Volume 14 No. 3: Shedding light on the dark funnel

The dark funnel.  

The term, coined by 6sense, and popularized by marketing influencers like Refine Labs CEO Chris Walker, refers to the untraceable journey of potential customers before making a purchase decision. 

The idea gained steam when marketers realized prospects were beginning the customer journey sooner than they’d thought.  

And they weren’t measuring it. 


How to navigate the dark funnel of marketing measurement.       

Each week, we break down another marketing concept so you can skip the hype and get directly to what works. 

The earliest stages of the buyer journey happen before marketers can identify prospects engaging with specific content or without those consumers providing any personal information. Dark funnel touchpoints take place through off-site channels like word of mouth, organic social, reviews, third-party communities, and even podcasts. 

In many ways, these channels seem unmeasurable. Many lack any sort of built-in approach to attribution. And there’s no way to perfectly track the conversation around your brand in people’s daily lives. 

But perfection isn’t necessary. Directional insights into dark funnel channels are achievable. They’re also super important. Understanding the dark funnel helps identify channels that are worth investing in, even if you can’t exactly say how many customers you’ve gained because of them.  

So, how can you shed “light” on the dark funnel? 

  1. It starts with recognition. Acknowledging the dark funnel exists and educating your company on the topic is a vital first step. After all, ignoring marketing channels that aren’t measurable to a precise degree means missing major opportunities. 

  2. Track changes in direct traffic and organic searches. Direct traffic and organic searches hold valuable clues about your customers' hidden journeys. Monitor unusual fluctuations, as they may indicate the influence of the dark funnel. By observing shifts, you can gain insights into what's working (or what’s not) and adjust accordingly. 

  3. Start testing surveys. Introducing a survey on your website or in customer interactions can provide crucial information about their referral sources. By asking the simple question, "How did you hear about us?", you can uncover hidden brand conversations and gain a better understanding of the dark funnel's impact on your marketing. Note: This isn’t a perfect solution. Which is why you should... 

  4. Use multiple measurement models. Marketing measurement isn't particularly simple for any channel. One data point should never be enough. When trying to understand the dark funnel, combine as many analytical tools, attribution models, and data sources as possible to get a holistic view of your buyers’ journeys. New sources of data could include everything from subscribing to paid review sites to monitoring social conversations about your brand. 

Key Takeaway: As marketers, both recognizing the dark funnel exists and learning how to navigate it is essential for developing effective marketing strategies. Because the dark funnel doesn’t have to stay dark. Not completely, anyway.


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