As digital marketing becomes more popular, marketers are tasked with learning the differences between digital marketing and traditional marketing strategies. Though there are many differences in how digital should be approached, one of the most striking is the ability to create conversion funnels. In this piece, we will look at the basics of conversion funnels and how they help marketers reach their audiences with the right message, at the right time.

What is a Conversion Funnel?

In short, a conversion funnel is a series of audience behaviors or actions that indicate various levels of interest or intent in a product or service. By tracking conversions and identifying the steps a user takes before committing to a purchase or making contact, we can understand where the user is in the buying process. Then, we can offer the audience a message that more directly addresses their needs. This helps create synergy between the audience and the advertiser, which helps keep users engaged.

Consider a common experience: buying a used car. Imagine that you’ve decided to trade your car in for something newer. On the first day at a car dealership, you probably have a list of options or attributes that you need your new car to fit, but you don’t likely know the make and model of the vehicle you want to buy. Now imagine that you are being shown the first option of available cars, and the salesperson offers to drop the price by $500. Because you are still gathering information, you aren’t ready to commit to this vehicle, so the offer probably isn’t going to make you comfortable with agreeing to the purchase. If the salesperson then offers to take $5,000 off, it may leave you uneasy, because you don’t know why the dealership would be so willing to make a dramatic reduction of the price.

In contrast, if you have been looking at vehicles for a week and have seen many options, you may be much more confident in your decision to purchase a specific vehicle. In this case, a lowered price might be enough to increase the perception of value and encourage you to buy the car that you’re being shown.

That’s a big difference for today’s advertisers. In traditional media channels, messaging is more generally appealing to push all users in that audience toward making a purchase in the same way. In digital initiatives, conversion funnels allow us to understand what the end user needs at each stage of their buyer journey to move them to the next. We can then create campaigns that are not meant to end in a transaction, but rather in the changing of position in the funnel. By drawing users down the funnel, we create many, smaller goals along the way.

What Are the Stages of a Conversion Funnel?

The answer to this question is different for every initiative and expands over time. In most cases, there are a few checkpoints that a user needs to cross along the way to committing to a purchase. Among these are brand/product awareness, brand/product preference, interest and intent.

Some products and services are so appealing that awareness and preference are effectively one step. If a brand is already well-established, like Hershey’s chocolate, it’s likely we can skip the awareness phase, since a large percentage of the target audience already knows the brand.

User interest can be described in various ways, depending on the offering. Indicators of interest can be things like increased interaction rates with a website and ads, spending more than a certain amount of time on a product page or searching terms that show that the user is considering a purchase in the future, like “best used cars.”

User intent is the state where a purchase is imminent. This includes adding an item to an online shopping cart and searching terms related to price, such as looking for coupons for a product, or terms related to the action of purchasing, such as “where to buy XY product.”

How Do I Choose the Right Funnel Structure?

Nobody knows your product or service better than you. Many businesses are surprised to learn that there are positives and negatives to that fact, as it relates to creating a buyer journey. The most important thing to remember is that this funnel should reflect how your users want to interact with your brand, not how you would like them to do so. Remember that your funnel is a living organism that will grow and change with time. Digital marketing is more like a relay race than a sprint, and it’s okay to start with a rudimentary funnel that can be developed over time. It may even be better for a new initiative to start this way, since it limits the assumptions that an advertiser may make about their audience.

Because an advertiser may already be very familiar with the offerings, it may be difficult to get into the headspace of a user who has never heard of their business before. Adding Google Analytics with goal tracking to your website will help you understand how users interact with your content organically. You can use this data to gain insights into what works and what doesn’t. As you develop your funnel system, you can also drill down into the data and see if the user’s interests or personal characteristics require an adjustment to your approach or messaging. This will help you to create buyer personas, each of which may have its own funnel to fit the specific needs of that group of users.

Start by comparing the users who have completed the desired goal with users who have not. If you look hard enough, you should start to see certain behaviors that are more common in the converting group than in the other. This information can be used to determine which specific behaviors you want your funnel to encourage. Don’t forget that tools like focus groups and surveys are a great way to understand what a user needs at each stage of the buyer journey. Always be ready to listen to what your audience is telling you, whether verbally or by behavior, and change your approach based on the data.

Summary

The power of digital marketing is in timing and message personalization. By supporting the user through each stage of the journey with valuable, engaging content, we can create a better user experience that will encourage lifetime relationships, including repeat business, brand advocacy and long-term growth.

Be sure to look for Part 2 next week, where we will dive into cross-platform funnels and offer tips on sourcing the right audiences to fill them!

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