You’re as familiar with the marketing funnel as a ship’s captain is with their compass. You have navigated each funnel stage from awareness to conversion and deftly honed your skills to smoothly ship leads from beginning to end. But there’s a Bermuda Triangle in the funnel where marketers and leads get lost: the dark funnel.
Your run-of-the-mill marketing funnel consists of your buyer journey stages. The typical marketing funnel stages are:
The dark funnel exists quietly inside your marketing funnel, and it’s “dark” because it consists of touchpoints in the customer journey that happen outside of your attribution capabilities. It’s dark because, essentially, you can’t see it! If you can’t see it, you can’t count it, and since it can’t counted, most marketers ignore it.
The dark funnel is primarily known as a B2B marketing phenomenon, however, I will posit that B2C marketers also have a version of the dark funnel that causes similar issues with attribution, marketing measurement, and wasted spend.
This is particularly true in high-stakes purchase industries like automotive, healthcare, financial services, and others where buying cycles are longer and consumers do a lot of research before making a purchase. The dark funnel is much less of a problem for eCommerce marketers selling everyday consumer products where the path to purchase is usually pretty straightforward—someone is either going to buy two dozen rolls of Charmin or they’re not.
Let’s use the buyer journey of someone looking to get all of the old single-pane windows in their house replaced with some modern double-pane glass. This is a job that can easily cost upwards of $20,000 and the buyer has to live with the results as long as they own their home. They’re going to do a lot of research across many different channels and devices. This leaves a lot of room for marketers to lose track of attribution in the dark funnel.
This potential customer starts with a Google search, visits a couple of installer websites, looks at some reviews on Angi, asks some questions to friends on Facebook and Nextdoor about installers, reads a few blogs on window retrofits, clicks on one of their ads, visits the online stores again, and then calls the business to ask a few questions and set an appointment. Many of these activities could be part of the dark funnel for the B2C marketer, as these channels either cannot be tracked or are often ignored because they’re seen as too difficult to access.
The dark funnel is a bit different for B2C marketers than it is for B2B as the account-based marketing aspect usually does not exist in B2C. They are more often targeting audiences, not organizations, so all of the data needed to create precise account profiles, 1:1 identification of buyer groups, and account qualification data are not important. However, B2C marketers still need to know how their leads and customers are interacting with their brand’s marketing in order to determine if their budget is being spent effectively.
There are several channels where the data trail leads to the dark funnel and goes cold. The dark funnel contains a wealth of buyer intent data, and you know that it exists, but it’s too hard to access.
Dark funnel data is out there, but how do you access it? Sometimes it can be gleaned from third-party data sources, which we’ll call third-party dark funnel data, but much of it might already be hiding in your current systems, which we’ll call first-party dark funnel data. Here are a few dark funnel channels from the customer example above and how that data can be accessed.
Why it’s in the dark funnel: People may inquire about your brand in communities and individual conversations on social media that are outside of your brand’s page. These conversations could be in chat, messaging, or private threads. They may also ask for advice in open groups and forums that you may not be tracking.
Can you track it: Partially. Social listening tools can help you track brand mentions in open communities which can help you build better target audiences and personalize experiences with information on your audiences’ sentiment about your brand. Private-channel communications like chat and messaging remain in the dark.
Why it’s in the dark funnel: Generative AI’s true impact on organic search marketing and content marketing is still unknown. If a shopper asks ChatGPT questions like “How much does it cost to install new windows” that diverts potential traffic away from your content, and it does not provide references and links (except in Bing) to content sources, so there will be little if any referral traffic to track.
Can you track it: Nope, as it stands, it’s a black box for marketers. You don’t know how often your company name or relevant keywords are being searched or who is searching for it. There’s no Search Console or Google Trends equivalent to optimize your content to appear in GPT responses.
Why it’s in the dark funnel: When a potential lead hits research sites, you may not be able to get any insight into their visit if they did not land on your listing.
Can you track it: You can get better attribution from listing sites in a few ways. First, make sure you are using UTM tracking links on your pages to better track interactions. Second, you can use a trackable phone number on the page using conversation intelligence software like Invoca to track calls that originate from these sites. Third, use reputation management software to track and interact with customer reviews across all of the sites you are active on.
