Let's face it: our target customers are now spending only a small fraction of their time online looking at emails and Googling for information -- most of their time online is now spent visiting social networks and other sites across the Web.
Marketers need a balanced mix of programs beyond email and search to effectively reach prospects wherever they may be. But getting to the right people wherever they may be consuming content is only one part of the equation: how can you ensure that you are reaching your target audience at the right time, at every stage of the buying process?
While the specific answers to this question will be different for every company, I believe most marketers would benefit from looking at the buyer’s journey as a “funnel.” In this paradigm, broad, top-of-the-funnel branding initiatives such as social engagement and targeted display ads provide initial awareness, and mid-lower-funnel tactics such as retargeting pinpoint buyers who have engaged. Only when this audience is primed to buy will lower-funnel tactics, such as search and email marketing, come in to help to close the deal.
Here is a primer on each level of the marketing funnel.
Top funnel: branding and awareness
The goal of top-funnel programs is to increase brand awareness. The top funnel is the place to focus on driving traffic to a Web site and increasing overall brand recall. Top-funnel campaigns explain what your company does, why your products are unique, and why customers should find out more about your company.
Branding campaigns come in many forms: from high-impact display ad campaigns to billboards. Several new native ad formats, such as Facebook sponsored posts and Twitter’s Promoted Tweets, also work well to build brand awareness.
The goal of mid-funnel programs is to increase the velocity at which prospects move through the funnel. The prospect has awareness of the brand, and has demonstrated intent to learn more about specific subjects, and hopefully your brand. They may be considering your competitors or other strategies that address their challenges.
Nurturing programs are the key here. Once a prospect is aware of your company, further educate them by putting value-add, relevant content at their fingertips wherever they may be traveling -- through social channels, third-party Web sites, trade shows, webinars, your own company’s Web site and blog, a Google search, or their inbox.
Also consider retargeting -- reaching prospects who visited your site but then left without leaving their email, downloading a whitepaper, or taking action that would otherwise point to another conversion metric. You can also use retargeting to reconnect with prospects who engaged with your content shared through social channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Bottom funnel: converting the lead, closing the deal
The goal of bottom-funnel programs is to convert leads into opportunities and new business more efficiently, and in greater numbers to support your pipeline and sales targets. Once prospects reach the bottom funnel, you’re in the marketing home stretch toward sales conversion.
When prospects are in the bottom funnel, you have often captured their email addresses via white paper or other content downloads (from the engagement campaigns you ran in the mid-funnel). Segmented email marketing that maps the right messages and content to the prospects you have captured in your database based on their demographics, interests, and behavior signals is critical at this phase. Specialized tactics such as keyword-based retargeting or CRM retargeting are also effective.
Knowing where your key prospects are in the marketing funnel -- and targeting them with relevant campaigns, content, and messaging at every step of the way -- is the most important tenet of B2B marketing. If you’re doing a good job at the top of the funnel, then you’ll have more of the right prospects in your sights to educate, and a greater percentage of that “nurture pool” will in turn be ready to take the next step when you touch them with your lower-funnel programs.