Understanding the Local Search Marketing Funnel

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The concept of the marketing funnel has been with us since the early twentieth century, and remains a useful tool for understanding the path by which consumers interact with businesses. According to the funnel metaphor, customers travel in stages from awareness to purchase, the funnel getting narrower at each stage as some customers drop off and do not move to the next stage. In order to get a sufficient number of customers to purchase your products, you must attract a greater pool of customers at each preceding stage in the funnel.

There are many competing versions of the sequence of stages in the marketing funnel, but one of the oldest and simplest is called AIDAS, an acronym which stands for Awareness (or Attention), Interest, Desire, Action, Satisfaction. The AIDAS model dates at least to 1925 when the concept was promoted in Edward Strong’s The Psychology of Selling and Advertising, and its basic principles apply just as well today as they did a century ago. (You might know this model by the more common acronym AIDA, which leaves out the critical satisfaction stage.)

According to the AIDAS model, marketers must create broad awareness about a product in order to appeal to a subset of customers who will express interest, leading to a smaller subset who will develop a desire for the product, then an even smaller subset who will take action to purchase it. The smallest subset of all, though arguably the most valuable, is the set of customers who have purchased your product and are satisfied enough to buy it again or tell their friends. The narrowing of the funnel corresponds to an increase in the value of the remaining customers at each successive stage. According to the funnel model, the typical business will never earn loyal customers without first creating a broad pool of awareness, garnering interest, and sparking a desire to purchase.

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Think of the Tesla Model S as an example. Through various channels including online and offline marketing, press coverage, and word of mouth, Tesla has created widespread awareness of its flagship car. Potential customers who move from awareness to interest would be those who take the time to seek out news articles about the car, visit the Tesla website, or ask friends for their opinions. Some of these consumers will then make the leap from interest to desire; knowing enough to make an informed decision, these consumers determine that they’d like to purchase a Tesla. In this particular case, the number of consumers who want a Model S is far greater than the number who can afford to buy one, a good illustration of the narrowing of the funnel as we move from desire to action. Finally, satisfied Model S owners help Tesla promote the brand, and their feedback influences new prospective customers at earlier stages in the funnel.

In simplest terms, the marketing funnel describes how marketers attract and engage consumers and convert them into customers. The funnel is often used to describe online marketing and search engine optimization, but its use in local search is not so well established.

Although it should be obvious that online search leads to offline local sales in a manner more or less consistent with the AIDAS model, it can be challenging to see how the various components of the local search ecosystem fit into the marketing funnel, and challenging as well to establish concrete metrics that capture the interrelation of components.

Emerging online-to-offline attribution services attempt to address the problem of concrete measurement – take Foursquare’s Attribution service as an example – but even here the concept is predictive analytics rather than definitive measurement of every transaction. With local search, the link between performance analytics and actual in-store sales may not be something we can define in terms of actual numbers, but we know that link exists, and thinking of local search in terms of its ability to drive offline conversions can help to make sense of its component parts.

Brandify Local Search Funnel

At Brandify we’ve created a local search funnel (above) that depicts the consumer path to purchase by means of stages specific to local search: Search, Discovery, Engagement, and Action. At the top of the funnel, consumers search for local information on three primary platforms: Google, Bing, and Apple. What they discover when searching, from local listings to organic results, will typically be content hosted by the “Big Six” local services: Google Maps, Bing Places, Apple Maps, Facebook, Foursquare, and Yelp. In addition, your business website helps ensure you are found in organic search, extending to store locators and local pages for multilocation businesses.

Each of these local services and sites represents an opportunity to be discovered by consumers searching for local information. At the Discovery stage, the important thing is to be present on the Big Six with listings that display accurate NAP data, and to optimize owned assets like your business website in order to compete for local search traffic. As for Engagement, content that differentiates your business from others, like photos and hours of operation, will be more likely to convert search traffic into store visits.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi. SOCi is the leading CoMarketing Cloud for multi-location enterprises. They empower nearly 1,000 brands to automate and scale their marketing efforts across all locations and digital channels.