sad dog with a funnel on his head
Your market funnel report may be harming your efforts more than you know PHOTO: Geoff Stearns

Most marketing reports these days rely on a funnel concept. But funnel reporting creates pitfalls that can cause marketers to get bogged down. There are better ways to gain insights from your marketing reports.

Marketing funnels visualize how you will weave marketing and sales throughout the customer journey, from general awareness to the ultimate sale or action. While this is a good place to start laying out and organizing all the pieces of your marketing mix, it often leaves out the most important piece: optimization of your tactics.

1. Funnels Focus too Much on Answers, Not on Asking the Right Questions

It’s human nature to want to tell a story with a happy ending. When campaigns end, and it’s time to review the results, most marketers start by searching for wins. Funnel models are set up nicely for that. A + B + C = D. When you look at it that way though, you often miss what could have been better. 

If your demand generation campaign created 1,000 leads, you might be happy and move on to your next campaign. You might not realize that if you did it a week earlier, you could have gotten 2,000. Every detail and how it relates to every other detail matters to your ultimate success.

2. Tactics and Channels Shouldn’t Serve Only One Purpose

In a funnel, each tactic or channel is assigned to one section of the funnel, with the goal of driving your customer to the next level. While it’s great to have a goal for each channel, you also need to realize that each channel and tactic can have multiple uses and positive outcomes. It’s these additional outcomes that could unlock an approach you have never thought of taking, but that has dramatically more successful results.

For example, at trade shows we post on social media using the event hashtag to drive people to our booth. This works to a degree, but when we dug deeper we realized most of the people using the stream were actually people, who couldn’t attend the event. Once we started doing retweet to win contests targeting these people, we saw social media could also create leads out of people who would never make it to our booth.

3. Channels and Tactics Often Belong in Multiple Funnel Phases 

In keeping with the previous point, marketing tactics don’t always fit in neat little boxes, as much as we'd like them to. For example, most marketing funnels would put things like social media and SEO at the top of the funnel in the awareness phase, but this doesn’t take into account social media retargeting ads or people using search engines to re-engage with your past campaigns.

Make sure you’re maximizing each channel and tactic you have instead of forcing them into a single phase in your customer journey. This means thinking of all the ways you can use a tactic instead of just assigning it to a single goal or objective.

4. Most of the Time, Consumers Don't Follow the Funnel

Sometimes you have to admit that no matter how brilliant your planned customer journey is, it still might not be the experience the customer wants. You might send a prospective customer a cold email with a high-level thought leadership article, but the week you sent it was the week he was trying to make a purchase decision. He may have just wanted details about your products and pricing in his first interaction with you.

In your next campaign you may use a paid search strategy meant to drive traffic to product pages, but users end up using it more to get to your website and sign up for your newsletter. Customers will often skip levels in your funnel, go back upstream or zigzag through your process.

5. Funnels Can Promote Competition Between Channels

When you place very different tactics in the same phase of your report, it’s natural to compare them. The problem is that one will always be better suited for a metric than the other. That doesn’t mean you need to stop doing one to focus on the other. The two tactics can enhance each other. 

Social media and PR efforts are a great example of this. They both work well in the awareness phase, but PR will always be better at broad media reach and social media will always be better at one to one engagement. You can’t do a direct comparison of the two based off of how well they drive customers to the next level of the funnel.

6. If Your Company Has Silos, Funnels Make Them Worse

If your report lines tactics up next to each other and compares them against each other, you can unintentionally create competition within your team. If your paid media team is separate from your email and social teams, they may start viewing each other as rivals. Reporting is often the deciding factor for who gets the bigger budget. If the different teams in your company start competing too much, it can hurt your overall results, or at the very least, hold you back from becoming truly great.

7. Not Everything Is Measurable

No report should claim to provide a full end-to-end view. Until Big Brother puts a microchip in all of us at birth, there will never truly be a one size fits all silver bullet of measuring. PR, word of mouth and traditional advertising have always been hard to measure, but even completely digital marketing campaigns are hard to track from start to finish. You have to account for these immeasurables in your reporting by relying on proven marketing models and constant testing.

8. Executives Summaries Are Short for a Reason

Have you ever sent an executive a long email with multiple questions and received a one-word answer in response? Top executives love when you’re concise. 

Knowing that, if you want any action to come from your reporting efforts, it’s key to focus more on the insights and less on the in-depth numbers. Insights on a funnel report might be specific call-outs to explain certain numbers, but an optimization report would cut right to what you would repeat and what to change for next time.

9. Direction From Leadership Can Change

Your report should have the flexibility built in so that when metrics or directions change, your report can easily change with it. If you’re not questioning and considering new metrics every time you report, you aren’t going to keep learning new ways to get better.

10. Optimization Reports Help Achieve More Consistent Growth

Optimization reports can take many forms, but they should always include more questions than answers, a methodology for testing and a view that includes all the ways you can improve for the future. If you focus on how to optimize every element of your marketing strategy, moving more people toward your ultimate goal should be easy.