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Shifting Your Focus From The Marketing Funnel To Personalized Social Media Messaging

There’s a lot of confusion about social media these days, and old-school marketing professionals aren’t making it any easier.

More and more companies are waking up to the fact that they can connect with their consumers via digital channels with more impact and for significantly less budget than traditional television, radio and print approaches. As a result, agencies and marketing professionals are being asked more frequently by executives how they can “use social” or “do social” by engaging in the social space.

The problem arises when traditional marketing professionals approach social media and social networking in the exact same way that they approach traditional channels like TV and print. Don’t get me wrong, some of these principles are grounded in success. Others just don’t seem to fit.

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NOTE: If your marketing experience is based on the traditional channels like television, radio, outdoor, etc…please don’t think I don’t find those channels valuable. They absolutely are still relevant in the marketing ecosystem. The question, though, is whether the same tactics and measurement principles apply to both traditional and digital.

Simply assuming that you can take the same approach for traditional and social is like assuming that you can use a hammer just like you use a screwdriver. The are completely different tools that require different skills, different motor movements, and are used to accomplish different goals.

Take the traditional “marketing/sales” funnel as an example. This theory is endorsed by traditional marketers everywhere and invariably turns up on presentations and PowerPoint decks across the enterprise. Just take a look at the search results on Slideshare for “funnel” and you’ll find gobs of marketing and sales presentations based on this principle.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the marketing funnel is based on a concept that was developed in by E. St. Elmo Lewis in 1898? Yes…you read that correctly, 1898. It has evolved over time and has served the marketing industry well, but is it still applicable with new channels like Facebook, YouTube, SnapChat and Pinterest?

Think about that the next time you create your marketing presentation and include a diagram of the funnel.

The concept of the marketing funnel is that you can market to the masses, hope you’ll attract the attention of some, and then really, really hope that you’ll attract a few customers.

Basically, a LOT of money spent to generate a few leads for even fewer actual customers.

The traditional marketing funnel used my marketers for print, television, and radioThe traditional marketing funnel for print, television, and radio may not necessarily work for social media.

The problem, however, is that in order to use social media appropriately, “traditional marketers” are going to have re-learn everything they know. Social networking is based on the concept that the relationship with the individual is more important than marketing to the masses.

Social media engagement requires connection, education, information, and trust. It is built on a principle that being open, honest, and transparent with information will attract potential customers and help them make an informed decision.

In the age of the empowered digital customer, does the traditional marketing funnel from 1898 make sense as a model? Share on X

More importantly, the concept of selling in a social marketplace is grounded in the concept that your potential customers trust their friends, family, and even strangers more than they trust the company or the brand.

Yep…that’s correct. Your customers will value the information they read in Amazon product reviews more than the product description you publish in your lists.

With this fundamental mind-shift required, my experience is that many traditional marketers are unwilling to “unlearn” their years of training and experience to learn something new. As a result, they’ll simply try to apply their “tried and true” marketing funnel tactics to social networks, which results in the spending of budgets without necessarily having measurable results to show for them.

Trying to apply the concept of “lift” or “awareness” to any social media campaign just doesn’t work. We want more actionable results like “conversions” or “purchases”.

So why the big shift? What makes social media so different?

Remember when I said that consumers trust other people more than they trust companies or brands? The rise of social networks have exponentially expanded the opportunity for consumers to easily share their opinions of products, brands and service.

Consumers trust their friends, family, and even reviews from strangers more than they trust marketing information from a company. Share on X

Statistics clearly show that consumers prefer to purchase based on recommendations from family, friends and peers than they do based on marketing material. In their article Friending The Social Consumer, Nielsen reports that:

  • More than 40% of consumers go online to check reviews and consumer feedback before purchasing consumer electronics.
  • 60% of those going online have visited a social network, with half going back everyday according to Facebook.
  • 23% of social network users expect companies to listen and respond to what is said online

Add to that, the fact that consumers trust their family, friends and online product reviews significantly more than product marketing web sites, news reports or television and you can begin to see a shift in how consumers are starting to consult and listen to their social networks when it comes to making purchases.

