnel is composed of five steps:

  • Discovery: the prospect consumes various contents and becomes aware of his pain points. He has more or less defined his need and will start looking for a solution.
  • Interest: he learns about possible solutions to solve his problem. They consume practical content such as buying guides.
  • Consideration: the prospect now wants to make a shortlist of products or service providers that he thinks can help him. At this stage, they mainly consume comparisons, tests and opinions. They may make a first contact with you at this stage.
  • The purchase: your lead is ready to commit to you and to entrust you with the resolution of his problem. It is up to you to provide them with the tools they need to validate their decision.
  • Post-purchase: your lead is now your customer. At this level, you must help them get the most out of the product they bought, identify cross-selling opportunities and work on loyalty, which remains the shortest route to growth. According to a Bain & Company study relayed by the Harvard Business School Review, a 5% increase in customer retention can translate into a 25-95% increase in revenue.

The purchase phase can eventually be replaced by a more generic stage, which we will call “action” or “conversion”. In fact, some Funnel Marketing campaigns do not necessarily aim at purchasing but rather at creating an account, filling out a contact form, etc. Please note: the Marketing Funnel presented here is a generic model, from the prospect’s point of view. In reality, the steps of the funnel must be aligned with the product being marketed and, most importantly, the target segment. We will see this later in the concrete examples.

ToFu, MoFu, BoFu… the three parts of Funnel Marketing

Since the steps of Funnel Marketing may differ from one industry to another, or even from one company to another, it is best to divide Funnel Marketing into three “universal” parts.

#1 The top of the funnel or ToFu (for Top of the Funnel)

The top of the funnel is about increasing your brand’s visibility and making your target audience aware of your existence. In practice, an internet user who enters a query on Google, clicks on your link and browses your blog post is at the top of the funnel.

  • Objective: attract the maximum number of targeted visitors to your website with relevant content and increased visibility on search engines and/or social networks.
  • Metrics: number of visits to your website, percentage of new visitors, bounce rate, traffic by source (email, direct visit, social networks, search engine, advertising, etc.)
  • Tactics used: direct emailing (if you have a database), communication on social networks, SEO, press relations, paid advertising, partnerships with influencers, offline communication.

#2 The middle of the funnel or MoFu (for Middle of the Funnel)

At this stage, it will be a matter of nurturing the relationship with the prospect to gain their trust. To do this, you will need to provide value so that they agree to leave their contact information with you. This can be a white paper, an ebook or a trial version of a software, for example.

  • Objective: to make a first sorting in the attracted prospects and to recover a contact element, mainly an email address, which will allow you to nourish the relationship and to reinforce the confidence with your company.
  • Metrics: conversion rate of visitors into leads, number of leads, growth rate of the database, opening rate and click rate on email campaigns, etc.
  • Tactics used: lead magnets (white paper or ebook, free course, webinar, trial or demo version, private community, email campaigns, remarketing).

The bottom of the funnel or BoFu (for Bottom of the Funnel)

You have already established a sufficient level of trust with the lead who is now ready to receive your offer. At this point, you should pitch your product and formulate a quote, if necessary.

  • Objective: this is the moment of truth. You will have to transform the trial by convincing your leads to buy your product.
  • Metrics: sales growth, average basket, number of new customers, revenue per customer, conversion rate.
  • Tactics used: Sales Enablement, upselling, cross-selling, putting urgency in the purchase with a limited offer, using bundles (combining products in packs), etc.

Is traditional Funnel Marketing still valid today?

The purchase funnel as it is represented in business schools and, more broadly, in marketing literature, was invented by the American advertiser Elias St. Elmo Lewis in… 1898! At the time, marketing was “passive” in the sense that demand largely exceeded supply for most products.

Companies were indeed limited by resources and means of production. The objective of marketing was simply to administer sales. The marketing funnel could not have been more linear, with an attention phase that simply consisted of making the consumer aware of the existence of the product. What happened next was predictable and straightforward.

