The dark funnel – marketing mystery or lead gen mastery?

18th September 2023

Ever heard of the dark funnel? You’d be forgiven for thinking it sounds like a Jim Henson film or a Stranger Things rip-off. But it’s not as scary or mysterious as it sounds.

It’s no secret that marketers love data. We pore over numbers, analytics, and reports to build the most accurate picture of performance and inform our all-important marketing strategy.

This data is gathered from an array of sources, whether it’s a company’s website, paid advertisements, third-party businesses like HubSpot, or countless other avenues. In fact, businesses put huge amounts of money into collecting as much data as possible about their audiences.

By having an informed plan, underpinned by data, you’re able to craft a marketing strategy tailored to your audience and optimised to target specific demographics. But what about the touchpoints in a buyer’s journey or the sales funnel that can’t be tracked?

This is what’s known as the dark funnel.

Originally coined by 6Sense, the phrase refers to interactions over the course of the sales funnel that you can’t follow or gather data from. To my fellow data-loving marketers, this might seem like a nightmare. But fear not – you can actually harness the power of the dark funnel to further nurture your leads and open the door to new business opportunities.

View image in original blog here.

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a look at some examples of dark funnel data:

  • Word-of-mouth
  • Private messages
  • Emails (outside of your own)
  • Social media posts and reposts from other accounts
  • SMS/text messages
  • Unidentified visitors to your website
  • Third-party review websites
  • Third-party blogs about your products/services

The above data points are either incredibly difficult to track, or untraceable altogether. But I think we can all agree any marketing that shares your brand with more people is important. You should also note that the dark funnel doesn’t just consist of these data points – it also includes all of the research a potential buyer may have undertaken during the consideration stage (before converting).


But why is it so important?

A valid question, indeed – why should this concept matter to you and how does it affect your business?

According to CXL:

“over 80% of a customer journey is spent navigating dark channels”

This staggering figure illustrates the huge potential that can be found in dark funnel marketing. This facet of marketing is largely focused on nurturing your leads.

By nurturing your leads, you can increase brand loyalty with your audience before they’re ready to buy. And as 95% of B2B buyers are not currently in the market to buy, it goes without saying that you still want these buyers primed and ready for when they’re prepping a shortlist.

Another reason to consider dark funnel marketing within your strategy comes from the fact that Google is set to phase out third-party cookies. With this huge shift in data privacy incoming, it’s important that your business doesn’t rely too heavily on tracking them. When these get phased out, you likely won’t have enough data to understand your buyers and measure performance, and you risk losing leads.

“…harness the power of the dark funnel to further nurture your leads and open the door to new business opportunities…”

If the dark funnel was a total mystery when you started reading this blog, that’s exactly why you should embrace it. Many companies aren’t doing this yet, which creates a great opportunity for businesses to set themselves apart from the competition and give their marketing a significant boost.


Sounds great, right? But how can we take advantage of the dark funnel?

As previously mentioned, dark funnel marketing is all about nurturing leads without analytics, so that they’ll remember your brand and consider your business when they’re ready to make a buying decision. So how exactly can you get people thinking about, talking about, and considering your business over others?

Consistent organic posting

Putting paid promotion behind your social media posts will undoubtedly help your marketing efforts, but it’s crucial that you don’t underestimate the power of organic posting. This free method of marketing solidifies your brand’s online presence on platforms with millions of users. And it’s not just social media. Posting blogs on your company’s website, for example, is a great way to attract potential leads and build your reputation in the market.

High-quality work

This might seem obvious, but by always striving to meet and exceed client/customer expectations, you give people the best reason to talk about you and take control of your reputation. The quality of your work is a direct representation of your business and its values. By producing top-shelf products or delivering first-class service, you allow your work to speak for itself – and people are far more likely to help you spread the word.

Attending events

This is another great way of boosting your brand awareness and holding space in people’s minds, even without trackable data. By attending events, speaking on panels and growing your personal profile (and encouraging your colleagues to do the same) you start to make those all-important face-to-face connections. These interactions tend to stick in people’s minds far more, giving you a chance to leave a lasting impression.

Using the right channels

There are so many online channels where perfect prospects are talking and interacting (with each other, not your content). If you can enter these spaces without selling, whether it’s getting involved in LinkedIn groups, Facebook pages, or something else entirely, you can take part in your prospect’s conversations. But don’t be tempted to lead with your business or credentials. You can get your brand in front of all the right people, and engage with them to form positive relationships, simply by being your helpful, knowledgeable self.

“…Google is set to phase out third-party cookies. With this huge shift in data privacy incoming, it’s important that your business doesn’t rely too heavily on tracking them…”

Just ask

A highly effective yet often-overlooked way to make the most of dark funnel marketing is to ask your leads how they found out about your business. Plain and simple. You can do this by adding a section on your website’s contact form or a step in your checkout process. Alternatively, you can try reaching out via email. This will give you a really strong sense of which of your dark funnel channels are gaining a response from your audience, and which might need a bit more attention.


What’s next?

Hopefully you’re no longer in the dark about dark funnel marketing or its potential to influence your marketing strategy. Now all that is left is turn ideas into action.

While data can get you so far, there are plenty of ways to get front of mind and build your reputation without a cookie, or a dime.

We’re currently offering free marketing consultations, so if you’d like to find out how your business could discover untapped potential, get in touch at [email protected].


About Proctor + Stevenson

Game-changing strategy, creative and technology that means more impact for your marketing. And more power to your business.

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