What are you doing about the Dark Funnel in your Marketing Strategy?

The Dark Funnel and Dark Social in B2B Marketing

In the world of B2B marketing, there’s been a buzz around two seemingly cryptic concepts: Dark Funnel and Dark Social. Why? Because understanding these hidden concepts will shift how we think about our interactions during the buyer’s journey.

In this article we will not just be shedding light on these terms, we will also look at rethinking our approach to demand generation and building a more distinctive brand.

First, a quick look back at the traditional funnel model

The traditional funnel model has been one of the most used concepts to bring clarity and structure in the work of B2B marketing and sales teams. It showed the vital need for alignment between marketing and sales teams, has promoted a more data driven decision-making process, and put the customer in a more central position.

The Traditional Funnel

What is the Dark Funnel

Diving into the B2B funnel, we all aimed to map every step of the buyer’s journey, thinking that modern technology could catch it all. But it turns out that we couldn’t map it all. Why? Because it turns out that the way people interact with each other and with the company’s brand often defy mapping and because privacy laws are tightening up. This means a chunk of our audience’s interactions with our brand are just… out there, in the dark.

The Dark Funnel

Enter the Dark Funnel: A significant part of the customer journey that includes many of the interactions that influence a buyer’s decision, and which tracking and attribution solutions do not account for. It’s where your future customers hang out without leaving a digital footprint, engaging with your content, discussing your brand in private forums and WhatsApp Groups, getting peer recommendations, creating that short-list of brands for an upcoming purchase — all off the radar.

Example of a journey through the Dark Funnel

These hidden interactions are incredibly influential for the success of a brand. A prospect might discover your brand through a discussion on a private Slack channel, WhatsApp group or a recommendation in a direct message. These interactions are gold, but they’re also ghosts in our marketing analytics.

What you often can track

  • Click-through on outbound emails
  • Newsletter subscriptions
  • Webinar attendance
  • Sales conversations
  • Event attendance
  • Paid social
  • Paid search

What you often cannot track

  • Direct website traffic
  • Blog readership
  • Personal emails
  • Forwarding of emails
  • Messaging apps
  • In-person conversations
  • Social media posts and comments
  • Podcast consumption
  • PR
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Interactions at events

And what is Dark Social?

Dark Social refers to the sharing of content through private or offline channels that are not trackable by standard web analytics tools. It’s all about the content and conversations shared away from the public eye and without tracked links, through emails, DMs, and messaging apps. It’s nothing truly new, you could call it the new name of word-of-mouth, but we are now more aware that technology can’t track everything.

For B2B marketing, Dark Social is very important as that’s where decisions are being made. Decision-makers often share and receive valuable content through these private channels, influencing their decisions without leaving a digital footprint accessible to marketers.

The Dark Funnel

All the interactions that the prospect has with your brand during their buying journey that you can’t see, track or attribute with your marketing or sales technology. The Dark Funnel prevents you from precisely telling what action contributed to the sale.

Dark Funnel Infographic
Dark Social Infographic

Dark Social

Dark Social includes the sharing of content through private or offline channels throughout the buying journey which, as a marketer, you may be able to influence but can’t see or track. In a way, Dark Social is an evolution of the traditional word-of-mouth where in today’s digital age, its reach, variety of channels, immediacy, and impact has expanded greatly.

Why Should You Care about Dark Social?

Because this is where trust is built. In the world of B2B, the recommendation of a peer in a private chat can outweigh dozens of ads. Recognizing the power of Dark Social is the first step in turning whispered conversations into loud endorsements for your brand.

How do the Dark Funnel and Dark Social impact marketing and demand generation?

  1. Rethinking Attribution The Dark Funnel and Dark Social have always been there. For a while we thought that technology could help us track and attribute every interaction, but we now know better. It’s time to embrace a broader view, where a focus on brand awareness regains leadership attention. It is then still important to use innovative technology to get directional and qualitative insight into the customer journey and the preferences of your audience — though likely not on an individual person level and with the understanding that some of your most valuable interactions are not visible in your tracking or attribution solution.
  1. Beyond the tactics The impact of these hidden interactions forces us to look beyond quick wins, tactical channel-specific strategies, direct responses, and direct marketing attribution. It’s about crafting a brand and content strategy that your audience can rally around, that resonates at a deeper level, making your brand the topic of conversation — even in the places that you can’t track.
  1. Tech’s Role: A Double-Edged Sword
    Yes, technology is our ally, but it’s not the end-all-be-all that some vendors may have told us it would be. The Dark Funnel and Dark Social remind us that technology alone cannot fully capture the complexity of the B2B buyer’s journey. Use technology to build an audience, make the Dark Funnel a bit less dark, but don’t fall into the trap of only looking at those tactics that you can measure.

    Human relationships still reign supreme in the B2B world and while technology can’t map all interactions from beginning to end, there are innovative solutions that can provide you better insight into your audience and the channels that they use. With that, you can optimize your content creation, build a stronger connection with your audience, and grow your business.

The Case for Building a Strong Brand and Consistent Messaging

In a world where your next customer might never click on an ad or fill out a form, your brand’s strength is your beacon. You will want to ensure that even when you’re not in the room, your reputation precedes you and that your brand’s values and messaging resonate with your target audience. Focus on consistency, authenticity, and engagement. Engage with your target audience across the channels that they use – online and offline – so that they can get the best brand experience. Create content that is so compelling that it is shared in those private conversations, amplifying your reach into the dark. A strong brand isn’t just your best defense against the challenges of the Dark Funnel and Dark Social, it’s your best offense. It can help you become the preferred choice for B2B buyers, leading to sustainable growth. Research has shown that over the past decade, companies with strong brands outperformed those without by a significant margin.

Looking Forward

The Dark Funnel and Dark Social aren’t just challenges to overcome; they’re opportunities to innovate and connect on a deeper level. It’s time to rethink how we build relationships and demand in the B2B space. So, are you ready to step into the shadows and find your brand’s true shine? Connect with us and let’s explore further!
Restless Marketing

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