engagement funnel

Have you ever spent ten, twenty, perhaps even thirty minutes longer than you should have done, frozen as you deliberated over which birthday gift to buy a friend? Even if it were a friend you know very well, I wouldn’t blame you for being immobilised by choice. In today’s option-saturated world we are surrounded by an abundant variety of the same product or service – whether that be insurance providers, hotels or the latest fashions.

Exploring the paralysing impact of being confronted with too many choices when writing for The New York TimesAlina Tugend alludes to the ‘famous jam study’ conducted in 1995 by Columbia University Business Professor, Sheena Iyengar.

Results revealed 60% of customers were enticed by the larger assortment of jam in comparison to 40% drawn to the smaller selection they were offered. Interestingly, more people (30%) chose to actually commit and buy from the smaller range they were presented with; ten times more than the mere 3% that purchased from the larger jam collection.

Professor Iyengar later concluded: “the presence of choice might be appealing as a theory but in reality, people might find more and more choice to actually be debilitating.

Indeed, one of the prime indicators that a prestigious, successful brand enjoys is a premium position in the market that is exclusive – the brand only offers one or two very select, very refined elite options.

You don’t need me to tell you that the way consumers browse potential purchases has changed dramatically. Through the internet, and more recently via smartphones and tablets at our fingertips, we now have the capacity to easily and continuously research the infinite choices that are available. Evolving technology has governed and revolutionised our buying behaviours, giving us more choice than ever before.

But as customers’ purchasing habits and trends change, how can marketers keep up?

By transforming of course. This is where the traditional ‘Sales Funnel’ morphs into the ‘Engagement Funnel,’ better suited to modern consumer fashions, and the adapted customer journey.

One of the throwaway lines that many marketers use is that of ‘engagement’:

“You need to engage with your prospect customers” – so they say…

Many business professionals will be familiar with the concept of the ‘sales funnel’ – the process where, by attracting a number of customers at the top of the funnel, we develop a relationship, which hopefully drives new business through the bottom of the funnel by nurturing that connection.

I have disliked this concept for many years as I think the role of sales has fundamentally changed in the last decade, as customer journeys have altered in the wake of the internet, social media and mobile technology. This is especially so as the value of the product increases and where the purchase is a ‘considered’ one.

I don’t think people are sold to any more: they are engaged with.

If the engagement is successful, a sale will result. No matter how well I may be channelled through a sales funnel, if I am not at the stage in my customer journey where I am ready to buy, I simply cannot be sold to.

The concept of an ‘Engagement Funnel’ seems to me to deal with this conundrum head-on. I can be engaged with on a long-term basis so that, when the time is right, I might become a customer. For example, I may receive email-marketing campaigns in my inbox every so often brimming with articles and blog posts that are of value to me, with subtle links to that company sending the email. Notice the term ‘subtle’.

Engagement can take many forms to help nudge a potential customer to reach the coveted destination of their customer journey of purchasing from you, the most effective being to offer information. Tugend cites research scientist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, Benjamin Scheibehenne in her article, who believed what information consumers are provided with and the type of expertise open to them to rely on, influences their opting to buy.

The notions of information overload and choice overload have to be separated and balanced. Marketers have to be wary of bombarding prospects with content. Instead, they need to think quality, not quantity; supplying a steady stream of insightful, informative and helpful content via modern channels such as social media and blogs.

Being in the right place at the right time.

The challenge for marketers is to be in the place where people are when they are considering the purchase or wish to be more informed about the product or service they are considering.

But is it even more complex than this?

When we look at the path of the customer journey it is very rarely as simple as awareness building or closing the sale. As a consumer on the path to making a purchase, there may be many different moments at which I require different things.

  1. In the beginning, I’m looking for intelligence to build my knowledge on the subject matter.
  2. I may then look for authenticity in the brand or product and make comparisons.
  3. Following this, I will consider my own research and what options seem to suit me best.
  4. Next, I’m likely to seek recommendations and advice from communities close to me, such as my friends, peers and relations, right through to consulting blogs and other miscellaneous content on the subject.
  5. To coincide with my state of mind, the information presented to me at any point in time needs to match my objectives. It needs to cover all bases, successfully catering to all my needs at different times in my customer journey. It needs to be personal.

