Marketers are often focused on understanding customer behavior. They make assumptions about customer journeys based on what they can see in their analytics. But, there is a lot that marketers may not be able to see when it comes to that journey.
These hidden insights are referred to as "dark funnels" and that’s exactly what we are going to talk about today.
This article will talk about what the dark funnel is, its purpose, and why you should do things that won't scale. We will also take a look at how to apply the dark funnel to your business and some examples of things that won't scale well and are worth doing anyway.
With all of this being said, let's jump right in!
What is the Dark Funnel?
“Dark Funnel” refers to the often hidden insights that marketers may miss when trying to understand the customer journey.
While the digital marketing environment provides marketers with valuable insights on customer behavior, some of these behaviors, such as visits to other websites, research undertaken through third-party sites, and social media influences, may be hidden from view.
Marketers have long been encouraged to believe that they can precisely monitor the customer journey online thanks to the digital sales environment.
However, the truth is that much of the customer journey continues to take place offline, and even online activities rarely follow a linear path. The customer journey is complex, with elements that aren't immediately obvious.
These hidden elements are what we refer to as the dark funnel in the online environment.
Let's take a look at an example:
Bob is in the market for a new car that will keep him safe on the road. He knows there are many types of cars to choose from and has seen them everywhere: online, at dealerships, and while driving around town every day.
Bob does not just rely on his knowledge when deciding which vehicle would be best, he also turns to family members and friends who have their opinions about what they like or dislike about certain models by asking questions and seeking advice before settling down with one choice. He also checks some of the online reviews, discussions, and other available resources.
Following that, Bob is likely to go to a nearby car dealership for a test drive and sales conversation...
As you probably noticed, marketers are facing a difficult challenge in identifying a clear path to purchase due to this twisting and complicated process that can’t be easily tracked. No more can they map the journey from need, to awareness, to consideration, to purchase—if they ever even could.
The existence of those hidden elements is the reason why you should do things that won't scale. We’ll get into this later, now, let’s take a look at the dark funnel’s purpose.
The Dark Funnel's Purpose
The purpose of the Dark Funnel is more than just gathering data—it’s about people.
By studying dark funnel behavior, marketers can come to a better understanding of how consumers interact with brands and make purchases and the best ways to stay relevant via marketing planning, content creation, and distribution decisions.
So if the dark funnel is designed to help you better understand how customers behave, how can it be a useful part of your marketing strategy? Take a look:
It’s not about knowing where customers are—it’s about understanding why they’re there. If you can understand why people come to your website, listen to your podcast, or read one of your blogs you can potentially develop much more effective strategies that play to their deeper motivations and interests down the line.
It helps you define why you should do something and what to do. When Bob showed up at the dealership, he didn’t just buy a car—he purchased a particular model that met his unique needs and fulfilled a broader purpose. You can dig deep into specific motivations and needs of your customers which enables you to develop strategies that resonate with them.
It helps you understand how things change over time. As Bob continues to research cars by reading reviews and interacting with friends, he may find out about a new safety feature or special model design that will make one car a better fit for him. The Dark Funnel helps you anticipate how your customers’ behaviors will change as they interact with your brand.
As you can see, the Dark Funnel is not a new tactic or something designed to replace traditional analytics. It’s an additional lens through which marketers can view and understand their customers.
This extra insight into customer behaviors and motivations can help you make more effective decisions in terms of strategy, messaging, and content creation.
Why You Should Do Things That Won't Scale
Here’s the real reason why you should do things that won't scale—because they help you create deeper, more authentic connections with customers. When your marketing is truly customer-centric, it has a very high likelihood of being highly effective in both the short and long term.
The first time I started to seriously think about the things that won’t scale back in 2019.
The CEO of the company where I was Director of Operations bought a book called Conversational Marketing, written by Drift’s David Cancel and Dave Gerhardt. The book was great, they tried to invent their industry category and eliminate forms on websites, but the real gem came 2 weeks later. The postman rang the doorbell and we found out that Drift had sent us another book - free of charge, paid post expenses. It was a small book called “This Won't Scale”, with 41 plays from the Drift Marketing team to help businesses cut through the noise, grow faster than the competition, and thrill customers.
They had sent this book from the US to us in Serbia, as additional value because we’ve bought their book on Conversational Marketing.
It became the #1 book I recommend to every important team member.
To implement some Non-Scaling / Dark Funnel tactics, start by examining some recent actions on your website, social media channels, or other digital touchpoints. Think about why the customer engaged with your content in the first place—was it for purely informational purposes like reading reviews of a product? Or was it to fulfill some more specific need or interest they had at the time—and thus engage with you out of necessity because they saw you as the best option?
Asking yourself these questions helps you uncover what is motivating your customers. Even if that doesn’t scale.
As Bob’s story demonstrates, the answers may surprise you—and play a big role in understanding why your customer engagement strategy is or isn't working.
The important thing to remember is that as long as you can uncover why your customers engage, you can develop strategies based on those reasons.
How to Apply the Dark Funnel to Your Business
Now you are probably wondering how you can "apply" a dark funnel mindset to your business. Here is what you should do to make this concept work for you.
Create and distribute valuable content
Start creating and sharing valuable content. Content that is relevant to your customers and will be interesting to them.
