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Reimagining the Marketing Funnel with the Discovery Stage

·2459 words·12 mins
digital marketing marketing funnel discovery stage
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We know the marketing funnel to be a model that illustrates the customer journey, and broadly speaking, the stages of the marketing funnel are awareness, consideration, and purchase/deal.

Typically, the awareness stage in a B2B setup is when a prospect is actively looking for ways to solve a problem - and it is during this research they come across companies who can do it.

Consider a fictional accounts payable professional - he/she may not know that manual processes in his company are the reason for delays in supplier payments and consequently, affecting supplier relationships. They may not even know there are tools like automatic invoice readers and processing systems that are faster and accurate that will enable them to focus on other activities and automate these fatigue-inducing manual activities like invoice processing.

So the accounts payable professional has not actually recognized a problem exists because they are conditioned to think this is how it works, and maybe even the higher ups haven’t either. So, what we have here is a huge gap _to _the awareness stage. In other words, the Earth’s orbit hasn’t yet attracted a passing Meteor.

So, could there be another step above awareness?

In this blog post, I’d like to share the concept of a stage before awareness called the Discovery stage, and by understanding the significance of this additional step, it’ll possibly help us better capture our potential customer’s attention, help them discover they have a problem, and ultimately guide them into the awareness phase of the marketing funnel.

What is the discovery stage? #

Picture this- we know our toothpaste is running out, and so we know what toothpaste to buy - we’re conditioned to use a toothpaste by our family and society in general - there’s no way we’d have skipped knowing this growing up. We know what we want our toothpaste to do generally, and what taste we want in our toothpaste, so we just skipped the awareness, consideration stages and went straight to the purchase stage to buy the product we know we want.

However, in the case of the accounts payable professional I wrote about above, there was a huge gap to the awareness stage because he/she doesn’t even know a problem exists.

If we’re a business selling automated invoice processing software, wouldn’t we want to make them aware that the accounts payable function too many manual processes that slows it down?.. And that’s where the discovery stage comes in.

Let’s think of this as the initial touchpoint between our business and our potential customers. In a crowded marketplace, capturing attention and standing out from competitors is critical - I mean there are thousands of companies selling automation software.

So by introducing the Discovery stage, we can help our potential prospects discover a problem exists, create impactful first impressions, generate that initial interest, and expand our reach to individuals who may not have been actively seeking our products or services.

During this stage, we’re also creating brand awareness and establishing a connection with our target audience by introducing ourselves, our mission, our values, and our unique selling points to potential customers like the accounts payable professional of this example.

And by doing so, we’re sowing the seeds of interest and laying the foundations for further engagement.

How is this discovery stage different from the awareness stage? #

Now, there may be some overlap, but these are different stages and that is why I think they are also unique in what they do.

The Awareness stage targets individuals who have realized a problem exists and are looking for solutions on how to solve it. And so they are also receptive to specific messaging that revolves around their problem - this is where SEO comes in. Typical content marketing addresses the problem and showcases how to solve them with an intent to provide value to readers.

The awareness stage also focuses on utilizing channels where prospects are actively seeking solutions to their problems. SEO-optimized content, ADs on search engines, and even ABM.

However, the Discovery stage must target a broader audience, including individuals who may not have actively sought out solutions or identified a problem. It aims to reach and engage with potential customers who are not yet aware of their needs. So the content here should focus on creating curiosity, capturing attention, and generating interest. Since this is not laser targeted yet, it may make sense to talk about broader industry challenges or pain points rather than specific product or service offerings.

We aim to reach a wider audience with the discovery stage and thus tactics like social media marketing (paid), influencer collaborations, writing content on other publications, and PR activities make sense. The goal is to cast a wide net and generate initial brand awareness - does this remind you of TV advertising? This is actually something like that since the funnel stage is broader than awareness.

