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Parts of the Hook Stage

The hook stage is the noisiest stage of the Story Funnel because it’s the one with the most amount of competition and literal noise.

Jarie Bolander
Jarie Bolander

As we mentioned before, the hook stage is the noisiest stage of the Story Funnel because it’s the one with the most amount of competition and literal noise. This is also the stage with the most variables (known and unknown) and experiments. While we’ll give some suggestions on variables and experiments to try, there is a wide variety of parameters that vary from brand to brand as well as budget to budget.

The trick to this stage is to be open to experimentation, test a lot, and keep track of your results. The better tracking and experiments you have at this stage, the better the following stages will perform. As we are fond of saying, Garbage In = Garbage Out.

Before we get into each stage, we’d like to share with you some heuristics that will be useful as we go along. We’ll be sharing a couple of these at each stage as a way to guide you on your Story Funnel journey.

These heuristics are rules of thumb that are helpful to get a sense of how to develop your Story Funnel. Some are based on science, some from other marketers, some from grandmothers, while others are based on gut feel. All of them we have found helpful and hope you do as well. Like anything, these are rules of thumbs that generally hold up but common sense and your specific situation will dictate how to proceed. The first one we’re all familiar with if we have ever spent any time in a waiting room.

Time on Target (ToT)

Image yourself in a waiting room. Waiting for the doctor or at the DMV or the dentist. There is a stack of old magazines in a rack. One catches your eye and you start to flip through the pages, looking at the pictures and the headlines. You pause on one long enough to read the first paragraph. It’s not what you want, so you move on. Flip. Flip. Flip. That pause was your Time on Target (ToT).

This same process happens on the internet, as you cruise through Netflix, or listen to a podcast or cruise YouTube. The idea of flipping through something sets the stage for how those pictures, headlines, and words will such you in. Of course, people will flip at different rates, depending on the medium, their interest, and levels of fatigue. For Story Funnel purposes, we’re going to define ranges of ToT or the amount of time we expect people to engage with the content.

The ToT will vary depending on the stage of the funnel we’re in. At the hook stage, this time range could be from 0.3 seconds to 8 seconds (our attention spans) to 30 seconds. Of course, these are guidelines and for your funnel, they may be different but the goal is to put up some guardrails for ToT so we can focus our message to do what it needs to do. The message will be vastly different if we have 0.3 seconds or 30 minutes or even 30 days. More on that later.

ToFu/MoFu/BoFu

Each stage of the Story Funnel can be broken down into three parts: Top of Funnel (ToFu), Middle of Funnel (MoFu), and Bottom of Funnel (BoFu). Most processes can also be broken down into a top, middle, and bottom or beginning, middle, and end. It’s important to know that the reason to do such a thing is to better be able to talk about and report metrics.

For the hook phase, Scan is ToFu, Read is MoFu, and Action is BoFu. When we talk about metrics, we can say either Scan Stage or Hook ToFu. Why that’s important is that we’re going to compare various ToFu’s, MoFu’s, and BoFu’s, between stages, to see if there are any trends.

It will also make it easier to focus on a specific part of the funnel and how it interacts if we break it down in this way, especially when it comes to how each stage interacts with each other. This will become more clear when we talk about Factors of 10 and 2 later on.

The Signal Through the Noise

The hook part is the noisiest part of the funnel. It’s the one where your signal is going to be the hardest to get through all the noise. That’s why we’ll spend a lot of time trying to figure out the best message to get prospects to interact with us.

Stage #1: Scanning or Hook ToFu

The scanning phase (in today’s world) is primarily run by FB Ads, Google Ads, YouTube ads, Tiktok, organic search, etc. Even though in the modern world, a lot of media is online, the idea of flipping through a magazine (Time on Target) is a good analogy for how quickly your marketing needs to capture a prospect. Our guess is that it takes you about 0.3 seconds to turn a magazine page and scan it. It’s not scientific or anything like that but a baseline in which to think about the impact our copy needs to make on a prospect. Your scan times will be different and you should think about your audience and what might catch their attention.

Example Metrics to Track for Scanning

Metrics need to make sense for your business and your brand. The goal of Scan stage metrics is to get a sense as to how many prospects are looking at your brand story. This stage is super noisy and hard to really nail down what metrics are really important since it has a Law of Big-Small problem (e.g., Huge numbers with small results). Below are a few examples of metrics we found useful:

  • Ad Impressions
  • Search Volume
  • Search Position (for ranking keywords)
  • Ranked Keywords
  • Reach (for Press Releases)
  • Sent Emails
  • Domain Rating (from a tool like ahrefs)

Stage #2: Reading or Hook MoFu

The read stage is when a prospect takes some amount of time to read your brand message. This is not as noisy as the scan stage but it’s still hard to pin down the difference between a read and a scan.

Our usual definition is back to flipping through the magazine example. As you flip through a magazine and you pause to read the first paragraph of an article, then we consider that a read. We know, it’s a little subjective but we want to have a stage in the funnel where a prospect engages with the content longer than a scan.