Why it’s in the dark funnel: Store visits, word-of-mouth, and 1:1 conversations are impossible to track for obvious reasons.
Can you track it: Not yet. Google tried to provide attribution for brick-and-mortar store visits with Store Visits in Google Analytics, but for a variety of reasons from data privacy concerns to limited cooperation from financial institutions to the complexity of integrating with POS systems, it didn’t work and Store Visits tracking was killed in 2022.
Why it’s in the dark funnel: When customers call your business, the call is frequently driven by marketing activity, whether that’s ads, search, social media, or your website. Many marketers lose track of the buyer journey when leads pick up the phone and therefore they also lose attribution for their marketing efforts.
Can you track it: This is the only “absolutely, yes you can track it, you’re just not doing it yet” channel on the list and it’s a big one for B2C consumer brands where consumers have a high propensity to call during the buying journey to make purchases, get quotes, and make appointments. With conversation intelligence AI like Invoca, you can fully connect your customer’s digital journey with phone calls, which we’ll get into in detail below, of course.
The reason why the phone is the most important dark funnel channel for B2C marketers is that your buyers are often making their most important buying decisions — and often converting — when they call. Many marketers don’t have any insight into the phone channel, even though they are spending a big chunk of their digital marketing budget on campaigns that ultimately drive leads to set appointments, get quotes, or make a purchase over the phone.
Without visibility into the phone channel, you’re spending your budget to send calls into the dark abyss, causing you to make uninformed decisions that waste money and undersell your efforts.
To illuminate this part of the dark funnel, you should use conversation intelligence AI like Invoca to get full marketing attribution for every call (and conversion) your budget drives. With Invoca, marketers can attribute every phone call conversion to the marketing source that drove it — down to the campaign, ad, and keyword.
It works whether the lead calls ads or content — like click-to-call, paid search, review sites, local listings, or social media ads — or visited your website first before calling because Invoca tracks the entire digital journey that drove the call. This means you can illuminate the dark funnel and accurately prove the ROI of your marketing efforts that drive sales and defend every cent you spend with hard data. With Invoca conversation intelligence AI you can:
Invoca automatically analyzes all of the calls that your marketing drives and determines the outcome of every call. When you know what’s driving conversions and what’s not, you can make data-based decisions on where to put your money. You can also accurately report on every conversion, your CPA, and your ROAS so you know that you’re not selling yourself and your team short. And every decision you make is backed up with hard data—not guesswork. Watch this video to learn how it works.
When you know what’s driving conversions over the phone, you can target more cost-effective keywords and ad placements and make sure that your campaigns aren’t driving calls that don’t result in sales. You can also suppress retargeting to customers who already converted on the phone so you can use that budget to drive new customer acquisition. You can even pinpoint leads who called, showed intent, and didn’t convert so you can add them to your nurture stream or retarget them with tempting promotions.
By feeding 1st-party conversion data from customer conversations directly to ad platforms like Google Ads, you can accurately target high-value customers and the most effective keywords to increase your conversion rates. Check out our Google Ads Customer Success Stories to see how companies like Rogers Communications increased their conversion rates by 80% or more by using Invoca to optimize Google Ads.
Armed with true attribution, you can account for conversions that come from clicks and calls and accurately measure your acquisition costs, target the most effective keywords, and eliminate ineffective campaigns to reduce your CPA. When you can prove it costs less to acquire customers, you’ll be in the enviable position of being able to drive more conversions with the same budget free up budget for other initiatives.
It’s one thing to be able to prove that your marketing is driving conversions over the phone, but it’s a whole different ball game when you can tie those conversions to the revenue they drive. Nothing does a better job of proving your value than showing them the money! By integrating Invoca with your CRM, you can tie every call conversion to the revenue that it drives. This enables you to accurately measure and report your ROAS and prove the value of your team's work.
Ready to learn more about how Invoca conversation intelligence can help you illuminate the dark funnel? Get the Ultimate Guide to Conversation Intelligence to learn more.