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How can I apply funnel discipline to my newsroom?

The first step in executing on audience funnel discipline is to learn what the funneling approach is and how each step in the audience funnel is defined in terms of actions and objectives.

The first step in executing on audience funnel discipline is to learn what the funneling approach is and how each step in the audience funnel is defined in terms of actions and objectives.

The funnel approach is not new. Many industries and businesses use funneling to achieve marketing, sales and other objectives. While the specifics of particular applications vary, the essential steps in the funnel are a progression of steps taken by the audience – by the potential customer/user.

Here’s a high-level and general example of a funnel based on the desired customer actions:

Awareness: I have heard of the particular product/service/brand in question. I may not know everything there is to know about it, but I’m aware of it. Illustration: When asked if I’m familiar with a brand of mobile devices, I say, “Yes, I’ve heard of the iPhone.”

Experience: I have tried the product/service. Illustration: “I have used an iPhone.”

Preference: If I am given a choice, I choose one particular product/service over a competitor – or a similar product/service. Illustration: “I prefer the iPhone to Samsung Galaxy” – “I prefer using mobile devices to desktops.”

Purchase/Loyalty: I purchase and stick with a particular brand. Illustration: I own an iPhone. When new phones come out, I stick with iPhones. For example, when my cell plan ends and there’s a three-week delay on getting a new iPhone – and Samsung is offering a 50% off sale today – I still wait for the iPhone.

Advocacy/promotion: I actively promote the brand to people in my life. Illustration: I tell everyone I know about the superiority of the iPhone compared with any other device. In effect, I am an extension of Apple’s public relations, marketing and sales folks.

Notice these stages describe a funnel – at each step, the number of people is higher than at the succeeding step. More people are aware of iPhones than have experienced them. More people have experienced iPhones than prefer them. More people prefer iPhones than purchase and remain loyal to them. And, more people are loyal to iPhones than actively advocate and promote them.

News enterprises need to adjust this generic industry funnel for the realities of digital contexts and audience behaviors. For example, iPhone users typically purchase before advocating and promoting. Ditto for cars, beverages, restaurants, insurance, mutual funds, bicycles, and on and on. In comparison, audiences who have great experiences with news and information – and make use of social platforms – regularly ‘like’ things without purchasing them first. Which means the last two stages of this generic funnel can happen in either order: that is, users might purchase and then recommend; or, they might recommend before purchasing.

The objective is to seek the highest possible yield from each step to the next. Also, note that the funnel approach does not stop with a purchase. In a world now dominated by social and mobile, brands must have as many advocates/promoters as possible while also worrying about the reverse – about folks who detract or bad mouth the brand, product or service in question.

For example, consider one of the most popular approaches to brand loyalty that’s called a ‘net promoter score’ in which consumers are asked about the intensity with which they either promote or detract from a brand, product or service. In this approach, only the most intense responses count – the most positive (“promoters”) and the most negative (“detractors”). The Net Promoter Score is calculated from research that asks one simple question: “Would you recommend (fill in the blank brand, service, or product) to a friend or colleague?” It’s a 0-10 scale, with 0-6 being evidence of an active detractor, 7-8 being neutral, and 9-10 indicating an advocate. Typically, when calculated, the mid-range of responses is ignored. Instead, the number of intense detractors is subtracted from the number of intense supporters – yielding a number that is either positive because promoters outnumber detractors (good) or negative because detractors outnumber promoters (bad).

Your funnel approach must be specific to your strategy and context. You can start with this simple yet powerful set of objectives regarding digital consumers:

  • Get them to come
  • Get them to stay
  • Get them to pay

With that in mind, you must tailor the funnel to your circumstances. For example, here is a slightly more nuanced funnel that builds on these basic objectives:

Note that the stages are described in terms of user actions:

  • Random/occasional use: Users who visit your site(s)* for the first time, or from time-to-time.
  • Periodic use and brand familiarity: Users who experience your site(s) periodically and have reasonable knowledge of what you offer.
  • Regular, habitual use: Users who have developed a routine of visiting your site(s).
  • Paying for content and actively recommending your content to others: Users who subscribe, join, contribute or otherwise support you financially and/or advocate on your behalf.
  • Retention: Long-term loyalty in the form of renewing and/or continually engaging over long periods of time

You and your colleagues should discuss and agree on the set of user actions you desire – then, the actions you can take to maximize the odds that those user actions happen.

* Note that this funnel pertains to your site. You need to use the funneling approach broadly – that is, for sites, newsletters, apps, live events – or any product, service or set of desirable consumer/user actions.