Create social media posts, blog posts, videos, ebooks, podcasts, etc. that your audience and customers will find helpful.
This will not only build and increase your brand awareness but will also help you create a community around your business.
An important thing to note here: When doing this for your business, focus on helping people first before thinking about profits. Do not ever create content and expect to profit from it right away.
After you have started creating valuable content, share it on relevant places such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc., to spread the word and increase awareness about what you are doing.
Do something different
Allow your content to evolve and change over time. Something that worked once may not work again so when creating new content don't try and copy what has already been done but instead do something different and try to create new demand.
Engage with the community around you
Be active on social media sites where the audience hangs out and be open to new connections and interactions with others.
Build relationships with others and get involved in the conversation. Connect with others in comments on LinkedIn posts, Facebook groups, Twitter tweets, YouTube videos, answer questions asked in communities, join groups related to your industry, etc.
All these things will make you more visible and attract others to come closer to your brand.
Pay attention and listen
Pay attention and listen to what people are saying about your brand (both positive and negative).
This will help you gain insights into customer behavior that would not otherwise be available through more traditional means—and then use them strategically as a way to shift their focus from tracking meaningless metrics like impressions or click-through rates toward predicting key behaviors that will help build loyalty over time.
Engage in one-to-one interactions with your customers
Listen to their feedback and address their issues or concerns to gain more insight into customer behavior that would not otherwise be available through more traditional means—and then use them strategically.
Remember this is not a short-term strategy. It is something you are doing to build up your business and brand over time.
Examples of Things that Will Not Scale Well and are Worth Doing Anyway
For this, we will use my company Funky Marketing and how things that will not scale worked for us. We get all of our leads inbound and most of them don't fit anywhere in the traditional sales funnel, and they are all in the dark funnel.
What do I mean by this?
Well, our customers come in one of three ways.
- Through referral (i.e word-of-mouth)
You do a good job and your clients recommend you. Oldest and most powerful marketing strategy in the world - word of mouth. What we’re doing here that makes us different is that we experiment and test things out first on our own before we sell them to the clients. You can say that we do the service that we sell for ourselves first.
Often, I learn on the Discovery call that one of our clients recommended us, and more and more often I hear that companies doing more or less the same things as we are recommending us.
Interestingly, we get referrals and recommendations from people we’ve never engaged with. They either saw our posts or have heard our podcasts, and that’s enough for them to consider us as authorities in the field.
2. They follow me or some of my team members on Linkedin and come to us inbound when they’re ready to buy
We share a lot, the whole team. This is in our culture. We create and distribute content to prove our expertise, create trust, and the goal is not just to acquire new clients. We share our learnings and results and use LinkedIn as a tool to get our existing clients to the next level, advertise our services, and increase the LTV of every client.
We’re there to create relationships, before anything else.
When they’re ready, they schedule a call or DM us.
3. They listen to one of our podcasts and reach out to us
We use our podcast in a couple of ways. Firstly, we use them to create content, establish trust, and increase authority. But now, more and more, they are becoming tools for building internal company culture (a new team member can binge episodes and see the whole journey of me and Funky Marketing - the way we started, values, how the mindset was changing, etc.) but also tools for educating clients (out of one episode we can create 3-8 pieces of content that talk with people in the different stages of the buyer journey) and, finally, as a community-building tool (if people are coming back to listen, ask questions and participate, you’re building a community).
Is there a way for us to track this? Not, there's no way to do it. But what matters is that it works.
So what are we doing? Continuing to create valuable content on LinkedIn, we do it as a team because we are also big advocates of employee branding and create podcasts.
And even if we can't track these things accurately, we know that they work and so we'll keep doing it.
“If you invest time now you will save sales later on, especially if you are selling services, software, or any B2B products for that matter.”
What do we talk about though, well mostly about the value and making a difference? We share our thoughts, insights, and experiences. We try to teach and inspire.
So I think that this is a perfect example of something that won't scale, but we keep doing it anyway. Why? Because it adds real value for customers and people love us for it. And it is also getting us revenue. So it’s well worth doing.
We also engage with the community a lot and offer them valuable insights into our business (we talk about metrics, we share free templates that they can use, etc). This way they know that we are human beings and not just some faceless company. They see hopes and fears, the issues we face and are faced with. And they become vested in us as a company because of this.
I could go on and on but I think you get the point – if something works, if something is bringing you customers and revenue, it doesn’t matter that it is not scalable, just continue doing it.
When things are going in a good direction, you can feel it.
How do you know when it happens?
The answer is - trust me, you’ll know.
Final Thoughts on "Why You Should Do Things That Won't Scale"
In this blog post, you learned about the benefits of doing things that won't scale. You also heard why things like creating valuable content on LinkedIn and podcasts are worth it even though they don't necessarily translate to immediate sales or leads. And finally, we provided some examples of how these principles can be applied in your own business.
We hope you found our insights helpful and that they inspire you to think beyond the immediate when planning your marketing strategy. If so, please share this post with other business professionals who could benefit from our advice. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below and keep us posted on how things are going for you over time.
"If you're going after short-term wins and quick results, sales is probably a better way to go than branding. But if you want a sustainable long-term competitive advantage, branding is really where it's at."