Whether you’re launching a new service within your HVAC, home performance or solar company, or you’re looking to revitalize your company’s overall marketing strategy, it’s important to understand the purpose of every tactic in your digital marketing arsenal.
You may have been surprised to learn in our latest webinar, for example, that Facebook’s power lies, not in generating conversions (at least not primarily), but in building brand awareness and creating custom audiences.
If you want to get the most from each of your digital marketing tactics, make sure you understand where each of those tactics fits into your sales funnel.
There are five key phases of the sales funnel that every marketer must understand before defining their marketing strategy. Understanding these phases when determining which digital marketing tactics to include in your strategy is especially important considering the diverse selection of digital channels we have at our disposal, and the very different strengths and weaknesses of each.
From Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, to websites, blogs and Google My Business profiles, to paid search, display and email marketing — we’re faced with an array of options and platforms on which we can reach our target audience. Our potential customers, meanwhile, use different platforms to navigate through the different stages of the buying process.
Understanding the key attributes of each of these stages is the first step toward understanding how to best reach and capture the attention of audiences wherever they are in the funnel:
The target customer is becoming aware of you as a company and the services you offer.
The target customer becomes interested in a particular service you offer. This stage is like “hooking the fish,” so to speak (but you haven’t reeled it in yet!)
The target customer has taken a very keen interest in your service and is taking definitive steps to engage with your company. (Perhaps they call with questions or fill out a form for a free estimate.)
The target customer uses the information you have provided them to make the decision to do business with you.
The target customer becomes an actual customer and pays you in exchange for the service you are offering. (Congratulations — you’ve reeled them in!)
These five stages of the sales funnel help you understand how a target customer navigates the buying process.
You wouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger who knows nothing about solar energy and tell them to sign up for a free site evaluation, would you? Well, many companies do exactly that when their marketing messaging isn’t tailored to where their target customers are in the sales funnel.
If you want your content and messaging to resonate with your target customers and encourage them to progress down the sales funnel, it’s important for that content and messaging to speak directly to where they are in the decision making process.
Let’s look at the sales funnel again:
It’s important for your content and messaging to speak directly to where your target customers are in the sales funnel.
Target customers in your sales funnel fall into three general categories:
These target customers know only a little about your company and the services you offer, so messaging here needs to be more educational in nature. Any calls-to-action should encourage the target customer to seek more information — and tell them what they have to gain by doing so.
Target customers in the middle of the funnel have some knowledge about your company and the services you offer but still need to know about the nuts and bolts of doing business with you. At this stage, help target customers understand how your process works and what makes you approachable as a company. Calls-to-action should encourage the target customer to engage with your company for more detailed information — by requesting a free estimate, calling with questions, etc.
These target customers are more qualified leads and are likely to do business with you if they understand the benefits of your services and what sets you apart as a company. Messaging should emphasize why you’re the best company for the job and explain why now is the time to seek your services. Calls-to-action at this point are more of a “hard sell.”
It’s tempting to focus on low hanging fruit — those qualified leads that are closer to pulling the trigger. While those leads may be your best bet in generating sales quickly, you need to think about growing and expanding your customer base just as much as generating revenue. This is especially true when you’re launching a new service and need to build awareness around that service.
Once those qualified leads have converted to customers, that revenue potential has been spent. If you’ve ignored the top of the funnel, you’ve missed an opportunity to cultivate a growing base of new potential customers who will head down the funnel to take the place of those leads you converted so quickly.
Ready to dive into different digital marketing tactics and where they fit into your sales funnel? Good. Let’s start by turning our funnel onto its side:
Some marketing tactics are better for building brand awareness and qualifying potential customers, while others are better for converting qualified leads.
At the top of the funnel, you have tactics for awareness. These tactics primarily educate, inform, build brand recognition and call for consideration of your brand for your new service.
The best platforms for the top of the funnel have extensive reach, a broad and diverse user base, are able to relay messages quickly and can get messages across visually. There’s limited time to draw a user in at the top of the funnel, so messages have to be compelling and encourage engagement.
Social media and display (or banner) ads accomplish this well because they have the broadest and most diverse user base of all the digital marketing platforms. Social media in particular is widely used, encourages sharing, and is great at displaying visuals as well as brief text content to users with short attention spans.
Remember — we’re not focused on conversion at the top of the funnel; we’re focused on piquing interest and, quite literally, making people aware of your brand or service. This is not “hard sell” time, as people are just beginning to learn about you. Learning leads to interest, which leads to active research (and the middle of the funnel).
At the middle, you have tactics for ripening. These tactics nurture the interest you’ve piqued with your awareness campaign. Now that you’ve made people aware of your new product or service, you have to be sure that you’re in front of them whenever (and wherever) they go looking for more information.
The best platforms for the middle of the funnel are able to more granularly target prospective customers by going after specific search queries. They also make your messaging visible where prospective customers are likely to be consuming other related content.
Paid search is great for capturing users who are actively searching for relevant keywords.
Retargeting serves ads to users who have already somehow engaged with your marketing or messages — either on social media, via a display ad or by visiting your website.
Social ads can be narrowed to target only users who have previously engaged with your advertising, as well. They can also be used to build “lookalike” audiences which are groups of users with similar attributes, interests and behaviors to those previous customers who have already made it through the funnel. By narrowing your target audience this way, you’ll naturally hit fewer people with your marketing messages; but these people will also be more qualified leads who can be more easily pulled further down the funnel to replace those exiting, after having been converted to customers.
On-site SEO and content ensures that you’re there to greet new “middle-of-the-funnel” customers with the information they are now actively searching for. On site content development and the proper SEO for that content are vital parts of addressing the needs of the middle-of-the-funnel leads.
At the bottom, you have tactics for closing. These tactics are hyper targeted, hyper relevant and may include messaging like promotions and discounts, competitive comparisons, advantages of your company, etc. This is the time to push prospective customers over the finish line and convert them into real customers.
The best platforms for the bottom of the funnel are able to target very granularly — by demographics, previous search history and behavior, previous purchase history, etc. At this stage, we want to talk only to the most qualified leads, as directly and with as much tailored messaging as possible.
These leads are the most expensive to reach because we’re reaching so few at a time, so we need to be extremely strategic about the messaging and content we’re putting out there. We need a lot of control over visuals and copy, personalization options, and the optimization methods we have at our disposal.
Paid search can be optimized at this stage to favor clicks from particular people (who meet specific qualifying criteria) over others. By analyzing the results of our top and middle-of-the-funnel tactics, we can determine which users are more likely to convert (those which have made their way through the first phases of the funnel) and prioritize ads targeted to those users to make sure we show up at the top of their search engine results pages. In doing so, even though we’re going after the more expensive leads at this point, we’re actually allocating ad dollars more efficiently by spending budget only on those clicks which are MOST likely to result in a conversion.
Review generation and email marketing are two additional digital marketing tactics that both offer many options for personalization. We can speak directly to the customer —through their email, through their trusted review site or even through their peers by soliciting and featuring authentic, positive reviews on the website and in marketing messaging across channels. Email marketing reaches users directly in their inbox which makes the experience of engaging with your brand, product or service feel much more personal and private (yes, even when it ends up in the “promos” tab). And review generation and promotion of positive reviews is a way to publish highly relatable, trustworthy endorsements from an impartial source. The more we can personalize our tactics at this stage, the more relevant and compelling our hard sell will be.