When does using the discovery stage make sense? #

Let’s talk about your business. Determining when it makes sense to invest in marketing for the Discovery stage depends on various factors, including the nature of the industry, target audience characteristics, and business goals.

Here are some examples that illustrate situations where investing in the Discovery stage makes sense and hopefully you’ll be able to relate with one of these scenarios.

  1. Introduction of a New Product or Service: If you’re launching a new product or service that offers a unique solution, investing in the Discovery stage can help create awareness among potential customers who may not yet be aware of the problem your offering solves - plain and simple.
    For example: a company developing a revolutionary home automation system may invest in Discovery stage marketing to educate homeowners about the convenience and energy-saving benefits of home automation. How would they do it? We’ll get to that in the next section.
  2. Emerging Trends or Industry Shifts: When an industry undergoes significant changes or experiences emerging trends, like the stuff we’re seeing around AI, investing in the Discovery stage can help you position yourselves as thought leaders and create awareness around new challenges or opportunities.
    For example: a company specializing in data analysis or statistics can talk about how they leverage blockchain technology to improve analysis. They could invest in Discovery stage marketing to educate businesses about the potential hazards of incorrect data and where blockchain comes in.
  3. Targeting Niche or Underserved Markets: If you’re operating in a niche market or you think you’re serving an underserved audience, investing in the Discovery stage can help reach potential customers who may not actively seek out solutions but could benefit from its product or service.
    For example: a company offering eco-friendly packaging alternatives may invest in Discovery stage marketing to raise awareness among businesses like Swiggy and Zomato, of the environmental impact of traditional packaging materials. This would also trickle down to restaurants who offer food delivery in plastic packaging.
  4. Shifting Customer Preferences or Behaviors: When customer preferences or behaviors change, investing in the Discovery stage can allow you to adapt and capture the attention of potential customers who may not realize the need for a different approach or solution.
    For example: During Covid-19, a lot of companies started advertising about mental health and wellness - a response to a shift in consumer behavior and attitude in general during the Covid-19 pandemic. First movers gained a lot of attention during this time.
  5. Brand Differentiation and Unique Selling Proposition: If you want to differentiate yourselves from competitors and highlight your unique selling proposition, investing in the Discovery stage can help create awareness of the distinct value it offers to potential customers. This is possibly the least precise reason I have to invest in this, but it is still a good strategy because you get a chance to make a great first impression.
    For example: a software company that sells a no-code platform that is trying to sell ease of creating apps, can invest in Discovery stage marketing to highlight how it is easy for anyone to bring their ideas to life.

These are but a few examples to demonstrate scenarios where investing in the Discovery stage can be beneficial to create awareness, educate potential customers, and position a business as a solution provider.

It’s essential to analyze your specific business goals, target audience, and industry dynamics to determine when investing in the Discovery stage aligns with your marketing strategy and objectives.

