The Digital Marketing Funnel: Understanding the Online Buyer’s Journey
The internet has revolutionised marketing. Therefore, the way brands connect with customers has also changed. A brand’s relationship with a customer no longer ends after they’ve completed a purchase — that’s only half of it.
The classic marketing funnel was straightforward, accounting for the buyer’s journey with a brand through the AIDA model:
- Awareness: marketing that creates brand awareness for a target audience.
- Interest: campaigns that generate interest that encourages potential customers to do more research.
- Desire: establishing a connection with the buyer to make them want the product or service.
- Action: encouraging the buyer to engage with the brand.
The AIDA model above is designed to lead customers through a sales funnel and considers the buyer’s first contact with your brand down to the point of sale.
In the past, the ‘Action’ stage would be represented by a buyer’s purchase of product or service. Nowadays, the AIDA model is used by marketers as more of a communication model.
According to Smart Insights, the AIDA model assists brands in knowing how and when to communicate with buyers, which platforms to use, how to engage them, and the kind of information the brand provides to the buyer.
But then stepped in the new wave of marketing: the digital marketing funnel.
The new digital marketing funnel
The push for traditional marketing to evolve has been driven by technological advancements but also through the rise of social media. Today, it is believed that we are bombarded with over 10,000 messages a day. For brands to cut through the noise, it’s in their best interest to foster a strong relationship with consumers even long after the buyer has made a purchase.
Thus the new digital marketing funnel expands the AIDA model to consider this new brand and buyer relationship:
Top of the Funnel (ToFu)
At the top of the digital marketing funnel, are leads or potential customers that visit or engage with a site. At this stage, the main objective is to attract and capture their interest. Objectives for brands at ToFu include:
- Engagement: create awareness through content on social media platforms. This is also typically how people discover new brands.
- Education: release content that educates buyers about the brand, including content that addresses pain points and offers solutions.
- Research: brands provide informative content that helps with the buyer’s purchasing decision rather than just pushing a sales message.
Middle of the Funnel (MoFu)
When potential customers further develop a relationship with a product or brand, they are considered at the middle of the funnel. Here, they may engage with a brand on social media, attend company events, or seek further information about their products and services.
- Evaluation: a straightforward way of presenting the brand as a provider of a specific solution. Typically, comparisons with competing brands are provided.
- Justification: addressing a buyer’s objections, obstacles, and inertia that keeps them from making a purchase.
Bottom of the Funnel (BoFu)
The final segment of the funnel is known as the bottom of the funnel where potential customers are likely to convert into paying customers. At this stage, they become advocates after having established a strong connection with a product and brand.
- Purchase: provide support to the customer by answering questions to boost confidence with the product or service.
- Adoption: communication should continue to flow seamlessly between the brand and the buyer, with brands providing advantages and directions on how to use a product or service.
- Retention: through consistent high-value communication, brands continue to leave customers with high satisfaction.
- Expansion: at this stage, brands will be able to upsell higher-end products and premium services, as well as sell products and services that complement what customers have previously purchased.
- Advocacy: encouraging loyal customers to become brand advocates helps nurture the brand with future customers.
The digital marketing funnel puts the buyer first, considers their needs, and directs the brand to create campaigns that meet those needs.
By understanding the different stages of a robust digital marketing strategy, it is also crucial that brands are able to iterate and improve their efforts through the ability to measure success.
The Pirate Metrics (AARRR)
According to 500Startups co-founder Dave McClure, there are 5 key metrics of which marketers should focus on to measure their marketing efforts. Marketers can use these metrics as key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the effectiveness of their campaigns at any specific stage of the digital marketing funnel.
Acquisition: In the acquisition stage, brands measure a person’s first contact with a product or website. Initially, this can be measured by unique views. For websites, this can also be measured by bounce rates.
Activation: Activation refers to the product or service use. How many of the people you’ve acquired and engaged with actually use your product? Measuring what constitutes an activated user or buyer depends on the product or service offered, or the brand itself.
