Marketers love data.
They love to know where their best-bet options are coming from so they can head right over to where the action is, catching all that brand-new incoming revenue as they go.
Today, we’re going to talk about a marketing black hole, or to give it its most recognizable name, the dark funnel. It’s not altogether the unfathomable entity it sounds like.
We’re here to show you that the dark funnel isn’t the dark art it first appears to be.
So, what is the dark funnel exactly?
Well, you know that new customer who seems to have fallen out of nowhere? How did they find out about you? Well, they've traveled down a sales funnel, just like all your other clients and subscribers, only it’s a journey you can’t necessarily monitor.
Why’s that? Because consumer behaviors have changed, our software systems aren't necessarily designed to track these new and complex journeys.
Let's take a closer look:
Here's what your CRM tracks:
- Organic search traffic
- Social media
- Direct traffic
- Paid social
- Paid search
- Email marketing
And here's what your CRM doesn’t track:
- Private messaging
- Review sites
- Social media posts and comments
- The inspiration behind direct and organic search traffic
- Personal or digital word of mouth
- Interactions at events
- Digital conversations via text, messaging apps, or on networking platforms
- The ‘quiet’ consumers (those who enjoy but don’t comment) of your website, YouTube, blog, newsgroup, review sites, and online communities’ content
- Emails – forwarding relevant newsletters and content
We can't ignore the fact that there are quality leads who interact outside of the typical linear funnel. The challenge is understanding how they're discovering your brand. As clever as current marketing methods are, utilizing collectible data to try and uncover possible new leads isn't always what we need it to be.
Now, what if you could find out what those consumers in your dark funnel were talking about, and you could join them to swing the conversation in your direction? That would be something, right? That would make you some kind of marketing Jedi.
Wait, there's more dark stuff... Dark Socials and Dark Downloads.
This term came about around 2012, so it's nothing particularly new and refers to untraceable actions on social media. Of course, the socials measure tags, likes, comments, and shares, but what about those visitors who read your content and watch your videos before, say, later that day, searching you out organically to check out your website?
The solution: Implement social media listening tools. Social listening tools track different platforms for mentions and conversations about your brand, competitors, products, or keywords. That way, you can respond to call-outs and be part of wider conversations around industry trends.
Here’s a fun one: you can monitor and measure when visitors download content from your website, but you can’t measure if or which part of that latest PDF or MS Word report sends anyone into your sales team’s open arms. So how will you optimize that content style if you can’t see how and where it’s performing?
PDFs are up in the dark funnel, too—they’ll keep swirling around until you can find a way to measure their performance.
Bringing your downloads into the light: PDFs can be a bore to read. You could try converting your document chapters to audio and link them at the start of a new section. This way, you can monitor if and how people engage with your PDF content.
In addition, you could use gamified content to encourage engagement types you can track. For example, add a CTA at the end of each document to a Q&A and ask readers to reach out to you with questions. With PDFs, you still need to use UTM links to track, which is a starting point but not ideal.
The best way to measure your content is by using an interactive format. Foleon tracks every step of your document with built-in analytics at page level. There’s plenty of all the right kinds of data to monitor using a format built for the job—just how your marketers like it.
An example of a B2B buyer’s journey through the dark funnel
Let’s take a look at the sort of buyer journey a typical customer might take and just how much of it you can track:
- Your buyer spots your product demo at a networking or promotional event.
- They talk to their colleague about how it could benefit their organization. Their colleague says they’ve heard of the product, which could be an option.
- Later, over lunch, another event visitor recommends your product when it comes up in conversation.
- During that same lunch, your buyer searches your brand (on their phone) via Google and takes a quick look at your homepage.
- They return to your stand later in the day to hear a little more. They listen to your sales rep speaking to other interested parties but don’t join the conversation.
- When they’re back in the office, they search you out on social media, exploring more of your content and watching a selection of your YouTube videos.
- Getting closer to a decision, they follow your company’s social media accounts and connect with your company page on LinkedIn.
- Their next step is to talk to their co-workers and manager about your product’s usefulness and possible integration into their business.
- They read through more of the pages on your blog for that final push to engage.
- Finally, they decide to download your free trial, completing a contact form in the process.
Out of those ten points, how many can you, or do you track? It isn’t many, and even those you can don’t offer solid information about where the funnel started. As far as the data can see, it began with a search.
Yet, the interest that the original event piqued and how content over several platforms backed it up is what pushed your buyer to engage. They’re the touchpoints doing all the heavy lifting, yet according to your tracking systems, they get none of the recognition for such great work.
How to track behavior in the dark funnel
As dark as it sounds, it’s not all bad news. Here’s how you can magic up elements of tracking in the dark parts of your funnels and how to utilize some dark funnel possibilities to your advantage:
Join and start conversations where you can
It sounds simple enough, but making new relationships relies on healthy communication, so go direct to the source wherever you can. The previously mentioned social listening tools are a great start. Still, you should also carry out your own research to find the channels, groups, and discussions where your product and brand regularly come up or are relevant.
Add your voice to the conversation, but make sure you play nicely: educate, entertain, and woo them with your marketing charm and personality.
Find new ways to measure your activity
Add a dark social segment to Google Analytics to measure traffic attributed to incorrect sources.
Ask your buyers how they found you. Sometimes the simplest ways are the best. Ask all of your existing and new customers how they found you. Add it to your inquiry forms, downloads, or any gated content. The longer and deeper your relationship gets, the more you can ask. That’s the real data right there, illuminating the darkest corners of your dark funnel.
Chris Walker (dark social Jedi master and CEO at Refine Labs) lays out a complete six-stage strategy on LinkedIn.
- Product/customer success – Happy customers share opinions. Make happy customers part of your dark funnel marketing.
- Content – Deliver a content strategy that shines light in the dark.
- Events – Create the events that buyers want to attend.
- Community – Build a community where your buyers are, and give them what they’re asking for.
- VIP Evangelism – Word of mouth is massive in the dark funnel, so reward the customers who continually preach the benefits of your product. Consider what a qualified lead usually costs, and match it with each reward’s value. It has to be something worth having—even mind-blowing—to get your customers to do your marketing for you.
- Influencers and opinion leaders – Big faces make a big impact. A well-known player in your field will drive interest and awareness in a far more organic way than most traditional avenues.
Just because you can’t see all the activity in your funnel doesn't mean things aren't happening. There’s no need to be scared of the dark funnel just because your CEO can’t measure what comes from it. Experiment with some of the recommendations suggested in this article to help you navigate the dark funnel better. Good luck!