What Multi-Channel Funnels Mean For Digital Marketers

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I wanted to take a few moments today to talk a bit about multichannel funnels, since some of the implications of the new service from Google Analytics can be a bit far-fetched if you don’t really sit down with them over a coffee or a beer. There’s a reason why I say this is the biggest change in marketing analytics in recent days. (read more about them here and here)

For the longest time, marketers have struggled with last touch attribution. In the official video, Google rightly and cleverly cites a basketball game as the example. In last touch, the only person who matters on your team is the one who shoots the basket. Except that anyone who has ever played any team sport understands that in winning teams, it’s every member of the team that contributes, and if one falls down on his job, the entire team suffers.

Multichannel funnels help you to understand how all of the players in your marketing team are working together to score.

Now, it’s important to understand that multichannel funnels aren’t new. Very high end analytics packages have had this for years now, but for those of us who can’t afford $50,000 a month in analytics software fees, it really is brand new.

Why is this such a game changer?

1. It helps you understand and quantify the value of high funnel activities. There are a lot of activities we do in marketing that seem to not have any direct conversion impact, especially when the price of whatever’s for sale is really high or the process of the sale is very long.

Replying on Twitter to someone rarely causes an immediate sale. Posting a video on YouTube rarely causes an immediate sale. Writing a blog post rarely causes an immediate sale. Sending out a weekly or monthly email newsletter rarely causes an immediate sale. Yet once you turn on multichannel funnels, you see these activities show in the funnel path. You start to see referrals, social media, email, etc. in things that you previously just attributed to low funnel activities (landing pages, squeeze pages, etc.) and now can understand their value in a much broader perspective.

Brand and Domain Names

2. It helps you understand and quantify marketing synergy. When you look in your multichannel funnels and start to see that conversions are being driven by several different channels working together, you’ll understand that no marketing channel is an island. Very few things work alone. Instead, each touch of a customer or prospect advances your goals.

3. It helps you understand and adjust your marketing resource allocation. What if you saw that social media was showing up in nearly every multi-part, multi-path conversion? Would that be a compelling case that you should invest more resources in social media? Absolutely. What if you saw none? Perhaps that social media expert you hired that was blustering about return on conversation didn’t know what they were talking about. Do pay per click ads influence organic search? Now you’ll have a way of making that determination. If they’re not delivering direct traffic and not boosting organic traffic results, it might be time to turn them off.

By showing all of the indirect impacts of your various marketing channels, you now have a way of determining what’s delivering results at any level and what’s flat out not working for you at any level in the marketing funnel.

4. It gives you a whole new set of dimensions to test. Perhaps you see right now in your multichannel funnel reports a set of paths that look like this:

Organic Search > Email > Social Media > Referral > Convert

If social was in the middle of the path towards advancing the sale, what if you got ambitious and tried to move it earlier in the process? Suppose you invited people to have a conversationn first, rather than push a newsletter? What if the reverse were true? You’ve now got insight into customer behaviors that you previously didn’t, and that should give you plenty of new ideas to try.

The opposing view

There will be some people who will be highly critical of multichannel funnels. If you’ve been working with, as an example, a social media “expert” who you suspect has been feeding you a line of crap (“return on influence! return on engagement! return on conversation!”), this tool is going to help reveal the truth about their efforts. You’ll see whether or not their work is having any impact at any point in your funnel.

Frankly, there are a lot of bad social media “experts” who should be absolutely terrified of multi-channel funnels, and a lot of legitimate practitioners who should be rejoicing that their efforts can finally be quantified and included in the overall marketing picture.

This is going to be true for many marketers across channels. There will be channels that, beloved though they might be, will be shown to be bringing in smaller than hoped for results. A number of uncomfortable questions will be raised, and as marketers we’ll need to be able to answer them.

The ultimate goal

The ultimate goal of the team is winning, and if you’re doing legitimately good work, creating legitimately good value in all of your different marketing efforts and channels, multichannel funnels should prove this. Value created at any stage should now be easier to see in the big picture, so your long term ultimate strategy should remain the same: create value for your customers and prospects and they’ll ultimately reward you with the conversion.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


4 responses to “What Multi-Channel Funnels Mean For Digital Marketers”

  1. i look forward to learning more about what really happens in multi-touch scenarios. but by winning, I like what you say in the end about winning – I think you mean  “winning” creating more value than you use up in producing it. that’s what I mean at least

  2. You are so right. MCF is a real jaw-dropping revelation. There are frightening insights to be gained into the interplay of brand search and generic search as well, if you customise your channel groupings to separate them.

    Could I add a point of detail about the tracking of social media in GA and other web analytic tools, please?
    Even before the introduction of MCF, we could see that social media was not showing up as a source of visits as much as some gurus would have led us to expect. But the problem was with the tracking, not the channel.

    A lot of those visits were being attributed to ‘direct’ (a.k.a “don’t have clue”) in GA, because of the use of mobile apps and desktop clients.

    The continued rolling out of t.co for Twitter should improve things. But the problem is still there.

    If you’ll forgive the link, I’ve explained more about it, complete with links to other sources in an article “If Social Marketing is So Big, Where Are All the New Visitors?” here:


    I’ve also explained more about customising the channel groups in another post there.

  3.  Avatar

    Excellent analysis Christopher. Only thing i am more anxious for is your detailed experiment to how it shows true value to social. 

    Investing about 10 hours into it thus far, i find that it finally validates the countless social SEO efforts and low touch points. The value of ‘branded’ keywords as the ‘holy grail’ of conversions is quickly losing its luster to your non-branded generic SEO content strategy criticized by traditional marketers. 

  4. The thing that I understand is more funneling would help one understand what end users are expecting.

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