We’ve been working hard this year at Postconsumers to help educate you about the inner workings of the consumer marketing machine. It’s not that we resent the consumer marketing engine or people who work in it. But we do think it’s important as a general rule that you make active choices about the purchases that you make and how much is enough rather than simply follow the marketing machine. The best way for you to do that is to understand the tactics that marketers are using to convert you to a purchase. Then, you can decide what role you play in paying attention to that or ignoring it. Today, we’ll be talking about the “marketing funnel” and how it’s carefully constructed to convert you to a purchase or action. We think you may actually be surprised after you read this about how aware you have become of the marketing funnel and how you understand every step that’s being taken. We know our knowledge of it changed how we viewed many marketing communications that we receive.

What is the Marketing Funnel?

Visualize a funnel (yes, the kind you pour liquids through). Now imagine this: if the end goal were an action like purchasing an item and the faucet was all of the available people in the world, the funnel is the process that sorts the people down into the most likely to convert or buy and then funnels a portion of them down into actual purchasers or conversions. While the marketing funnel absolutely exists for both offline and online companies and businesses, it’s most prevalent for online businesses and it’s easiest to explain using online examples. We’re going to use the online example of getting somebody to purchase a lipstick as a reference.

Step One: Decide Where to Position Your Funnel

If you’re selling lipstick, you likely don’t want to position your funnel where most of the people moving through it will be male long-haul truck drivers in their forties (though we suspect at least one percent of them enjoy a lipstick evening every once in a while). You want to position it where it will catch the most fashion-forward women in their twenties or thirties. So the first step of the funnel is to identify where your best target market is and then place your funnel there. For a lipstick company selling primarily on a digital platform, let’s say that they start their funnel on beauty review blogs, Amazon.com, google search and fashion websites.

Step Two: Expose People to the Brand at the Top of the Funnel

The first step of the funnel itself is to expose all of those people in your demographic zone to your brand. Technically, as soon as people become aware of your brand they’ve entered your marketing funnel. In the case of the lipstick brand that we’re talking about, they would expose people to the brand at the top of their funnel with things like paid reviews of their product, fashion advertisements, social media exposure and those good old fashioned online banner ads.

Step Three: Lead Generation (Never Give Up Your Email or Social Accounts)

Lead generation is considered the most important part of the marketing funnel. Statistics say that the average consumer has to be exposed to a brand or product anywhere from three to seven times before he or she will convert to a purchase. That’s a lot of exposures, and really there’s no way for a company or brand to do that unless they find a way to get your contact information. That can come in one of two avenues in the current internet eco-system. The first and most common way (and the most effective way) is to collect your email address. You’ve likely given your email address a number of times without realizing that the reason you were giving it was to hand a company the information that they needed to continue contacting you in their funnel. The other way is to get you to connect on a social media account. This way isn’t as effective since, as we’re sure you know, you pay less attention to social media feeds than you do your inbox and often don’t even see posts in your feed. As a side note, we’ve already talked about remarketing, which is a tricky way in which you give up some information without knowing that you’re giving it up. But we’ll leave the details of that out of this conversation.

Step Four: The Funnel Contacts

And this is when the real work of the funnel begins. You’ll start receiving communications from the company. Again, email is the most common method. So if you gave the lipstick company your email (presumably for a discount or a secret beauty tip), you’ll start receiving emails that, usually, escalate in the amount of incentive that they give you to purchase. Your first email may just be a reminder that you signed up and wanted to buy the lipstick. The second email will be the lipstick being worn by a celebrity with the idea that you’ll want it more. The next one may offer you free shipping and by the time you reach the offer at the bottom of the funnel you’re also getting a discount. If you only gave up your social media information, the offers and communications will be less direct but with the same goals. Eventually, one of three things will happen. In a marketer’s ideal world, you’ll make it through the other end of the funnel and convert to a purchase. In some cases, you’ll remove yourself from the funnel by opting out of email or unfollowing social accounts. In the third case, you stay in the funnel but never convert. Eventually, the marketer moves you from an active contact list to an inactive contact list and only sends you emails or communications at very selective and targeted times.

What Can You Do Now That You Understand the Funnel?

You can make educated decisions! Is it worth it to give up your contact information at the top of the funnel? Should you exit the funnel early? Do you have enough interest in the product? Do you really want to buy the product or are you being manipulated into that? Only you have those answers!

Did we miss a way that the marketing funnel is impacting the consumer machine? Tell us about it on the social media channels below.

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Photo Credit: Anthony Starks via Flickr