Everybody in business knows the sales and marketing funnel. It’s the classic paradigm consisting of variations on Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Engagement, and Purchase. Some models add Loyalty and even Advocacy to the bottom. But they all have “Awareness” at the top.

The very concept of this funnel suggests that it is your process to manage. But if a prospect or a suspect is in your process, they are already aware of your product. Before that, they are not in your funnel. They are out in the world somewhere, living their lives and conducting their business.

“Yeah, I get that,” says the marketer. “But generating Awareness is the first step in marketing. That’s what we do.” And, yes, there are certain things you can do to drive awareness.

For example, I’m a big advocate for SEM. If someone knows what they’re looking for and you sell one of those, you stand a good chance of gaining awareness in a single online session.

But what if the category of product you sell is called different things in different situations? What if you are going up against a well-entrenched competitor with a dominant market share, and… the thing that makes your product better than theirs takes more than 90 characters (the Google Ads limit) to explain? What if service is a huge component of your offering and the trust factor looms large? SEM will only get you so far, or nowhere at all on the awareness front.

The simple fact is: Awareness is something you have to buy or earn. It exists in its own funnel above the sales funnel.

Posting an announcement about your latest product release on PR Newswire is not true public relations. If you want the press to talk about you—and you’re not Elon Musk—you are going to need a PR professional to craft that narrative, pitch that story, and write that article. This is how you get plugged into the public conversation about your market. If you’re not in that conversation, how are people going to become aware of you?

Social media, you say? Social media marketing is a great path to awareness when done well. And by social media, I mean paid social media. Why paid specifically? Because that’s what allows you to target your audience. You don’t care if everyone on Facebook or LinkedIn knows what you sell. You only care about those people who might buy what you sell.

There is, however, an unfortunate dynamic some marketers succumb to: They think that if

they’re paying for the space, that calls for an ad. Big mistake. Social media is a specific medium that requires suitably crafted messages. Ideally, those messages have an organic quality and harmonize with what your prospects are reading in the press. Now people are talking about you… even if they’re your people. At some point, your prospects are going to be exposed to your company, your products, or your services.

But, are they really aware of you? Science tells us that our brain filters out 90+% of the information we pick up, and only focuses on things that affect our lives. (This is the most ancient part of our processing, dating back to when it was “eat or be eaten.”) Until your prospects connect your company to their lives, they aren’t really aware of you. This is the last step that pulls them into your sales funnel.

This is connected marketing. It is done with content and via email, and connects your product to your prospect’s needs or ambitions. When done well, it completes the story that began in the outer atmosphere of PR. It gives substance to the ideas shared across social channels. Most importantly, it moves the conversation into the realm of real solutions to real problems. For a demonstration of how this works, help yourself to a copy of our very cool eBook “The Funnel Above The Funnel.”

As you’ll see: “Awareness” ends up in your sales funnel. But it happens outside of it. To winnow all the people outside your funnel (also known as “basically everybody”) down to just your prospects, you need a funnel above your funnel. And that’s a fact.