Dark Funnel

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by Foti Panagiotakopoulos Founder at GrowthMentor

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The dark funnel is a marketing concept popularized by 6sense as an addition to the traditional marketing funnel. 

Don’t let the name fool you—there’s nothing scary about the dark funnel. In fact, it’s actually an incredibly important concept to understand if you’re trying to maximize the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

What Is a Funnel?

We’ll get to the dark funnel in a second, but first…

A funnel (also known as a marketing funnel) is a business concept that illustrates the journey that leads go through on their way to a purchase—from awareness to consideration to decision. Each stage in the funnel reflects the customer’s eagerness to purchase your product. People at the end or bottom of your funnel are the most likely to become paying customers.

You need to engage with people at various stages of the funnel in different ways. For instance:

  • Someone who’s just become aware of your company can be introduced slowly with top of the funnel (ToFu) content, such as tutorials and guides on a certain topic. 
  • Someone who is already aware of your brand and is comparing different solutions can be engaged with middle of the funnel (MoFu) content, such as use cases, webinars or product reviews.
  • Those who are keen to purchase what you have to offer may want to see case studies, testimonials and other types of bottom of the funnel content that show the value and expertise you provide.

This traditional funnel is great when you can accurately track the customer journey. The problem is that you often can’t—because you can only track the touchpoints supported by your attribution software.

This is where the dark funnel comes in.

What Is the Dark Funnel?

The dark funnel is the part of the customer journey that happens offline or outside of attribution software. It’s called “dark” because it’s hard to track.

The concept highlights the fact that there are tons of customer journey touchpoints that traditional attribution software and data collection methods can’t cover. Namely, direct communication touchpoints (e.g., events) and third-party touchpoints (e.g., review sites).

Because these channels and sources are hard to track, many businesses overlook them. As a result, they’re not able to get a full picture of their customer journey, and they miss out on opportunities to market to leads effectively.

Examples of Dark Funnel Touchpoints

There are tons of possible dark funnel touchpoints, but here are a few examples to get you thinking:

  • Events (e.g., trade shows, conferences, meetups, networking groups)
  • PR (e.g., press mentions, awards)
  • Third-party sites (e.g., blogs, review sites, comparison sites)
  • User generated content (e.g., social media posts, forums, blog comments)
  • Media (e.g., podcasts, photos, videos)

Why Is the Dark Funnel Important?

The dark funnel is important to understand for two key reasons:

  1. It gives you a more complete picture of the customer journey.
  2. It opens up new opportunities for marketing and growth.

Let’s unpack those points in a bit more depth.

1. It gives you a more complete picture of the customer journey.

If you’re only looking at the customer journey through the lens of your attribution software, you’re getting an incomplete picture. You’re missing out on all of the offline and third-party touchpoints that lead up to a purchase decision.

2. It opens up new opportunities for marketing and growth.

When you have a more complete picture of the customer journey, you can identify new marketing opportunities. For example, if you realize that many of your customers first learn about your company through trade shows, you might decide to double down on your event marketing strategy.

Similarly, if you see that review sites are playing a big role in the customer journey, you might focus on getting more reviews or setting up a user forum.

How to Use The Dark Funnel to Your Advantage

Here are three ways you can capitalize on the dark funnel:

1. Use Tools to Collect Data

Dark funnel data is hard to track—hard, but not impossible. There are a number of tools you can use to collect dark funnel data, including:

  • Surveys: You can use surveys to collect data directly from your customers. For example, you might send out a post-purchase survey that asks customers how they first heard about your company.
  • Third-party data aggregators: You can also supplement your own data with third-party data. For example, if you’re trying to track the role of events in the customer journey, you might purchase data from a marketing intelligence firm.
  • Dark funnel tracking tools: 6sense—the company that popularized the dark funnel concept—also happens to offer a tool that helps businesses track dark funnel data. Because anonymous web traffic is never truly anonymous!

2. Meet Your Ideal Customers Where They Are

If your ideal customers are frequenting dark funnel touchpoints, those are the places you need to be:

Do they listen to industry podcasts? Try to get invited on as a guest. Do they hang out in online forums? Become an active member of the community. Do they go to trade shows? Go set up a booth.

Small actions like the ones above can make a massive impact on the health of your dark funnel.

3. Use Data to Inform Your Marketing Strategy

Once you’ve collected dark funnel data, use it to inform your marketing strategy. Look for patterns and opportunities. Then, adjust your marketing initiatives accordingly.

For example, if you realize that a lot of your customers come from review sites, you might focus on generating more reviews or setting up a user forum. Or, if you see that events are playing a big role in the customer journey, you might invest more in event marketing.

The bottom line is this: don’t overlook the dark funnel. It’s an important part of the customer journey, and it can be a goldmine of marketing insights.

Enhance Your Marketing Strategy

If you’re not sure what steps to take to grow your company, GrowthMentor can connect you with an experienced coach who can help you set a proper course.

Suggested mentors to help you make sense of Dark Funnel

Alicia Burke

Head of Product and Marketing @ GrowCFO

I lead marketing and product for a finance leader and CFO community. I’m used to working with lean teams & budgets and can help you with campaign planning, organic social & content marketing, comms, branding & web dev.

Marcus Burke

Growth Opportunities for Subscription & Gaming Apps | Paid Acquisition, ASO, CRO, Product Experiments 📈

Hey there, growth mentees & mentors! Happy you found your way here. My name is Marcus and I currently lead the growth marketing at Tandem Language Exchange. I’m experienced in gaming and ed-tech (both IAP & subscription products) but would be happy to apply my knowledge to any interesting challenge.

Kate Busby

Director of Social Media, Digital PR, SEO and Content

Director of Social Media, SEO, PR and Content at The Keenfolks, Digiday Agency of the Year 2021 🏆

Eric Goeres

Brand Builder

I spent 20 years in New York City’s digital publishing world, forging relationships with the world’s top publishers, ad tech companies, social media leadership, digital marketers and top brand builders. I’ve run digital agencies, newsrooms worldwide, magazines, portals and pure play publishing.

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