Strategies for the discovery stage #

  1. Social Media Awareness Campaigns: Utilize social media platforms to raise awareness about common industry challenges or pain points. Develop engaging and shareable content, such as informative videos, eye-catching visuals, or thought-provoking questions, to capture the attention of your target audience. By targeting specific demographics or interests, you can reach potential customers who may not be actively searching for solutions.
  2. Influencer Marketing: Collaborate with influencers in your industry who have a large following and credibility. Influencers can create content, such as videos, blog posts, or social media endorsements, that highlight the problems your product or service addresses. Their influence can help expose your brand and solution to a wider audience who may not have been actively searching for it. This is probably the biggest discovery tactic that I have seen companies use. I can’t tell you how many new companies I have been introduced to by Linus Tech Tips and other tech channels on YouTube.
  3. Thought Leadership Content: Develop thought leadership content that addresses industry challenges and presents unique perspectives or insights. This can be in the form of articles, whitepapers, or opinion pieces. By showcasing your expertise and providing valuable information, you can capture the attention of potential customers who may not be aware of their problems yet. But you can’t just post them on your website, you will have to find websites that talk about the topics you’re interested in, and give it to them so you can reach these new audiences.
  4. Education and Awareness Events: Host webinars, workshops, or seminars that educate your target audience about industry trends, best practices, or emerging challenges. Positioning these events as opportunities for learning, professional development and networking works very well. Attendees gain new knowledge and become aware of problems they hadn’t considered before.
  5. PR and Media Outreach: Engage in public relations activities to secure media coverage or guest appearances on relevant podcasts or radio shows. Position yourself or your brand as an expert in your industry and use these platforms to raise awareness about industry challenges. This can help reach a wider audience, including those who may not be actively searching online. This may be expensive, and if you have the budget, this is also an amazing way to see traction.
  6. Networking and Industry Events: Attend industry conferences, trade shows, or networking events to connect with potential customers face-to-face. Engage in conversations, share insights, and listen to industry pain points. This direct interaction can help you identify individuals who may not be aware of their problems and allow you to introduce your solution. This is probably the best way to collect intelligence, and also the best way to plant a seed in your prospects’ heads. Use this in the smartest way possible.
  7. Surveys and Quizzes: A survey blast is not typically done anymore, but I think if you have interested participants who are your potential customers, asking them questions and making them answer about it willingly, is sometimes the fastest way to close a lead. These surveys can be marketed as ads on websites, and social media. G2 or Capterra send me emails asking me to review something for a chance to win a $100 voucher - and I have written reviews for software I use. (I never won, which is another conversation.) But you can use something like this to entice your potential customers to participate. If you’re not going to give anything, don’t expect them to give them your time.

The AIDA model would serve as a fantastic way to craft content for the discovery stage.

Moving from Discovery to Awareness #

The primary objective of the Discovery stage is to transition potential customers from a state of unawareness to active awareness. To accomplish this, you must strategically guide individuals towards the next phase of the marketing funnel.

You may already be doing this in the awareness stage with compelling CTAs, lead magnets and so on - it is the same here. Basically, you’re telling them what the next step is and skillfully guiding them there.

Measuring Success #

As with any marketing strategy, it’s crucial to measure the effectiveness of the Discovery stage and make iterative improvements.

Since the spray is wide, what metrics do we measure? Here are what I think could be key metrics:

  1. Reach and Impressions: Monitor the reach and impressions of your Discovery stage content to understand how many people are exposed to your brand. This will help gauge the effectiveness of your strategies and identify opportunities for improvement.
  2. Engagement Metrics: Measure metrics like click-through rates, video views, social media likes, comments, and shares to assess the level of engagement your content generates. This will provide insights into the resonance of your messaging and the effectiveness of your creative elements. Comments sometimes can reveal interesting stuff that was never thought of before - make sure to track and read them.
  3. Conversion Rate: Track the conversion rate from the Discovery stage to the awareness stage by monitoring the number of users who take desired actions, such as subscribing, downloading resources, or following your brand. This will help evaluate the success of your efforts in transitioning potential customers to the next stage.

Based on the insights gained from these metrics, you can refine your Discovery stage strategy. This is all about how creative you can get so experiment with different content formats, platforms, messaging, and targeting techniques to optimize results and move your leads to the next stage.

Measuring the success of the Discovery stage is crucial for iterative improvements. Monitoring reach, engagement metrics, conversion rates, and gathering qualitative feedback can help refine strategy and tactics further.

While this may sound counter intuitive in the age of inbound marketing, I think there is way too much organic digital noise. Ranking high on SEO is a long term game and until you race to the never approaching finish line, using strategy and tactics for the Discovery stage will allow you to proactively engage with your target audience, establish brand awareness, and create a solid foundation for further interactions.

Tell me what you think #

Let me know what you think of the discovery stage as an initial touchpoint. Can we as marketers actually build stronger relationships because we helped a customer discover a problem? Or will it be because we’re providing something of value after they’ve discovered a problem?