Marketers Don’t Know About the ‘Dark Funnel’ (And That’s a Problem)

Bank and credit union marketers cover the top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel, trying to maximize the customer journey, but there are key interactions that can't readily be tracked. Here's what you need to know and steps to take to "see" the unseen.

The term “dark funnel” was coined in 2006, but what it describes is causing marketers to sit up and take notice — now more than ever. As consumers become more info savvy, both online and off, along their purchasing journey, it’s imperative that bank and credit union marketers understand what the dark funnel is, how it affects their marketing efforts, and how they can mitigate its negative effects — and perhaps use it to their advantage.

“Dark Funnel” Defined:

Simply put, the dark funnel is what marketers don’t know about consumers who may be in the market for what they sell. In other words, it’s the unknown insights missed along the customer journey.

Used to be the traditional sales funnel was sufficient to help make the sale. Place an ad, air a TV spot, send out a direct mail piece to build awareness with the hopes that it eventually leads to purchase.

Today, traditional routes, whether awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, action, or AIDA — “attention, interest, desire, action” — leave gaps in knowledge about the consumer, and even worse, leave potential customers out of sight.

In the Dark About Untrackable Activity

Here’s an all-too-typical scenario. A potential customer is asking around, conducting research. After all, word-of-mouth is a powerful driver of sales. The individual is also visiting showrooms, other websites or going to trade shows. These are very powerful strategies — albeit dark as there’s no digital fingerprint to speak of — and can be added to trackable strategies.

What is the consumer doing offline — and even online — that’s driving the sale at your place of business or elsewhere? There’s no way to track these activities. What if they make a purchase? What part of the advertising or marketing cycle contributed to the sales?

The old adage from John Wannamaker, founder of one of the first American department stores, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half,” couldn’t be more relevant today. At a time when we’re able to track so much, we feel it even more when consumers engage in “untrackable” activities.

The Promise of Digital

Let’s face it, digitization lured marketers by the promise that every aspect of the customer journey could be tracked. This gave rise to the conversation that we could shift content and messaging throughout the journey.

“ToFu,” “MoFu” and “BoFu” content types became all the rage with the explosion of digital delivery. ToFu (top of the funnel), MoFu (the middle of the funnel) and BoFu (bottom of the funnel) were key touchpoints that could be targeted, with a sale as an end goal.

Clearly, digital brought more choices and more complexity to tracking and measuring the customer journey.

Reality Check:

Greater insight is better than guesswork, but consumers always have more control over their purchasing behavior and journey than marketers realize, especially with the advent of user-generated content.

Nowadays, consumers have more tools at their disposal and do much of their purchasing journey offline, effectively throwing the traditional linear journey by the wayside.

The result? The consumer is on a circular journey with hard-to-see activities. Enter the dark funnel.

Those touchpoints, which occur offline and offsite — and virtually out of sight — are harder to measure. Add privacy and “Do Not Track” options, and marketers are challenged with gaining visibility and understanding these key dark funnel points along the customer journey. But there is hope.

All Is Not Lost

On the bright side, because consumers have done all the legwork of researching a product or service, there may be a higher level of engagement. Such people may be serious buyers versus perusers by the time they reach your financial institution, online or off.

There are also ways to unmask the dark funnel. For one, learn to interpret customer signals, wherever possible. What is the customer looking to do? Buying a car? Looking for the best interest rates? Considering buying a home?

The exploration of intent signals allows financial marketers to identify customers earlier in the buying journey, way ahead of competitors. Of course, it’s important to keep these efforts well balanced against evolving concerns over privacy and “creepiness” of martech.

Open the Dark Funnel:

Figure out how to interpret customer intent signals. But make sure your institution stays mindful of privacy concerns.

5 Steps to Fill the Data Gaps

Let’s take a deeper dive into ways to identify — and fill — gaps that may exist in and around the customer journey. Amsive suggests these five steps:

1. Connect with your customers

It’s very common for financial brands to have historical beliefs about the buying process or what they believe are customer challenges. However, it behooves marketers to have conversations with customers. When was the last time you confirmed the accuracy of your beliefs or even your data, firsthand?

  • In-person conversations have become the exception. Make it business as usual — talk to your customers, often. There’s nothing better than qualitative, in-person conversations and interviews.
  • Survey customers with quantitative surveys. Ask questions around privacy and their customer journey — ask what led them to buy your product or service. This can help identify dark funnel touchpoints.

2. Focus on your audience strategy

Audit zero- and first-party data. Look at the first-party data you have about your customers? Do gaps exist? It’s important to get a 360° view of the demographics, geographics and lifecycle data of current and prospective customers at the individual and household levels.

  • Also look at gaps in third-party data. Third-party data gives you access to millions of behavior signals that can augment what you have. Consider partnering with a third-party data provider who understands your business and customers and can provide meaningful insights that you can act upon.
  • Explore the potential of second-party relationships.

3. Determine channels to find your best customers

Start with a media-agnostic approach — to eliminate bias. Leverage a data-centric approach with regard to customer media appetites and preferences.

  • There are several sources of third-party data that can be tied to an audience, indicating which media channels people prefer. This is your starting point for your channel strategy.
  • Monitor, evaluate and update media plans against fact-based reporting and measurement. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

4. Step-change your creative and messaging

Speak to your customers in meaningful and personalized ways, with the viewpoint to make changes and improve communications as needed — for the better.

  • Reach people across orchestrated channels that work together cohesively to form a connected experience.
  • Invoke, test and learn, and champion challenger testing to constantly refine what is working.

5. Develop a data-driven culture based on measurement and reporting

Determine the KPIs and reporting that matter to your brand and discover how well your marketing efforts are working.

  • Use control groups and holdouts for confidence in analysis.
  • Continually test and optimize your marketing using best-in-class reporting tools and strategies or work with a professional who can do this for you.

Intent Marketing To the Rescue

Intent marketing begins with the first-party data your bank or credit union already has. By applying strategic modeling and lookalike data strategies with third-party offline behavior data, you can start to use your existing customer data to effectively build a strong audience strategy.

You then combine that with online data that helps to reveal who your customers truly are, what influences and interests them, and what ultimately leads them to buy your product or service. These are the signals you need.

A data platform from a provider like Amsive makes effective intent marketing possible, bringing you closer to full attribution. You can see the impact of every dollar customers spend. And while intent marketing primarily focuses on enhancing mid-funnel marketing success (interest, desire), the tracking abilities that accompany its implementation lets marketers link specific marketing messages and channels to conversion results.

The dark funnel doesn’t have to be a problem for financial marketers. With the above tried and proven methods — and a strong intent-marketing strategy in place — deeper insights can add up to a better payback on every marketing dollar spent.

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