As you can see, a model created more than a century ago cannot stand the test of time. The digitalization of buying behaviors has indeed shaken up marketing practices, with paths that are less and less linear and more and more random, unpredictable and complex. Funnel marketing must now be aligned with a sufficiently personalized omnichannel experience for each consumer (B2C) or buyer (B2B) using automation loops. It must also take into account different scenarios, such as the fact that a prospect may enter the funnel in the middle or even at the end.

Here are two examples (B2B and B2C) that show that a prospect can land directly in the buying phase without going through the previous steps:

  • A buyer discusses his problem with a peer at a trade show. The latter tells him about his positive experience with a software he bought a few months earlier. Our buyer contacts the company that publishes the solution directly and wants to do a demo. Here, the prospect lands in the funnel through the purchase phase.
  • A consumer wants to buy a household appliance. He starts his journey on Google and arrives on a brand’s blog that helps him refine his need. He identifies a model that interests him and explores the reviews on Amazon to validate his choice. In the recommendations section, he sees a similar product but with a more flattering design and a higher rating. He makes his choice and lands, once again, in the funnel purchase phase.

To conclude this section, Funnel Marketing as developed by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898 is not obsolete, except for one detail. The prospect does not necessarily enter the buying process from the attention phase.

What is the difference between B2B and B2C Funnel Marketing?

Broadly speaking, B2B and B2C customers go through the same stages of Funnel Marketing, but with differences in the decision-making process. Consumers generally make their decision alone, even if they rely on online reviews or advice from friends and family.

The B2C model involves a relatively short buying cycle and individuals do less research on what to buy. Also, some B2C sectors are marked by “impulse” purchases, where the consumer goes through all the steps of the marketing funnel in a very short time (sometimes in a few minutes). Of course, there are some exceptions, such as buying a car or real estate.

According to a Gartner survey, the buying decision in B2B is driven by groups of 6 to 10 people. Each person brings 4 to 5 pieces of content or information from their research and defends their position in the decision-making sphere. Also, the average shopping cart in B2B is generally higher than in B2C, with a high stake that requires limiting risk-taking.

In order to be secure and rational, the purchase decision in B2B can take several weeks, months or even years in certain sectors of activity. These specificities require B2B marketers to strengthen the Funnel Marketing environment to enrich the lead and reinforce its decision (Lead Nurturing).

Can you sell products without Funnel Marketing?

Yes, it is possible to sell your products and services without adopting the Funnel Marketing model… but only in the short term. Let’s take a concrete example to illustrate this. The company ABC publishes an innovative accounting software that allows small business owners, craftsmen and small traders to keep their accounts in a simple way.

To market this product, ABC relies exclusively on outbound marketing, i.e. front-end prospecting that seeks out the target to convert it. The company manager buys databases on the web and distributes the contacts to his sales force. As Citizen Call explains, the transformation rate (appointment setting) on outbound phone calls is 1.6%, and the conversion rate (sale) is even lower. Sales people get annoyed because the target is not necessarily qualified. In the end, less than 1% of the leads contacted seem interested.

Let’s take the example of company XYZ which markets the same product. It uses outbound marketing on occasion, but most of its marketing strategy is aligned with the Funnel Marketing model. Here is its roadmap:

  • Set up a blog with educational content that covers all stages of the funnel. On the menu: “how to” guides, informative articles, infographics, videos, etc. ;
  • Deployment of a natural referencing (SEO) strategy to ensure the visibility of content produced and distributed by marketing;
  • Implementation of a lead generation strategy through Lead Magnets;
    Collected leads enter an automated nurturing loop, with the sending of personalized emails, newsletters, etc. ;
  • Implementation of a messaging tool on the company’s website as part of a conversational marketing strategy. Objective: to encourage the expression of the prospect’s needs very early in his buying process, especially in B2B.

When the target becomes sufficiently interested in the company’s solution, they can fill out a contact form, call a sales representative, send an email or leave a message on the instant messaging module. These “hot” leads can then be contacted by the sales team to close the deal.

In short, Company XYZ closes more sales than Company ABC with fewer salespeople, less time spent on the phone and less frustration.

