Why the marketing 'funnel' is really a 'loop'
The concept of the marketing funnel, based on the sales funnel, has been around for more than 100 years. It has traditionally centred on a very linear customer journey of Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action.
The funnel exists in remarkably similar forms across B2B, B2C and D2C marketing, and while these four aspects of the funnel may have served everyone until recently, the fact is, in the information age, the funnel can no longer be 'linear' because the customer journey is no longer linear.
The funnel has always been treated like a 'definite journey' with a beginning, middle and an end, with different activities for different locations in the funnel. But this is no longer relevant.
There are four main reasons the marketing funnel of 'old' is no longer relevant:
The customer journey is no longer linear. Customers rarely start at the top and make a straight journey to the bottom.
Customers can enter the funnel at any point and exit at any point.
The customer journey doesn’t end at purchase.
The funnel no longer predicts anything about the customer.
Customers no longer purchase the way they once did
Customers no longer make purchases in one way. Now, customers like to inform themselves, do research, check out reviews and purchase in a way that suits them. They might enter the funnel at any given point, pop back out of it, only to re-enter at a different point to purchase at a location or site completely different to the one they first encountered.
Touchpoints that work for some customers aren’t going to work for others. Basically, the customer has a goal that they are going to try and achieve in their own way, which suits them. They don’t want to be shuffled through a process that only suits a business’ goals of driving to purchase. They are unpredictable and happy to be so.
The funnel don't tell us anything about the consumer
Because the consumer is so different, a century old sales funnel no longer tells us anything meaningful about them. It doesn’t tell us when they might purchase and it doesn’t tell us anything about what they are thinking and feeling. By trying to force them down a funnel, marketers are ignoring what they want.
Loyalty and the marketing 'loop'
The funnel of old also discounts the importance of customer loyalty. The customer journey does not end with purchase. In fact, if a business delights a consumer at purchase, this could well be where the journey begins. That customer will go on to be a repeat customer, as well as an advocate. We all know it's cheaper to keep an existing customer and upsell that it is to get new ones. This concept is what forms an integral part of the marketing 'loop'.
Marketing is vital at all stages
It used to be marketing mainly addressed the awareness aspect of the funnel. But given consumers can start and end their journey at any point, marketing also needs to address every touchpoint. Marketing needs to address all aspects, including post-purchase, in an omnichannel way, to delight and surprise customers no matter what stage they are up to.
Customers are tired of being 'promoted' to. They are bombarded with messages daily, and are no longer interesting in hearing messages unless they are relevant and trustworthy. And they won’t take you word for it, they will absolutely do their research. So put gaining consumer trust at the heart of everything you do and say. It is worth building that relationship at all stages.
Marketing outside the funnel
All this doesn’t mean marketing has to be excessively complicated. In fact, all marketing activity, no matter what stage it sits in, needs to centre around one this: The customer.
There have been various updates to the funnel including the marketing loop and lifecycle marketing, and all of these are certainly more relevant to the customer today.
Be relevant. Rather than addressing a certain aspect of the funnel with marketing, simply make all your marketing materials relevant to the consumer. When the customer becomes the sole focus of endeavours, rather than a particular outcome, materials are relevant across different points.
Use your data. We now know more about the customer journey than ever before thanks to data. We don’t need to make marketing about addressing a linear journey, we can personalise individual journeys very effectively and automate actions from certain triggers.
Use an omnichannel approach. Customers aren’t in just one place, so you shouldn’t be either. They want information from you, partners, media, reviewers, and your existing customers. So be sure to be in all these places.
Create loyalty. The journey doesn’t end at purchase. Be sure to include marketing materials for those who are already customers. Surprise and delight can lead to upsell, as well as advocacy.
The customer comes first. Stop trying to make customers do what you want them to do, and instead help them achieve what they want to achieve in the way they want to do it.
Ultimately customers are 'going to behave like customers', whether they are shopping in their personal time, or making large-scale business purchasing decisions. Great experiences will become the new benchmark, regardless of where they occur in the journey.
Vanessa Mitchell is the Director of Content and Communications at AZK Media