The Upside Down Funnel: Why Marketers Must Defy Gravity to Drive Conversions

August 15, 2012

And here I thought that all I needed to know about gravity I learned in high school.

It seems as though the marketing world has been looking at funnels the wrong way all this time. Here’s a spot-on analysis from MediaPost where Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of MECLABS suggests that we’ve been looking at the traditional marketing funnel upside-down:

“Typically we think of the funnel as this big instrument that people pour into, and some fall out of the bottom. That’s not how it works. Gravity is not our friend.  The funnel should be inverted because people are not falling into the funnel, they’re falling out. We need to think about it where the marketer is attempting to defy the organic forces, the gravity of the marketplace. And we need a force with which to defy that gravity -- and that force is the value proposition.”

It’s a brilliant analogy that’s acutely aligned with how the sales conversion process actually goes down.  Consumers are very rarely “free-falling” into conversion. In fact, it’s typically a long series of small decisions influenced by various factors in the marketplace—including competitive “engines”—that are ultimately responsible for conversions. These factors will change by product and industry, but they usually include seasonality, purchasing cycles, pricing strategy and supply and demand.  It then becomes a company’s distinct value prop that actually propels a user up the funnel.  Ultimately, the marketer’s role is more akin to maintaining that propeller engine—ensuring that the brand positioning is constantly enforced, as without it a user ends up falling down and outside of your funnel (and into someone else’s).

So how then do you defy gravity?  Each and every touch point that a company has in market—be it case studies, billboards, email marketing, display advertising, white papers, radio spots, sponsorships, etc.—are all the micro-steps that are driving your prospects higher up the marketing funnel, ultimately in an attempt to get them to convert, defying the gravitational forces against them. The challenge is avoiding the urge to make your prospects convert in just one leap. Marketers, like sales reps, need to constantly keep their pipeline full with consumers who are positioned to make a decision over time.  Without the constant propulsion up the marketing funnel, you’re asking your prospects to make an uneducated (and unfair) leap. Some will make it—most won’t.

The key then is measuring how much lift you get with each step. In other words, properly attributing the impact of your activities by setting baselines wherever you can (branded search, site traffic, conversion rates, brand lift and response, etc.)  By using your Web analytics tools, you can measure traffic trends, audience engagement, targeted vs. untargeted ads, the sequence of actions, and even index your population against web averages. Lift in each category gives you an idea for how much impact your micro-steps are making, and allows you to measure how effective your full-funnel engine actually is. Think of these analytics tools as the “gauges” inside your little prop plane—when used properly, they’re going to keep you in the air and help you defy gravity.

This post was originally published on the Bizo blog. In July 2014, LinkedIn + Bizo joined forces to build the most robust B2B marketing platform available to marketers. To learn more, check out David Thacker, VP of Product at LinkedIn’s announcement blog post.

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