As a universal motivator and measure of success, an increase in sales with all other things remaining equal is hard to beat. And if there is a basic model that describes the fundamental challenge facing marketers in building sales, it’s the purchase funnel. From awareness to consideration to purchase, nearly any customer journey can be mapped onto this classic model.
Start with awareness – the “entry” to the purchase funnel – and the methods for driving awareness. Advertising is certainly key, as are visibility (think “location, location, location”), availability (actually open when the shopping urge strikes), and affordability (being perceived as “in the realistic set of options” just at the transition where awareness gives way to consideration). Of these, advertising is the clear focus of most marketers, with much about the other factors referenced being the domain of product management or operations.
Advertising in a social context is straightforward: fish where the fish are. As social networks have increasingly: a) built larger or otherwise important membership bases while simultaneously, b) moving toward a “traditional” advertising model as the basis for revenue (selling interruptive content at prices determined largely by viewer attributes), the use of social networks as important reach and acquisition channels has become obvious. A clear best practice, the use of social networks to gain mindshare (or perhaps more soberly, eye-share), is now a standard component of cross-channel campaign management.
But step back and consider that last point: if social networks are shifting toward advertising, where does that leave engagement? According to Adweek, only about 2 percent of fans who visit a Facebook business page ever return. Even more to the point, Ad Age notes that of those fans who “like” a brand’s business page, only 0.5 percent ever actually mention that brand in one of their own Facebook posts! Ask yourself: “If I like your Facebook page, but fail to tell my friends about why I like your product or service, how have I helped you?” The answer is in exactly the same way as when I walk into your physical store, look around, and think “Hmm, nice” and then fail to post a photo or fail to tweet about why I liked what I experienced. Simply put, in the social sense I have not helped you.
Why does this distinction matter? Because increasingly the purchase funnel is driven by social content and its intersection with the consideration phase – and not the awareness phase – of the purchase funnel. If social networks like Facebook are moving toward an awareness and advertising model, what are you doing to build actual fan engagement with your brand, product, or service? Note here the good news: there is plenty of engagement happening on social networks. The bad news is that essentially all of this engagement occurs between members rather than between brands and members. Look back at the Adweek and Ad Age figures: 98 percent of your business page visitors don’t return, and less than 1 percent ever mentions you in their own conversations. Members are having a party in the main ballroom, and your booth is out in the foyer.
So, it falls to you to create your own engagement channel, and to connect to those sources of customer acquisition that matter to you. Yes, you should have a presence on the social networks that are useful or otherwise attractive to your customers or potential customers. But once acquired you also need a place that you control, that you own, and where those now “acquired” can engage with you and with each other in the context of your own brand. If you’re thinking, “that’s exactly what my social network presence point does…” think again.
Rather than viewing your presence on a network that you do not control – call it “off-domain” – as an engagement channel, view this is as a necessary and important acquisition channel. For actual engagement, look to your own site – operating in a social manner. By this I mean extending your “website” to include truly social elements: your support forum, ratings and reviews built into your products catalog, generally building the presence that you do control your “on-domain” experience to encourage engagement between customers, and between customers and the people in your organization who define and support your brand, products, or services.
As you plan your overall conversion strategy, think about the consideration phase of the purchase funnel, and about how your on-domain social components can be used to accelerate the customer journey. The social networks themselves are an important awareness component, no doubt about that. But it’s your on-domain components that seal the deal from consideration to actual purchase.