Concrete examples of Funnel Marketing

Here are three examples of successful Funnel Marketing practices in B2C and B2B e-commerce.

#1 Example of Funnel Marketing: an e-commerce of vintage vinyl records

An online store sells vintage 45 and 33 rpm records and personalized turntables. The target is 30-65 year olds, men and women, rather urban and CSP+. The e-store launches a nice advertisement on Facebook with a Call to Action (CTA) to a landing page that presents the limited editions, the rarities and the most beautiful custom turntables.

A chatbot invites the visitor to leave his email address in exchange for a privileged access to the limited editions page during a certain period. Visitors become leads that will be fed with a few nurturing emails over the weeks (new releases, storytelling around a rare piece, etc.). At the end of the emailing campaign, the company offers a 10% coupon for the first order.

The e-store sells its first products and builds a database of effective customers. These customers are then relaunched in a new “post-purchase” loop, with an emailing campaign about new products.

#2 Example of B2B Funnel Marketing: Basecamp

Basecamp is a project management tool that allows teams to organize their workflow thanks to a wide range of features. Basecamp’s Marketing Funnel is characterized by high value-added content at each step of the journey:

  • The discovery phase: since 2020, Basecamp has been sharing blog posts and white papers on the main concern of managers and project leaders, namely remote work.
  • The interest phase: Basecamp shares practical guides with real-life examples on how to manage remote teams depending on the industry, the business environment, the management style, etc. The case studies developed usually include Basecamp’s tool and testimonials from satisfied customers. After nurturing, Basecamp launches a first action by promoting the free version of its solution and making sure that users have understood its key features.
  • Action: a few days or weeks after the interest phase, Basecamp tries to convert the free version users into customers (paid version) with content detailing the additional features and their use cases. Nurturing continues with educational content, management studies, etc.

#3 Exemple de Funnel Marketing e-learning : Mixergy

Mixergy is an e-learning platform that offers courses and interviews for entrepreneurs who want to launch and/or grow their business. Mixergy uses a marketing mix driven by social media, ads, influencer marketing, emailing and blogging to move prospects forward in Funnel Marketing.

  • Attention phase: Mixergy publishes posts on social networks and distributes paid advertisements. The nature of the product being marketed also allows for the leveraging of influencer marketing, with famous entrepreneurs promoting the merits of the courses.
  • Interest phase: prospects are offered a series of 9 free courses in exchange for creating an account and subscribing to a newsletter.
  • Decision phase: Mixergy deploys an automation campaign to consolidate the relationship with prospects. Useful and inspiring content is sent on a regular basis.
  • Action phase: Mixergy integrates CTAs in its emails to invite prospects to “join the community of successful entrepreneurs”. The CTA links to a landing page describing the benefits of the 200 courses and 1,700 videos as well as the value of a Mixergy membership.

To conclude on Funnel Marketing

The Marketing Funnel is a (very) simplified graphical representation of the path followed by prospects up to the purchase, or even loyalty.

As consumer habits have evolved with digitalization, it is difficult to understand the purchase path with a fixed model. To implement a Funnel Marketing aligned with the buyer persona, the company must deploy a personalization effort with quantitative and qualitative studies. It must also adopt a strategy of continuous “customer knowledge” to adapt its Funnel Marketing to changes in buying behavior.

Finally, the company must capitalize on automation to meet the expectations of personalization at scale and optimize its actions at each stage of the journey. A study by Ascend2 asked marketers about the benefits of automation in the marketing funnel. Result:

  • A better buying experience (43%);
  • Optimization of marketers’ and salespeople’s time (38%);
  • More reliable data and rational decision making (35%);
  • Improve lead generation and lead nurturing (34%);
  • Optimize resources and budget (33%);
  • Boost personalization at scale (24%);
  • Improve ROI calculation (23%);
  • Align marketing efforts with sales and other departments (21%).

By integrating all of the sales and marketing features that are essential to launching and growing a business, Twilead is the benchmark platform for your sales and marketing efforts. On the menu:

  • Lead generation and marketing automation tools (advanced automation campaigns, pre-built templates, sales funnel creation…);
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