The purchase funnel is a common theoretical model for a customer’s journey from prospect to customer to (hopefully) advocate for your brand, product or service. The concepts behind the funnel are much older than the funnel model itself. In fact, advertising advocate Elias St. Elmo Lewis, way back in the late 1800s, described the purchasing journey as four-step process: awareness, interest, desire and action. This largely corresponds with the columns in the funnel model today.

There are three basic levels to the funnel:

  1. Top of funnel: Creating awareness of your brand or product (awareness)
  2. Middle of funnel: Converting awareness into interest (interest, desire)
  3. Bottom of funnel: Converting interest into sales (action)

But it shouldn’t end there—particularly when marketing to public safety. Customers are more than simply buyers in this realm. These are public servants who will put themselves into harm’s way to protect our communities. They face unique challenges. So we’ll add a layer:

  1. Spout of funnel: Creating relationships (loyalty, information)

This conceptual model can help marketers be more effective and efficient in realizing their marketing strategy. Although divided into levels, the funnel functions as a whole: Effective marketers guide their prospects through a process, culminating in sales, loyalty and information.

Awareness

This is the widest part of the funnel and has the potential to reach the greatest possible audience. The idea here at the top is simply to make the marketplace aware of your presence. Let’s face it: Everybody—including first responders—is facing a deluge of information at any given moment nowadays. The internet has certainly exacerbated this, but it’s not just a digital issue. Information abounds in the form of print media, podcasts, video, conferences, radio, television, conversation and more.

This is why awareness is so important for your brand and product. You aren’t just competing with your competitors: You’re competing against all that other noise too! Rather than waiting around for prospects to come looking, good marketers in public safety work to get the word out ahead of time. They are generating leads constantly through these efforts.

Common forms of awareness marketing include:

  • Banner ads
  • Email sponsorships
  • Product placements

At this broad level we must note that not everyone reached will be directly interested in your efforts, at least for the moment. That’s not only okay, it’s sort of the point. You want folks generally to know you exist.

Interest

Moving down the funnel, the walls narrow in a bit. The market is now reasonably aware of your brand, product or service. The goal now is to get potential customers interested in what you’re doing. This is the level at which you really begin to tell your story to those who are receptive to it:

  • Sponsorships
  • Videos
  • Case studies
  • Targeted emails

Why is your product or service the best available? What value do you bring?

I’ve noted before the concept of emotional vs. cognitive marketing. For example, suppose you are a manufacturer of body armor. An emotional appeal would look at the ultimate outcome of that purchase: The armor is light and breathable, keeping you going stronger for longer durations, and the material has been street-tested to stand up to the latest munitions. So you might feature in your marketing efforts a testimonial from an officer who survived because of your armor, showing her with her family and the vest that saved her life. That’s powerful.

Powerful in a different way would be the so-called cognitive approach: weight per square meter, perhaps a schematic of fabric blends and patterns, various fits available, typical product life cycle, cost—you know, the specs.

Both the emotional and the cognitive matter and, of course, we often see the two blended in a single campaign. But it seems to me the emotional appeal is slightly higher in the funnel and is probably more important in public safety, a market built on trust. What is your value proposition? However you describe it, the idea is to guide prospects from awareness of your product to consideration of it and, ultimately, at this level, intention and tools to learn more.

Remember: Have a strong call to action to engage prospects in your efforts!

Sales

Down near the bottom of the funnel comes that magical moment when leads convert into sales, which should be that much easier because of your wise marketing efforts (see above).

It’s ultimately less about marketing tactics than how you do business.

But good marketers know the funnel doesn’t end with a sale. Marketing also covers the customer experience—which is especially important with new customers. Consider how you welcome new customers, train them on your product, provide technical support and solicit feedback from them. Are these processes supportive of your marketing messages? Are customers getting what they expected?

Loyal customers often account for the lion’s share of a company’s profit, and public safety in my experience is particularly loyal and values-driven. The information you garner from satisfied customers will grow and sustain your business. In this sense, sales are less the end-goal than a new beginning.

Reengagement Through Relationships

My friend Dale Stockton calls it the “R word”: relationships. As someone who’s worked with and for vendors as a police officer and technology expert, Dale knows just how essential relationships are. If, for example, firefighters are “hacking” your lightbar to make it less blinding on the roadside for passersby, wouldn’t you want to know about it first? What about a bug in your software? Maybe there’s a story out there about your product helping to save a life that would make a great case study or story?

There are lots of ways to encourage and engage feedback among users: rating systems on your site (and caring enough to address comments); requesting referrals or testimonials; creating working groups or simply inviting customers to stop by your booth at a tradeshow. But it’s ultimately less about marketing tactics than how you do business. As Peter Drucker put it, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”

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