Retention: You want people to come back for more, not just use your product or service once. How often they return varies, and you can choose according to what is appropriate for your brand.
Referrals: How many users ended up advocating for your product, and how many people did they bring in? You can measure according to how many views or people inquiring about your brand, or how many a customer referred and ended up being customers themselves.
Revenue: Measuring revenue isn’t just about the total profit, but also considering the LTV (lifetime value) of a customer. The LTV metric is why there are 4 other stages or metrics that are crucial to measure before revenue.
Lead generation tactics for the digital marketing funnel
Marketing is no longer simply launching a campaign and obtaining once-off purchases from buyers. It’s a long game, and over time if done correctly can generate rewarding results for businesses. Avinash Kaushik’s See-Think-Do-Care Model gives strategy suggestions depending on where the buyer is at on the digital marketing funnel.
At the top of the funnel during the Engagement or Acquisition stages brands can employ:
- Social media: it’s an effective, low-cost strategy for this stage because people use social media to engage with their friends and family, and to find social proof for products and brands.
- PPC display ads: you want your brand to be seen, even through subliminal messaging for your target market.
When customers are in the middle of the funnel, during the Research, Evaluation or Justification stages brands can use:
- SEO: it’s aimed at helping boost the organic search results for a brand, which will support prospects who are seeking to make more informed choices about their purchases.
- Video marketing: YouTube is the second largest search engine, and video is a highly preferred type of content.
At the bottom of the funnel, during the Purchasing stage, marketers can use:
- Email marketing: you want to nudge your customers to make a purchase, and then nurture them for repeat business. Email allows you to personalise your marketing efforts too.
Now that you know what to do, why do it, and how to measure your success, the last step is execution.
There’s a lot that needs to be done and done well. How do you balance your time or your marketing team’s resources when there are 10 stages to the buyer’s journey, each requiring different strategies to be implemented?
This is where marketing automation comes in.
Marketing automation, according to Hubspot, “refers to the software that exists with the goal of automating marketing actions.” It is often done for repetitive tasks like email marketing and social media posting.
Here’s how you get started on automating some of your marketing tasks:
- Identify the repetitive tasks. These lend well to marketing automation because you can find software as a service (SaaS) options that will help you publish or post at optimum times without manually doing it yourself every time.
- Prepare content beforehand. When you have automated systems in place, you can set aside a time block to create content for the upcoming week or even month. This ensures you have something well-crafted to put out when necessary.
- Segment your audience. Not everyone will be on the same stage of the buyer’s journey, and you need to be able to quickly assess and respond to them appropriately. Segmenting keeps you on track on who’s where on the sales marketing funnel.
- Personalise your content and campaigns. Establishing a connection with the buyer encourages loyalty to your brand. Remember that you are communicating with people who like communicating with other people.
Some common tools used to automate tasks in your digital marketing funnel include:
- Mailchimp or Drip for emails
- Buffer or MeetEdgar
The shift to an expanded marketing funnel compared with the classic AIDA model has accommodated our current area of digital disruption, but this is by no means the end of this marketing shift.
Experts predict that the future of marketing includes Account-Based Marketing (ABM), where brands instead identify their target companies or groups, expand to decision makers, engage with them through personalised marketing plans, and convert them to advocates.
This trend essentially ‘flips the funnel’, where brands will start off with a narrow list of target entities. This targeted approach hopes to help address the problem of marketers having a hard time getting their prospect’s attention.
As brands and companies (especially B2B) start adopting the ABM approach, one thing is clear: marketers and brands need to stay on top of industry practices and adjust rapidly to changes.
Agility is key to growing your brand, and agility in marketing strategies is now more important than ever.
Learn how to maximise your funnel’s effectiveness and drive results by developing a solid digital marketing strategy.
Interested in studying Digital Marketing? Download our course guide in Digital Marketing to learn more.