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15 August 2023

No more funnel business: Create a strong brand story

No funnel business social hero v4 large

Copywriting at its best is a blend of flair and function. For all the alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, it’s when these family favourites are used to communicate something of importance clearly and succinctly that it’s elevated to another level. Add panache to purpose and the copy really sings.

But recent research suggests that the purchase funnel, which operates as the backbone of copywriting function – certainly as it has lived in most brand spaces online – is no more.

For a copywriter this means more freedom and more fun – but more challenge.

For brands, it means the need for a clear and complete brand story is stronger than ever.

Funnel vision

For those who don’t know what the purchase funnel is, it’s the process of buying something. The gist is this: you identify a need, you become aware of something that might help, you do research and narrow down your choices, you match the properties of those choices to the specifics of your need, this creates desire, that leads to further refinement, until eventually you buy this one perfect thing. Cue happiness.

The key point is that the funnel has always been linear. As you go through the process, you drop further down, always getting narrower and more focused, until you come to one singular result.

Brand copywriting has always, therefore, been concerned with nudging the consumer further down the funnel. Your job is to know where they are and move them along. Keep nudging them down and don’t let them jump out. From your brand identity, to marketing interactions, emails, ads, to your website landing pages, to your product pages, to the hierarchy of information on those pages, to the links between those pages.

You can still be fun, tell a story, be inspirational or aspirational, create emotions, but the way you apply purpose in each aspect of copy is informed – at least a little – by the funnel.

But is that over?

No funnel vision 1

Funnel Collapse

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: The Collapse of the Purchase Funnel is a fascinating piece of research that leaves no room for nuance in its title.

The explanation for its primary finding is that the way people buy has shifted, and purchase is no longer the end point. For many people, it’s now the start.

A significant 78% of respondents to their survey say they uncover things that attract them and make them loyal to a brand after their first purchase. Even more astonishingly, 50% of respondents said they do their brand research after they buy.

Customers interact with brands to evaluate them beyond their products, to build trust, and develop loyalty. But those are no longer checkpoints on the way to the checkout – they’re post-purchase perusal.

The formerly linear funnel, the report concludes, is now a continuous loop of purchase, action, communication and advocacy, with customers flowing in and out at will.

No funnel vision 2

Brand story takes over

So if the funnel has gone the way of the fountain pen, where’s the purpose we need to make our copy sing?

The answer is brand story. Snappy copy is no longer just able to sit on its own, happy in the knowledge its wit is tempting people to buy a product. Now it’s more important than ever that the copy communicates the brand story. And that all the copy is telling the same story.

Four in five (79%) of those surveyed by Edelman said they consume/participate with brand activities. The number one reason for doing so is to evaluate a brand beyond its products. Trust is measured in competency, ethics and personal relevance.

If your communication is under constant evaluation, repeatedly measured for competency and values, everything is awareness.

In short: the brand story is not solely about servicing the sale; the sale is the introduction to the brand story, which is being evaluated on its own merits.

No funnel vision 3

Brands can communicate without having to sell stuff

When you’re looking at everything with funnel vision, every investment of time you make in creating content has to be weighed against an uptick in sales clicks. Even work done to raise brand awareness is about getting in front of people early enough in their purchase journey.

But if the funnel is now a loop, there is real value in communicating for communication’s sake. In saying who you are, in standing for things, in being fun, in meeting someone’s expectations - or challenging them. These are the markers by which you’re being evaluated post-purchase – not how enticing your product sounds.

This will be music to the ears of any copywriter who has had their content ideas twisted into a sales pitch, or their beautifully poised prose undermined by daily deals.

No funnel vision 4

Knowing how to communicate matters

Any brand trying to do these things without a robust story is going to get found out by a new generation that buys first and asks questions later.

Copywriters, marketeers – anyone communicating on behalf of a brand – need to know what their key messages are, and be sure they’re all using the same ones. And this is probably the general aim for most brands at the moment.

But now, more than that, they need to know why these messages exist, and how they service the larger whole. They need to know how to adapt those messages in any given situation. They need to know how to stay on message when they have to think on their feet. If you now have much more to say than ‘buy something’, you better know what you’re talking about. This is much harder than simply repeating stock phrases.

They need to know how to communicate as a brand with flair and function. And that takes diligent work to build a brand story that never fears evaluation.

So if your brand story has lost the plot, or if it could do with a bit more character development, get in touch.