“The Funnel Is Dead” Must Die

3 Reasons This Assertion Is Downright Silly 

I just read my 34,897th article espousing that the funnel is dead, never to return again.

Although many of these pieces are simply a eulogy for a non-digital world, several offer their own graphical representation of the new path from brand obscurity to rabid fan base.

So we now have inverted funnels. Hourglass funnels. Upside-down funnels (which look suspiciously like pyramids). Funnel clouds. Funnel cakes. Concentric circles (which are supposed to be a funnel viewed from the aperture, apparently). Each of these claims to be a more accurate representation of the path customers follow in the information age.

Well, in the words of the world’s favorite Keeper of the Keys and Grounds: Codswallop.

All of these new models, structures and frameworks are just rehashing or re-framing something that really didn’t need to be fixed in the first place. See, the path to purchase is alive and well. Here’s why:

1) Purchase steps may be combined, but never skipped

The consumer progression from awareness => opinion => consideration => purchase intent cannot be denied.  Think about it:

  • You can’t have an opinion on something if you aren’t aware it exists;
  • You wouldn’t seriously consider buying something (e.g. put it on your short list) if you don’t think favorably of it; and
  • you won’t purchase something you didn’t think was the best option at the moment of truth.

Now, these steps can sometimes occur in rapid succession. The perfect example: Saturday morning at Costco.

Let’s say I’m wandering through the warehouse and happen upon a sampling station for a new English white cheddar cheese. As I fend off the grabby 9-year-olds (haven’t your parents taught you how to be passive-aggressive in public settings yet?) to claim my toothpick-impaled white cube and drop it into my mouth, I have completed the first 3 levels of the funnel (awareness, opinion and consideration) with a single bend of my elbow. And if I like the flavor/texture/price combination, I’ll throw one of the vacuum-wrapped blocks into my oversized cart before I even leave the station.

So now I’ve completed all 4 steps in about 4 seconds. But sadly for the marketing team:

  • I never viewed their clever, overproduced TV ad making me aware that this new product is the best thing to hit America from the UK since Pan Am flight 101;
  • I didn’t read a review by the Cheese Whisperer (yes, she’s real) on the merits of this particular cheddar to shape my opinion on the product;
  • I hadn’t even added cheese to my list that morning, so I did not highlight this brand as one of the three finalists for consideration on my cheddar short list.

But here I am: aware, opinionated and – without even considering other cheddar options – on my way to purchase this product. And if anyone asks about that block of cheese in my cart as I stroll by, I may potentially even engage in advocacy.

But you can’t deny the basic linearity of the path – even when it occurs quickly.

2) Even before digital, information-gathering has never been a one-way street

There have been countless articles explaining that – now that we have this internet thingy – people don’t just combine steps, they actually bounce back and forth between content and messages. Can you imagine? This is the very same content we marketers had designed for a specific way point along a linear purchase path. You can’t consume this stuff out of order, right?

But seriously, when did we ever think we could truly control content and messaging in a structured, consistent path anyway?  Long before Al Gore created the internet, people have always gathered information and formed opinions about products with whatever they had available (and with no regard for our outbound messaging plans).

Growing up, there was a single source of unbiased product reviews in my home: Consumer Reports. This monthly magazine was a great resource for Americans forming opinions on products, and I remember my dad perusing it frequently. Even as he “moved down the funnel” for larger purchases, he sometimes returned to the magazine to consider different brands than he originally had set out to explore.

People have been moving up and down the funnel since the beginning of time.

So as marketers, we should already be resigned to the fact that people may jump in the middle of our well-designed, sequential messaging strategy. Now, we can either flame out, quit marketing and pursue a different passion (concert cello, particle physics, brain surgery … whatever your fallback was in college) – or we can intentionally design our content strategy with this serendipity in mind. As I’ve written previously, concluding any piece of content without a call to action (CTA) to take the next step of engagement is a huge missed opportunity.

3) Destroying the funnel will not solve for a lack of brand consistency across messaging

My friend and colleague Scott Monty cites that consumers are assaulted with over 3,500 brand messages DAILY. Combine this with the erratic, tangential path the modern consumer takes (as Drew Davis so brilliantly illustrates in his quest for meatloaf) and you can see why so many marketers have attempted to forego the basics and resort to desperate measures.

Which [SPOILER ALERT] almost never, ever works out.

When brands do anything and everything to get eyeballs, we see both odd stunts that go strangely wrong and companies jumping into inappropriate social media conversations in ways that are unnoticed (at best) or do nothing but create consumer backlash (at worst). Awareness and notoriety are not the same thing.

A well-designed brand strategy begets a consistent messaging approach. This consistency will span time, platforms and channels; a unique, authentic brand voice should work everywhere (contact my friend Jennifer Zick at Authentic Brand if you need assistance with this). Once you have your voice, when designing a customer-focused messaging strategy, each touch point should: 1) meet the customer where they are in the process; and also 2) pull them into a deeper conversation about your products and services with a great next step CTA. This will not easily happen if you engage in one-off tactics that maximize platform effectiveness over voice uniformity.

Now I love click-bait as much as the next person (there really were 25 Things I Didn’t Know About Caddyshack), but the fundamentals of marketing cannot be dismissed by a snappy article title declaring the demise of something. And while it’s true that technology has given people access to more information than ever – which means they may bounce around, change their minds and get distracted at an alarming rate – there is still an underlying process through which they will ultimately arrive at a purchase.

So as marketing professionals, regardless of the path a customer chooses (I’m a big fan of Jeremy Bearimy), marketers need to make sure that every touch point is consistent in message and tone – and always give customers a CTA to go a level deeper with the brand. Heck, some might even call it moving them down the funnel.

Now if it’s all the same to you, someone said funnel cake about 1,000 words ago, so I’m going to head to Valley Fair to get one before my annual pass runs out. Oh, and if you like the messy mash up of marketing and dessert, check out my post on how Digital Media is Like Ice Cream.

Alex Hultgren is Chief Marketing Officer of Quantum Storey, the world’s first Virtual Reality Book company. As a marketing instigator, funnel phoenix and internationally recognized digital & social expert, Alex is a sought-after consultant, speaker and author. Follow him at http://www.linkedin/in/alexhultgren.

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