For us, we define the read time as something greater than 3 seconds (a Factor of 10 higher than Scan). Yes, it is more art than science but we can use tools (like Crazy Egg and Google Analytics) to figure out what folks are reading and for how long. You may choose to have your read stage longer (probably not shorter) and that’s fine. The whole goal of this is to create metrics that mean something to you all within these heuristics so you can gauge how you’re doing.

Example Metrics to Track for Reading

The reading stage is a little less noisy but still hard to nail down for some scan stage inputs. For example, someone who clicks on an Ad has done an action (Click), then read your landing page (View) but might exit after that. What we’re trying to say is that not all actions will be as important and as you build your Story Funnel, you’ll start to realize what “One Metric That Matters”, really matters to you. Here are some of the metrics we find useful at this stage:

  • Email Opens
  • Number of Times an Email was Open
  • Landing Page Views
  • Average Time on a Landing Page
  • Landing Page Heat maps (like Crazy Egg)
  • Likes, Shares, Comments on Social Media

Stage #3: Acting or Hook BoFu

Actions are simply things you want prospects to do. It could be as simple as a click (which is the simplest action) to sign up for a webinar all the way to filling out a survey. These actions give you a sign as to what the prospect’s intent is.

Not all actions are equal and many an entrepreneur has been fooled by “vanity metrics” that really don’t help or rather lull them into a false sense of Product-Market Fit (PMF). The ultimate goal of the action stage is for the prospect to do the ultimate action -- buy. All actions should eventually lead to the buy.

In terms of time, we define an action that takes up to 30 seconds to complete (including the 3 seconds to read). Anything longer than that, we feel people will lose interest. Again, these are rules of thumb, and some things, like surveys, can break this rule. The net is that we want prospects to complete actions quickly that give us more and more information about what their wants and needs are.

Example Metrics to Track

There is a little less noise at this stage because prospects are doing something that is measurable and well, actionable. Below is a list of actions we like to monitor (in no particular order of importance):

  • Subscribe to a Mailing list
  • Fill out a contact form
  • Sign up for a webinar
  • Attend a webinar
  • Schedule a meeting with your team
  • Customer Service Questions
  • Chat sessions
  • Add to Cart

Notice that we don’t have any social media metrics (likes, shares, etc). Honestly, to us, those are vanity metrics that squarely belong in the Read stage since it takes less than 3 seconds to do, and the conversion to an Action that leads to a buy is pretty low.

Exiting the Hook Stage

The exit from the hook stage either goes into the Build Stage, via a Buy (Positive) or an Unsubscribe (negative). It should be noted that exit is an action that can happen as a prospect Scans and Reads additional content you have provided. For example, let’s say someone signs up to your email list or private Facebook group. As time goes on, they could either Buy (Yippee) or leave or unsubscribe (Boo). For lists of prospects, unsubscribing from a list is common and healthy since people’s circumstances change and might not be interested in your brand anymore.

There are brands that handle the email unsubscribe process as a way to still keep a prospect but reduce the amount of email they get. While we feel that’s a pretty good idea, we won’t go into that as part of setting up a Story Funnel for now.

What we want to do first is set up the full-funnel, on the positive side (e.g. prospects -> customers -> advocates) and then we can figure out how to handle those that drop out of the funnel or stall within the funnel.

Implementing the Hook Stage

The hook stage is all about getting your emotional (Pathos) appeal read by as many prospects as possible so they take some sort of action. In order to do that, you’ll need to set up campaigns, emails, landing pages, etc. to get the word out about your brands.

We’re not going to get into how to create the creative for each of these assets. We will have some tips and frameworks to build out the creative assets based on the Brand Story Guide, which is also part of the Story Funnel methodology.

In general, you’ll need the following brand assets to start your Hook Stage:

  • Website (WordPress, Webflow, etc)
  • Landing Pages on Website for various offers + messages
  • Email marketing account (Autopilot, etc)
  • Ability to Sign Up for a Newsletter on your site
  • Ad accounts on various platforms (Google, Facebook, etc.)
  • Website Analytics account (Google, etc)
  • eCommerce Account or a way to take orders.

Setting up Dashboards

Ideally, all of the above metrics (including the ones for Build and Payoff) will be available on one Dashboard. There are several great dashboard products available that would do the trick. For now, we’re not going to recommend one or the other or even how to set them up. Rather, we’ll just assume, for now, that you’re going to track all these metrics via some sort of spreadsheet. We know, it’s a bit manual but we will never be able to consider all the great tools out there until we probably build our own or partner with someone else.

Next up, we’ll start the Build stage which is when a prospect buys something.

Are you ready to start building customers?

Hooking ProspectsStory Funnel

Jarie Bolander

Jarie is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by nature with over 25 years of startup experience. He has also written 6 books about business and entrepreneurship.