The Evil ISIS Sales Funnel: Deconstructed



You can learn a lot about sales funnels by watching the news...

Turn on the TV right now or type the address of any news site into your browser. Chances are that no matter the story, there is a sales funnel underneath it.

You just have to dig it out.

Let’s take one of the most talked about headlines for example: the US presidential campaign.

It’s one of the largest sales funnels in history. In fact, the campaign of each candidate has converted tens of millions of dollars from regular people month after month (more on how this happens in a future article).

But, this article isn’t about the US presidential election at all.

It’s about another headline you’ve probably seen.

And, it’s one example you might not have considered. An example that many may worry about, while visiting in New York or while vacationing abroad in France.

Understanding evil is a controversial topic for most. I understand that.

Yet, I believe there is always a useful takeaway to be found.

This article will examine how a ragtag terrorist group emerged from the rubble in Syria and Iraq to become a word on the tip of the tongue of every major world leader and newscast.

This includes an examination of the global marketing funnel that ISIS setup to find prospects, convert them into radical extremists and move them further down their funnel--to the point of deadly action.

This is the ISIS sales funnel: deconstructed.

Where does one start to understand the sales funnel of ISIS?

Well, like anything, start with the main goal... and the rest falls into place. You can follow the thread to unravel the stages leading back to the goal.

Let’s Look At How the ISIS Sales Funnel Is Structured

We can gather that the conversion goal of the ISIS group is not singular. Actually, their goal is two-fold with a larger objective and a smaller one.

According to CNN, the main objective of the ISIS group is to start an apocalyptic war against the “non-believers” and create a global government that enforces their ideas…

No comment from the group on which comes first.

isis sales funnel.png

Now that we know the singular conversion goal, it’s easy to see how every stage in their funnel is tied to trying to achieve it.

The top of the ISIS funnel is filled when they succeed at carrying out violent attacks, such as the Paris nightclub attacks which claimed over 100 civilian lives.

They know the media around the world will cover it. This brings them massive exposure, as well as instilling mass fear and anger.


The secondary stage in their funnel deals with recruitment. The global media exposure ensure that they get plenty of attention online--on social media, forums, and various website.

Some of that attention translates into people signing up to join ISIS.

This can be in the form of travel to Syria. Or in the form of organizing attacks remotely on behalf of the group.

Possibly the most surprising fact about these “converted” leads in the ISIS sales funnel is that a significant number of ISIS fighters are neither Iraqi nor Syrian.

As the BBC reported, “in October 2015, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen told Congress that the group had attracted more than 28,000 foreign fighters. They included at least 5,000 Westerners, approximately 250 of them Americans.”

The image below shows their message’s reach and effectiveness to date.


How do they do it?

Simple: by making an offer with unique benefits and compelling marketing content.

The 4 “Selling Points” in the ISIS Funnel

ISIS doesn’t skimp on the important part of marketing.

They know their Unique Selling Proposition, and communicate it through their key Selling Points.

These were gathered from researching various articles and newscasts.

Here are the top 4 selling points of ISIS laid out:

  1. “Glory as a soldier” which appeals to the need for recognition or attention
  2. “Adherence to an extreme religious vision” which appeals to the need for belonging and unity
  3. “3 wife / wives” which appeals to the need for power and sexual gratification 
  4. “Compensation as a soldier” which appeals to the desire for wealth 

ISIS’ selling points work to play to a potential recruit’s emotional desires.

Leveraging emotion, some may call it a cheap trick, but it always drives conversion.

One expert who has researched ISIS virtual recruiting (PDF) methods, he noted that belonging is a hot button for the ISIS Sales Funnel.

Islamic State disseminated a series of videos that championed the idea of belonging. They depicted Western foreign fighters sitting together on grassy hillocks and in children-filled parks, calling upon their fellow extremists to join them in the land of the ‘caliphate’.”

Videos like this are professionally edited, with music added. Music also influences emotion as we say in our previous Star Wars two-part article.

Beyond professionally polished videos, they have their own magazine and websites.

Websites which promote ISIS released videos, and show a "glorious" view of what it's like to be an ISIS soldier fighting on the front lines.

The group also has its own magazine, in which they teach potential followers how to make bombs and carry out attacks.

Yup, you could call it content marketing. Perhaps even a lead magnet design to attract and convert the passive online followers.

Speaking of followers, their social media presence is also well documented. Members and advocates of ISIS spread memes and tweets across the social media landscape, many of which I won’t show here.

Here’s a couple of examples from CNN showing how they appeal to their target market: young, english speaking adult males.

On Instagram, there was a photo referencing the popular video game, Call of Duty. On Twitter, a tweet telling readers to "put the chicken wings down n come to Jihad bro."

Note the casual language, and the mention of pop culture reference with the video game.

Here’s a final note on why their sales funnel is effective...

ISIS’ Sales Funnel and the Psychology of Winning

ISIS would not be known today if it wasn’t for the massive momentum it built in its first fourteen months in existence.

It gobbled up territory across the middle-east, slaughtering it’s way towards the capital of Iraq.

At the time, ISIS was winning.

That, combined with their message - a message of US vs. THEM, dividing the world into believers and non-believers.

In psychology, this is an example of Social Identity Theory at work.

Groups give us a sense of social identity: a sense of belonging to the social world.

In order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong. For example, England is the best country in the world!  We can also increase our self-image by discriminating and holding prejudice views against the out group (the group we don’t belong to). For example, the Americans, French etc. are a bunch of losers!...

Social identity theory states that the in-group will discriminate against the out-group to enhance their self-image.

ISIS winning streak helped increase conversion rates for new recruits. And those new recruits signed up because it was a double-win: meeting a deeper emotional need and being part of the winning team.


The ISIS sales funnel is a high functioning machine. The fuel? Fear.

They bottle fear and sell it.

They know violence divides, polarises and spreads rapidly through the media. This also ensures their message gets out to potential recruits, and scares the public.

Terrorist attacks are their case studies, a form of “social proof” that they are somehow winning. They also put out polished videos of fighters on the front lines.

All of these elements come together to push people further down the funnel.

At each stage, they become more susceptible to the messaging, and become more qualified as leads.

Until they convert.

The Takeaway?

I wish I could say there are no takeaways from this funnel, but that simply isn’t true.

The strength of ISIS’ sales funnel has played a large role in their “success” to date.

Fortunately, there have been many counter-measures put in place (by nations, even by Google) to disrupt of the various stages of their online marketing funnel.

So here’s the real takeaway I want you to walk away with after you’ve seen all this information.

It’s not about ISIS in particular, but about the nature of persuasion and manipulation.

The takeaway is that sales funnels are everywhere.

To ignore a funnel of this scale would be a mistake.

Instead, take a closer look at the levers that are being pulled.

And when you see the next news headline, watch closely. See if you can dig out the underlying funnel.

You may be surprised.

What’d you think of this breakdown? Is there another major story that has a hidden sales funnel?

Let me know in the comments.

Keep Hustlin’, Stay Focused



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