Up the Brand Staircase
By Dan Monroe
You often hear about the idea of the “sales funnel” to describe how prospects in an approachable market eventually become customers. There are all sorts of variations on it, but it usually follows the pattern of (from wide end at the top to narrow opening at the bottom): Awareness, Interest, Decision, and Action. Some simplify it more to Leads, Prospects, and Customers. Others add layers of complexity. I’m not a big fan of the funnel metaphor. You see, there’s this implication that your prospects will just fall into it, thanks to gravity. But it doesn’t work that way at all. There is no natural force working on your approachable market making prospects fall joyfully down into your sales funnel like kids at a water park.
It’s more like a staircase. It’s like the Machu Picchu of sales. After all, it takes work to climb a staircase. To even get somebody to start up your staircase, there has to be some sort of triggering event that makes them want to climb it. Sometimes, intelligent marketing strategies, inbound marketing programs, and advertising are enough. Sometimes, they want to take that first step of their own accord. Either way, it requires effort for that customer to defy gravity and physically mogate up your steps.
Think about your staircase this way. At the bottom are all of your prospects just milling about on a floor chock full of staircases. (Those are your competitors’ brands in case you didn’t stick with me on the staircase metaphor.) Smart marketing strategies or triggering events get them thinking about your staircase among the many other staircases out there. The first few steps represent their moving your brand into their consideration set. At that level, it’s still relatively easy to get back down the steps, though. You haven’t come very far. Eventually, however, your prospect climbs up far enough up the staircase and decides to give you a try. Everything that leads up to that point is advertising, marketing, and sales. It’s your brand as it’s perceived in the market. It’s your sales materials and website, your fancy leave-behinds and tchotchkes. But, the staircase doesn’t stop once they get to that point. Your brand shouldn’t either.
But what’s at the top of the staircase? Up there, in the aether, are your brand angels. They’re the ones who climbed all the way up, who’ve tried your brand many times. They evangelize. They’re your mavens, your aficionados. They’ve drunk your Kool-Aid and liked it. They sing your praises from on high, which makes them your most powerful marketing tool. To get a prospect up there to that heavenly roost, you must deliver your brand experience expertly and consistently all the way up the staircase. You must serve them. You must remind them of what they loved so much about you that they decided to wander up your staircase in the first place. You must treat them with utmost respect because, next to your employees, these are your most precious resource.
Let’s talk about money for a moment. You’ll spend most of it getting a prospect up the bottom part of the staircase. Awareness building, for example, is the most expensive undertaking of all. Once you get that prospect to try you that first time, the rest of the money you spend should be whatever operational cash you devote to delivering your brand experience as a normal course of doing business. But hear this: if you let one of those angels way up the staircase fall down—if you fail to deliver a positive brand experience to them—you will spend orders of magnitude more money to get them back to where they were (if it’s even possible). What’s more, you must assume those fallen angels are now down there on the ground with that crowd milling about sharing their negative brand experience and making it even more expensive to get the others to take that first step.