Let’s look at an example. Despite the appearance of a wonderful website offering facts and intelligence about the subject I’m enquiring about, it might be missing the real questions I have, assuming that I know enough about the product or service in question already. Similarly, I may have pop-ups forced upon me offering me deals for a price to buy, well before I am in that mood to do so. In these moments not only is my experience frustrated, but it might lead me to leave that brand altogether, in favour of finding a more inviting option, tailored to my tastes at that moment in time.

New Touchpoints in the Customer Journey.

Whilst writing for Forbes, digital analyst, Brian Solis highlights how ‘new touch points’ or new stages in a customer journey have arisen due to their being more choice and the changing ways we browse products, and refers to them as ’emerging moments of truth.’ He outlines how marketers should adapt the way they analyse the success of various marketing methods, as these ‘new touch points’ aren’t being accounted for in traditional measurement techniques.

Solis advises taking what Google calls ‘Micro-Moments’ into consideration. These are real-time, mobile-first moments occurring when consumers reach for their smartphones to search for something they want to purchase, do, or find out more about.

To measure the type of growth that is relevant in the mobile-first world we live in, Google recommends that you ask yourself:

1) What matters?

2) What’s working/or not working?

3) What’s possible – successful marketing lies in experimenting and being creative.

How many times is this moment of truth well executed then? How well executed are the micro-moments of opportunity? Frankly, – not often and not well. But get this right and you have my undivided attention – and most likely a sale down the line.

But it gets even more complicated.

Location, Location, Location.

I might choose to pick different platforms or locations to add intelligence to my journey. I might start with a casual browse from a smartphone and then take that journey later on a desktop. I might like to touch and feel a product in-store but still have no intention to purchase it there. Notice how the present generation of teenagers seem to be watching a film, scrolling Facebook, answering Snapchat messages and still be doing homework at the same time?

In short, I want the quickest journey to satisfy my questions, regardless of the device and even the place that the information comes from. As many as a third of people report that their final decision to purchase a product went against their original brand intention. They bought from where it became easiest to buy.

Does this mean brand is less important?

I think so. There are so many versions of similar products available now. However, the simple solution remains: you have to be in the place where your potential customers demand you be, in that zero moment of truth, when it counts.

But here is not the challenge – here is the opportunity.

There is an increasing levelling of the playing field, and that means almost anyone can play in it.

The new questions are: What is the size of the market? What is my go-to-market strategy? Where are the gaps in the market? Where do I need to be and on what device in the consideration phase? What is my tone of voice?

So how do I, as a business owner, be in all places at once in the engagement funnel?

The challenge now occurs in real time and includes spending the budget wisely on pay-per-click advertising, Facebook awareness, search-optimized content, viral video, email loyalty. The list goes on. And it all happens at the same time.

So how do we deal with this complexity? By:

  • Starting by deeply understanding customer journeys and personas.
  • Taking on board the fact that their journey is ingrained with ubiquitous choice, and changing our marketing techniques and ensuing measuring methods accordingly.
  • Not thinking so much about campaigns as real-time data analysis, whilst giving customers what they need, rather than what we think they want.
  • Concentrating on delivering one key benefit at each stage (or micro-moment) of the engagement journey and building trust in the relationship at all times.

To truly master the new ‘Engagement Funnel’ in this modern, micro-moment, mobile-first world we need to remember that customers buy from wherever’s easiest and map out their customer journey on various devices. Always bear in mind that prospect customers need to be engaged with, not sold to. They need reliable information to help them make the right choices and navigate an ample amount of options open to them now.

We, as business owners, need to remain agile and flexible in our approach, if necessary, changing with the weather – literally. We feed the knowledge we gain into driving the next cycle of activity and using that newfound expertise in captivating another customer at their next ‘micro moment’ in their customer journey…


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