*more or less
In all our years of experience of strategy consulting, there’s one thing we’ve learned: nobody needs it.
If you’re living and breathing your business, as you do when you’re an entrepreneur, or a leader in a start-up… Or the marketing leader that has grown that baby from four employees to 40, or 400… You don’t need an outside agency coming in to tell you what your strategy should be.
But there also comes a point when you know that something needs to change.
Is your growth slowing or do you need new impetus to get you to the next level? Are you getting enough leads? Enough leads of the right quality? Do you need to break into new markets or sectors? Do you want to attract new investors or do your current investors need you to increase revenue?
Is it more prosaic – you just can’t keep up with feeding the content engine and it’s starting to hurt?
Chances are you don’t need an agency to drop in a shiny strategy from out of the blue. Chances are you’ve been running so hard you’ve not had a chance to put your marketing strategy to the test.
We’re here to give you permission to stop.
And we’re going to give you some tools to use to (re)build a marketing strategy that will help your business grow.
And that means going back to the fundamentals: the funnel.
The marketing funnel is a theoretical model. It illustrates the path a customer takes towards purchasing a product or service. The original model, AIDA, which stands for Awareness, Interest, Decision and Action, was born almost 100 years ago in 1924.
And it has mostly stood the test of time, albeit we now more usually refer to the ‘Interest’ stage as ‘Consideration’.
The model itself has remained largely the same over the last century, but of course we’ve experienced seismic change in that time. Just in the last 20 years digital has fuelled a revolution. A proliferation of consumer choice and business complexity. Open access to information and the tools to create it. The breakdown of old structures of authority. New ever-increasing expectations for customer experience.
That shift has driven a shift in how we view the funnel, but more of that later.
So why should you care? Because it will help you focus on what will drive growth for your business.
As 19th century business leader and pioneer of marketing John Wanamaker allegedly put it:
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
A focus on the funnel helps you prioritise those marketing and sales efforts that do deliver.
Bear with us as we take a trip down memory lane.
In the early 90s, Trinny and Susannah dominated women’s style on their TV show ‘What Not To Wear’. Each week they’d bully some poor souls, literally stripping them of their clothes. They’d then re-dress the victim according to their own style principles. It was brutal body-shaming. We don’t hold with all that.
But there are some elements to this that we can learn from. Let’s get fruity.
We know all bodies are not created equal. So we dress in different ways to accentuate different features. It’s the same for marketing funnels. They differ from company to company. They’re defined by things like product complexity, price, length of sales cycle.
We cherish all funnel shapes. We are not into funnel shaming.
So what are some common funnel shapes and how can we dress for them?
Case Studies Of Different B2B and B2C Marketing Funnel Shapes
If you know what shape your funnel is, you can design your marketing around it. What drives the shape is pipeline, or lead generation. Many of the topics we touch on in this paper present an opportunity to dive down a rabbit hole. Lead generation is a deep one. We’ll avoid this for now and stay on the surface.
We were inspired by Geoffrey Moore here. If you’ve time you can read up on his product-, person- and use-case-centric lead generation categories on LinkedIn.
So what are some common funnel shapes?
We’re going to analyse three brands and reverse-engineer their funnels for illustration.
What some call marketing strategy, we call ‘funnel design’.
We are all about working out how to find and win the attention of your target customers where they are in their purchase journey.
And for us, the 3 steps of marketing strategy break down to our funnel design building blocks:
Once we have an idea of our funnel shape, it should be easy to design our marketing strategy around it.
But there are three very common problems that get in the way.
The first problem marketers run into with funnel design is that their brand’s purpose is not clear.
We’re not unrealistic. We’re not suggesting that every brand needs to have a higher esoteric mission (although these are great!).
But every business should know and be able to articulate who they are. What specific problems they solve and what makes them unique. We’ve written about our brand purpose here.
Rabbit hole alert! Purpose is a topic for another day, so let’s assume you’ve got this down. If you don’t, re-read Simon Sinek. Or let’s talk.
The second problem brands run into is that they don’t know their customers.
Finding out what makes your customers tick will inform all your marketing. (And business strategy… and everything else). It will reveal opportunities to connect on an emotional level, which are so often missing in B2B marketing. Those revelations are gold dust. They help you to create content and engagement strategies that get cut through.
For many companies, customers are distant. They often don’t know who their customers and targets really are. Who can benefit the most from their products? Who are the most happy, satisfied, reliable and profitable? And deeper: what are their challenges and goals? What makes them buy? And, what stops them?
If you don’t know who your customers are and what makes them tick, it’s hard to reach them. And creating content and campaigns that will resonate with them can be guesswork.
Properly constructed buyer personas are essential here, and they start with customer understanding. Buyer personas are semi-fictional sets of pen portraits representing key customer groups. You must ground them in insight and draw from a variety of sources:
— customer and market data sets (sales data, CRM, CSAT, marketing, customer services) plus
— unstructured and informal knowledge such as sales and marketing teams’ insights
Many brands leave it there. But in doing so, miss out on a most critical piece. Namely, primary research through customer surveys and depth interviews.
Taking the time to talk to customers and/or prospects uncovers new opportunities. You can test internal hypotheses about your buyer personas’ needs and wants. If you’re wondering how can you uncover your buyer personas’ reading habits, media consumption and channel preferences, a direct question is hard to beat. And, you’ll often reveal new and surprising insights into emotions and motives.
Good buyer personas are a blend of art and science. Robust customer and market data is brought to life with a touch of creativity. But not too much poetic licence. Not stereotypes, caricatures or, worse, projections of yourself (‘I know my customer because it’s me!’). The benefits of buyer personas come when they are real and detailed.
Buyer personas are a valuable competitive resource for a brand. They’re almost always confidential. We can’t share our clients’ real examples. So we’ve created two to illustrate our points. A B2B financial director buyer persona and a B2B operations director buyer persona.
