The Marketing Funnel, Rube Goldberg and the New Customer Lifecycle

Perhaps you are familiar with what is known as the marketing or purchase funnel, which is segmented into four stages – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action (AIDA). It’s a highly-regarded, long-held marketing concept. It’s also a concept whose heyday may have passed.

Purchase Funnel

Funnel Concept is Old Hat

Forrester, a well-known marketing research firm, has devoted a great deal of study to the purchase funnel and drawn this conclusion: in the era of the participatory web, the funnel is old hat.

Forrester suggests the following reasons why the funnel is no longer valid:

  • Consumer behavior is less funnel-like;
  • Loyalty and word-of-mouth are not represented;
  • The funnel neglects customer lifetime value.

Given the way that people research brands, products and services, I agree with Forrester’s conclusion. Instead, what was once a funnel now looks more like a Rube Goldberg invention.

Funnel as Rube Goldberg invention

Today, people begin the research process using search engines, primarily Google. If you’ve done a good job of optimizing your website for search, then perhaps you’ll get lucky and it will appear in the first 10-20 returns.

But that’s where things tend to run off the rails. Depending on the product category, it’s at that point – if not sooner – that people turn to a variety of means to glean more information:

  • Advice from family and friends (including those in social networks);
  • Peer-to-peer ratings and reviews;
  • Expert voices;
  • Competitor’s offerings.

People seek information from a variety of sources.
[NOTE: This is especially true in B2B environments where the product or service under consideration is likely more expensive and the sales cycle is lengthier and more complex.]

For example, if I’m in the market to buy a car, I may visit the dealer’s website, but I might also ask my friends what they think, as well as visit other sites such as Edmunds, Cars.com or Kelly Blue Book. In addition, I’ll see what other dealers have to offer and even read what some bloggers whose opinions I respect have to say. To be sure, I’ll do my research in order to be well-informed before walking into the dealer’s showroom.

(And the same holds true whether I’m in the market for a healthcare provider, a new home, or oilfield services company.)

But Forrester takes this concept one step further and suggests that, in light of the effect social media has on the purchase process, what we’re dealing with is no longer a funnel, but a lifecycle, which puts the consumer in the driver’s seat (pun intended).

Customer lifecycle

Forrest recommends that businesses rethink the funnel concept in favor of the lifecycle for the following reasons:

  • The funnel concept is beginning to fray;
  • The lifecycle is a better fit for digital marketing;
  • It puts customers at the center;
  • It involves entire brand experience; and
  • It describes an ongoing relationship with the customer.

New Concepts Call for New Marketing Methods

This new paradigm brings with it the need for a new marketing approach, one focused on educating and interacting with the buyer at all points along the journey. That’s where content marketing and social media play a vital role.

In its report on the new customer lifecycle, research firm McKinsey said this:

“Marketers have long been aware of profound changes in the way consumers research and buy products. Yet a failure to change the focus of marketing to match that evolution has undermined the core goal of reaching customers at the moments that most influence their purchases.”

Google has already changed its algorithm to reflect this new way of thinking and now provides search returns that favor deeper content. Not only that, but search has taken on a much more social flavor.

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the importance of implementing a content plan and the need to have a presence in social media.

With that in mind, let me suggest this three-step model.

Three-step model
Have a Home Base

That’s your website. (Yes, your company website still plays an important role.) It’s where people can learn more about your company and its products or services, and is the place where marketing transactions are most likely to take place – lead generation, sales, etc.

But your site can no longer remain static, or what we at Bizzuka refer to as an “electronic brochure.” It needs to be updated with new content on a routine basis. That’s where the second step comes in.

Build a Media Empire

I’m talking about creating content in the form of blog posts, videos, images, infographics, ebooks, white papers, and other downloadable assets. (It’s likely you’ve already amassed a collection of useable collateral.)

Put all of this on your website. A blog is an excellent resource to archive such content. Landing pages tied to specific calls to action is another.

That may sound like a lot of work, and it is. One way you can cut down on the amount of time required is to re-purpose or remix content that you create.

For example, take a blog post and turn it into a webinar or ebook, which you then offer in exchange for visitors completing a form that contains their name, company, email address and other contact information. Alternatively, you can take a video and use it as the basis for a blog post. Press releases count, too, so include those from time-to-time.

Then, you could use this content as fodder for an email newsletter, similar to what we do with our monthly newsletter, Bizzuka eBurst.

Syndicate to Social Media Outposts

The final step involves social media. Don’t think of social as your home base, but as outposts or destinations.

What advantages does social media offer? It’s where people gather and are more likely to see and interact with your content. Therefore, it makes sense to syndicate such content to sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.

Your choice of channels depends largely on where your customers actively participate. For B2C, that usually means Facebook and Twitter. For B2B, it could be LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter.

In addition to publishing to these sites, you need to interact with those who comment, like and share your content. That can be accomplished more effectively with the use of a social media management application such as Hootsuite, Sprout Social or Nimble.

Conclusion

Instead of simply targeting audiences, we have to participate in communities of practice where our customers and prospects gather, then gently take them by the hand and lead them back to our website.

To say that social media has turned marketing on its head is an understatement. We’re experiencing is a polarity shift in communication from top-down to bottom-up because people put more trust in what their friends and others like themselves have to say than advertising messages from marketers.

These days, “markets are conversations” and “conversations are markets.” Let’s join in the conversation by providing helpful content for each stage in the buyer’s journey, and interact with customers and prospects all along the way. Hopefully, both the content and interaction will motivate them to visit our home base where we can exert more pro-active influence on their purchase decision.