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Illustration of dark funnel.

What is the dark funnel and how to make it work for you

Do you know exactly where and when a buying decision happens? In some cases, yes, but usually, you can’t track it. If you’re in the e-commerce business, you’re probably aware that there is a scary place where people turn to buyers, and you can’t reach it. It’s called the dark funnel. If this is a new term for you, don’t worry, we are here to explain what it means and how you can use its full potential.

What is the Dark Funnel?

Dark funnel as a term started to be used a couple of years ago, but everything that the term represents has always been there. We were just not aware of it.

The buyer’s journey is very complex, and it’s becoming harder and harder over the years to track it. Dark funnel is a term that covers all the places where your buyers are making their most important buying decisions. If you’re on the other side of a business, you are sometimes unaware of where and when the buying decision happened..

Let’s go a little deeper into the explanation of the dark funnel.

How many times has it happened to you that you were reached by new buyers who knew everything about your products, but you have no clue where they gathered all this information? They have never signed up for your Newsletter. They never came into your store or visited your website, but they somehow had your phone number and gave you a call ready to buy your service or product.

The dots we are missing when a customer converts, and we don’t know what contributed to that, is called the dark funnel. The dark funnel includes all the untraceable actions consumers take to discover, research, and make purchase decisions about your product or service. This stands for both online and offline activities. It covers the steps like visits to third-party platforms, organic social post views, word-of-mouth, video views, and more.

How does the dark funnel actually work?

Let’s see an example of one situation that might happen. Someone might be exposed to the LinkedIn post of your employee for months without even being a connection. This person can learn about your company process, your products and services, and, for example, the personality of your employee. They can decide to reach out and ask for your service without ever visiting your website.

Knowing where the visitor collected all the information through their journey would be helpful. But the resources can be various and hard to track. Visitors can make their purchasing decisions off-site and through social media channels. Don’t forget that they’re also exposed to recommendations. There are influencers, ads, competition’s content, and other channels out of our control. Some research showed that at least 67% of the customer’s journey occurs by consuming online content.

The dark side of the dark funnel

Do you get new customers by doing nothing? It looks like a fairytale, but the dark funnel also has a bad side.

When your customers enter the dark funnel, you can’t control the message that customers will receive about your brand. You often won’t know where consumers get information about your brand or products. Also, you won’t know how accurate and reliable that information might be. Someone from the competitors might be leaving nasty comments about your product on social media posts you don’t have access to. These false messages will possibly lead potential customers to make decisions based on what they read. Not being able to track their actions only shows how powerful the dark funnel is.

How does the dark funnel affect the customer journey?

Your visitors are entering the sales funnel, where they: 

  • build awareness, 
  • go through the consideration phase, 
  • choose their preferences. 

Classifying your prospects and leads into a traditional sales funnel is challenging, but it still can be done. The catch is that you’re unaware of which part of the funnel the potential customers visit unless they leave the clue.

Since customers visit dozens of online resources far from where you can effectively track them, you’re never quite sure at which stage a buyer might be in the buying process or how that might align with your sales funnel. They might have just filled out a form on your website for the first time, but do you really know where they’ve been or what they already know?

The treasure of the dark funnel

The dark funnel holds a treasure trove of information. It can tell us everything we need to know about our customers: who are and who should be in the market, and what their needs and struggles are. But because the vast majority of buyer research happens in the dark funnel, it’s nearly impossible to effectively track or find all information and get the potential deals that are floating around. The path is clear: you need to illuminate your dark funnel. Changing your strategy to embrace the dark funnel could actually be a great move.

How can you use the potential of the dark funnel?

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” ~ Henry Ford.

It’s time to change your direction and start being authentic and innovative in your approach.

The dark funnel can shorten your sales funnel and allow you to create brand awareness and affinity. It also drives differentiation, creates demand, and increases conversion rates.

To use the maximum potential of the dark funnel, you must be present on the channels your customers use. Being there means you have a massive opportunity to stay in touch with them. Let’s see which channels can be the most effective!

YouTube

Where do you always go to search for the answers when you are not sure how to do something? Google and YouTube!

For any brand not present on these two channels, it is like shooting yourself in the foot. By creating content for the YouTube audience, you can attract many customers. They will consume your content, and you will build your credibility. 

The advantage of YouTube content compared with social media content is that it stays there for a long time. If the topic is something people are often searching for, it will drive clients constantly. The number will only continue growing during that time.

Events

Bring the experts from your industry and the leaders your customers are following. Events create an impact and give you content for sharing on a wider level later on. The better experience you give your audience, the more likely you’ll stay in their minds. 

Choose what works for you: live events, webinars, industry talks, or sharing live videos on social media. Each format constitutes a dark funnel channel.

You can combine your marketing channel opportunities by creating a special hashtag for the event. Plus, you can invite people to post on their social media channels while using that hashtag. This can drive massive traffic to your accounts, and with the right strategy, you can easily convert those visitors into customers.

Communities

By joining online communities, you can build meaningful relationships and get to know your customers on a more human level. It will surprise you how many people are actually willing to share their challenges and goals with you. That could be your ticket to selling them your solution if it can solve their problems.

If you don’t know much about communities, Facebook groups and Slack communities are great places to start with! Be sure to engage and stay active in your buyer’s world in order to build relevance and awareness.

PR

The more your name is brought up, the more prospects will remember you when they want to buy a product or service like yours. Build partnerships, let them introduce you to their network and community, and do the same for them. Any PR you’re not paying for is like a referral on its own.

Customers are more likely to work or buy products from companies they have already heard about. Brand awareness plays a crucial role when buyers are making their purchasing decisions!

Organic social

You don’t need to spend a fortune to build brand awareness or engage with your audience. People admire brands that are open to sharing their experiences. You will attract the audience by sharing the learnings and mistakes you have made while growing your company. Also, you will gain people’s appreciation by creating content from which they can get some value.

The more you educate your followers, the more they will be coming back to you. They will be talking with others about the gained knowledge and looking to you for advice. Thus eventually, they will become one of your customers in the process.

Word of mouth

If your team stays helpful, delivers on your product, and shares insights with your audience for free, you will gain many followers. These people will tell everyone they know what a great company you are. This is one of the most important factors driving new buyers.

Word of mouth will also help you a lot in terms of growing your company. For example, if you struggle to find new employees with a good reputation, you will have many applicants interested in working for your brand.

Podcasts

You need to bring your content to your audience, not the other way around. 

This is where your podcast plays a significant role. It might not be measurable, but it will bring you many buyers from shares, word of mouth, and brand awareness in general. Especially if you’re sharing the content of real value.

Illustration of the dark funnel with the channels you can use to make the dark funnel work for you.

Conclusion

The dark funnel is a term that has been existing for a long time. The analytics we have access to are getting more and more detailed, but there are still touchpoints where buying decisions happen. Knowing and assuming where and when they occur can help speed up the whole sales process. But the truth is, assumptions are usually all we can get.

It’s clear that the dark funnel is driving more traffic than we know. Whether it’s a social mention or piece of user-generated content that doesn’t tag your brand. Or one friend texting another friend, or a live in-person product review. The dark funnel is all around us, and it’s happening all the time. 

Be present where your customers are. The dark funnel may work for you if you use it the right way!

If you find this post useful, look at the other topics we covered. OmniShop blog helps you improve your e-commerce business!


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