Consumers Trust Thier Friends, Family, And Online Reviews When Making Purchasing Decisions More Than Television, News, Or Product Web SitesConsumers Trust Their Family, Friends, And Online Reviews When Making Purchasing Decisions More Than Television, News, Or Product Web Sites

So what?

Consumers don’t trust traditional marketing channels as much as they do their friends and families. What does that mean for marketing professionals?

It means that brands have to stop marketing to the masses and learn how to use social networking and social media channels to build relationships with individuals through personal messaging (both online and in person).

They have to start focusing on building relationships with people who can spread the word about their brand and make positive impact on the purchasing decisions of their friends and families.

It means that they have to forget what they know about “the funnel” and literally turn it upside down.

The new model of social media messaging will need to replace the old social media marketing funnelInstead of marketing to the many, try building relationships with those that can become advocates for your products and services and spread positive messages to their peers

As shown in the graphic above, brands and organizations need to appoint community managers whose job it is to listen to the online customer community and develop clear, concise messaging that does two things:

  1. Solve problems of brand adversaries to reduce the negative sentiment
  2. Offer value to the brand ambassadors and advocates, so they can spread the word about the value of the brand to the agnostics (basically, anyone who doesn’t know about your brand or who hasn’t made a decision between brands)
By turning the traditional marketing funnel upside-down and focusing on brand ambassadors and advocates to market for us, brands can succeed in the age of social media. Share on X

Before you can execute the Ambassador/Advocate/Agnostic pyramid, however, you have to devote time and effort to the shift by:

1) Identifying your community – You may think you know your customers based on historic purchasing trends, but what new opportunities or customer segments are out there that you many not have even considered?

2) Listening to the conversations within the community – Are you using a social media listening tool to identify who your active customers are, what they are saying about your company/products, and determining whether their messages carry a positive or negative sentiment?

3) Understanding which users are your Ambassadors, Advocates, and Agnostics – By evaluating who is talking about your products or services and understanding the sentiment of their messages, have you begun to identify who might be a brand ambassador?

4) Understanding which users are your Adversaries – Similarly, have you figured out who your brand adversaries are? Do you have customers who hate your products and vocally share their opinions and experiences?

5) Crafting a strategy and messaging to help amplify the positive messages of your community – Amplifying the positive messages about your product or services should be easy. Find users with great experiences, thank them for their feedback, share their stories, be appreciative of the fact that they are your customer.

6) Engage with your Adversaries with messaging to assist with their issues -If someone is saying something bad about your company, product, or service…ask them about it. Don’t be shy, ask the person to share why they are having problems. Ask them if a representative from your company can call them. If you can take the conversation offline via a phone call or email, then do so. If they don’t want to have the conversation privately, then engage publicly and do it with respect and tact.

7) Implement business process changes to resolve the issues identified by your Adversaries – If your adversaries don’t like something about your product, ask yourself whether you should change it. Is the problem fixable? Would addressing the issue be beneficial to your current and/or future customers? Seek feedback from those who are experiencing issues and work to address and resolve them.

PRO TIP: Brand adversaries are passionate about your product. They have had a bad experience and are actively sharing it. If you are able to reach out to them, identify the problem and resolve it to their satisfaction, you might just be able to turn a brand adversary into a brand advocate.

It’s not going to be an easy shift and some marketing professionals will still hold on to the notion that they can continue to spend millions of dollars on mass-marketing campaigns via television, radio, and print and continue to see diminishing returns.

These same marketing professionals will have to explain to their clients how these efforts will be worthwhile when:

…or maybe they’ll just ride out the rest of their careers and dump the responsibility on those who take their positions in the near future.

Have thoughts on how social media is changing the way we identify prospective customers and engage with them? Think this model is full of doo-doo? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.



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Is the traditional marketing funnel even relevant in the age of social media?

Rhianna Hawk

Thursday 17th of January 2019

I think that you're right that bringing in more social media into marketing practices is great for businesses, and you've done a great job breaking down how that changes the standard marketing approach. My boss is planning to hold a meeting to brainstorm new marketing initiatives later this month, and I think that bringing up your ideas like focusing on the individual relationship rather than marketing to masses would really help move the meeting in the right direction. Of course, I'm not really a marketing expert, but I definitely think that you're onto something with letting your relationships with customers market to their connections for you.