What Freakin’ Funnel? An Outmoded Marketing Model

The purchase funnel is one of those reassuring myths, like Santa Claus or Keanu Reeves’ acting ability, that help soothe us, make us feel there’s a measure of stability and invariability in the world.  It has also become, unfortunately, a crock.

It’s a crock because it’s a crutch for shortsighted thinking, a deterministic folly: I’ve known many marketers who feel that getting prospects into the funnel at the Awareness end puts them on a marketing engagement assembly line that inevitably spits out a sale on the other side.  Ergo, marketing and message strategies should be aligned in an incremental way to steers consumers through a tidy engagement chain.

But the real world of consumer engagement, the evolving real world, isn’t tidy anymore.

The best view of how consumers engage with brands?  It’s a cloud. Potential marketing touchpoints  aren’t orderly – they impinge on consumer awareness and consideration in a kind of Brownian motion, from all sides, at all times.  Thanks to mobile and social and more, people can also reach out and engage in ways that allow them to adjust the communication and transactional mix to suit themselves – not the marketer.

But the real problem isn’t with the model.  It’s with the mentality.

“Marketing” needs to be about sales, first and foremost – about moving the needle at every touchpoint, every encounter.  But the funnel assumes a hierarchical structure where sales are an outcome driven by traditional branding, by an orderly consideration process that can be somehow managed by the C-suites and their agencies.

It’s a world-view traditional marketers and traditional agencies have grown comfortable with, and it’s mistaken.  Which is why models like this are inherently reactive, lagging behind consumer behaviors being shaped by contingencies, dialogues and interactions occurring in accelerating ways the old models just can’t explain – or leverage.

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