Note that the personas are rich in detail. This is essential. Grounding them in real data helps you avoid tired tropes and bring the personas to life.
Note too that these personas we’re sharing are for illustrative purposes and entirely fictional!
Now, imagine you’re the marketing director for Starling Bank. You want to reach FD Frank, a fictional buyer persona we’ve invented. He’s interested in moving to a digital first bank but he’s a traditionalist. This is our Financial Director Buyer Persona For Starling Bank.
Or you’re in the Salesforce marketing team. You need to attract more Systems Susies: highly qualified operations directors keen to make their mark. This is our Operations Director Buyer Persona for Salesforce.
See how detailed these personas are?
Once you become acquainted with your personas – their challenges, their goals and the emotions driving them – the ideas for how to engage them start popping…
If you want to build your own, feel free to use our handy Template For Buyer Personas PDF.
We’ve spent all this time talking about the key elements of effective funnel design, but we need to pause now. We need to set something straight.
The third problem in effective funnel design is that companies don’t realise the funnel isn’t all about them…
Today’s customer is not an obedient set of eyeballs and a purse. Waiting to buy stuff, ready to be captured by a brand. (If they ever were).
The problem with the way we’ve thought about the funnel to date is that we’ve had it the wrong way round. We’ve assumed that ‘awareness’ is ‘awareness of your business’. That ‘interest’ is ‘interest in your business’. But customers aren’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves and the problem they’re looking to fix.
Your funnel needs to be about the customer and their problems. Not about your brand and what you want to broadcast. We like to call it flipping your funnel.
Once you realise this, you can start to see what your reverse funnel marketing strategy should be. How to create content that will get you famous with the right people. Content that helps you to help your buyer along their journey with you.
So what are the stages of the Reverse Marketing Funnel?
We’ve written about each of these stages in a little more depth
What is the awareness stage in marketing? It’s not when your prospect becomes aware of your business. At this point they’re just aware they have a problem.
What is the consideration stage in marketing? Your customer isn’t considering your business. They’re considering all the approaches and methods available to solve their problem.
What is the decision stage in marketing? Your prospect has now pretty much decided on their strategy, method or approach. This stage is about dotting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s on that decision.
We’re nearly done now with the internal work of marketing funnel design. Our building blocks are in place: we’re clear on brand purpose and the problems we solve. We’re on first name terms with our target customers – well their personas at least. And we understand the reverse funnel: how the model has flipped to focus on the customer and the stage they are at in their buyer journey.
Now it’s time to create content and engagement activities to reach those personas, where they are.
Again, we can’t share confidential client work. So let’s return to our fictional FD Frank and Systems Susie. And some examples of how to create content plans tailored to B2B buyer journeys.
It’s worth noting that the ideas we generate when we start with the customer are discipline agnostic. And all the more valuable for it. Working through the funnel fundamentals will throw up B2B outbound marketing strategies. Inbound marketing strategies. Online vs offline marketing strategies. Lead generation vs business development.
Marketers often start planning from a brand- or a discipline-focused beginning. But if you focus on the buyer, you’ll find the best and most appropriate approaches that get cut through with them.
Moreover, this approach helps you reflect your customers’ emotional triggers in marketing.
It’s clear from FD Frank’s buyer persona that a big driving force is fear of change and damaging his reputation. Fear is a negative motivation, one that has the potential to turn him away from Starling Bank.
But this powerful emotion also represents a rich opportunity. We can pick up on that in our Financial Director Buyer Persona Content Plan. The bank can show they understand him by allaying those fears and removing obstacles.
Starling is an innovative digital-first brand. It might baulk at a traditional offline activation like hosting a cocktail reception at Henley. But if Frank values face-to-face engagement and is likely to be a profitable customer, an ‘old school’ approach could win the day.
Systems Susie needs to make a success of her new role. She needs to navigate the politics of a new company, win support for her digital transformation plans. And integrate a new system effectively. This drive for status and achievement is a positive motivation and no less powerful for it. These observations feed into our Operations Director Buyer Persona Content Plan.
The opportunity for Salesforce is to create content and engagement that empowers and enables. At awareness stage, content could be about solving the big soft skill issues of leadership and change management. All delivered in digestible refresher formats designed for a time-poor executive. Short and pithy video/podcast content ideal for a commute, for example.
We have a Free Content Plan Template here. You can use it to come up with content and activation plays for your buyer personas.
But before you do, let’s look at a surprising B2B case study. This is an absolute beaut of emotion-led, top-of-the-funnel, brand building content excellence.
Well done for hanging in there and reaching the end – for now! – of our walk through the essential elements of great marketing funnel design.
Have we convinced you there are two fundamentals that will ensure your strategy is a success?
1 – that you base it firmly on customer understanding. Real insight-driven buyer personas will guide your thinking. Well-crafted buyer personas reveal amazing opportunities to connect on an emotional level. Emotion drives brand marketing and B2B marketing is crying out for it.
2 – that you need to flip your funnel. Reverse your marketing funnel to find tactics that resonate with your target customers. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Finally, we identified four rabbit holes that we managed to swerve in this paper. (There are more we haven’t even mentioned!). We’ll come back to these in the not too distant future:
Theory and strategy, tactics, measurement and tools
There are many different flavours of apple shaped funnel, let’s investigate.
That old Coconut – where our fruity funnels analogy breaks down. Investigating the relationship between the funnel, the buyer journey and customer experience.
How to define and articulate what your brand is for and what makes you unique.
F&G Funnel Mechanics is a marketing and business growth agency. We help progressive companies grow.
We’re a virtual agency with hubs in Bristol, London, Hampshire and Dorset.
We’d love to help you grow – get in touch!