Is the traditional marketing funnel a thing of the past?

At One Egg, when we start a new project we often begin with a strategic consultation.  These conversations often take place within the framework of the marketing funnel. We try to understand which parts of the funnel we can most effectively target and then how we tune our messages appropriately on the relevant ad platform.  However, we believe that the traditional funnel concept is outdated in the digital age. Customer decision journeys are not only shaped differently, they are faster, have a lot more touch points and then continue after purchase. Where the traditional funnel is wide at the top and thins towards purchase, the modern journey starts relatively thin and widens out in the middle.  

There is no shortage of articles you can read on the web claiming how the marketing funnel is dead, however few of them offer alternative solutions.  Edelman’s analysis of the Customer Decision Journey (CDJ) is one of the stronger alternatives we’ve found as it provides a practical framework for marketing to customers along this journey.  We believe that this CDJ is unique to each industry and market research is essential. In this article we review the new CDJ and provide insight into its application in crafting a digital marketing marketing strategy.

The Traditional Marketing Funnel

The marketing funnel has been around for a long time, it was first proposed in the form of the AIDA model in 1898. The traditional marketing funnel maps a customers journey which begins with an awareness stage at the wide top of the funnel.  This continues through a thinner consideration stage and through to a purchase stage.

The funnel starts out wide at the top since at the awareness stage a customer has the largest amounts of brands and products to consider.  These are refined as the customer moves down the funnel until the final product is decided upon and purchased.

This funnel was appropriate in the past, but the way customers shop and interact with brands has changed in the digital age, the funnel which maps this journey needs to be revised.  

Customer Decision Journey

In his Harvard Business Review article: ‘Branding in the Digital Age’, David Edelman writes about the consumer decision journey.   He talks about how we can no longer expect the predictable path where a shopper begins with a number of brands in mind and then slowly narrows them down until purchase.  That is just not how we shop these days.

Rather Edelman proposes 4 stages:

I’ve summarised these stages but I’ve also added my own interpretation.  I’ve made some small changes and departures from Edelman:

Consider: The consumer considers a selection of brands, often because they have heard about it from a peer

Evaluate: The consumer looks to understand more about these brands.  They might ask peers, read reviews, compare and research online.  They will throw out some brands and add in others. The funnel is fluid at this stage and might become wider.

Buy: This can happen in-store or online and remains a strong touch point.  In the previous model this is given more weight then it likely deserves.  Brands spend here to ensure the sale is secured.

Enjoy, advocate, bond: The most underappreciated touch point in the traditional model and often not even included. We’ve come to realise that consumers likely research the product even more after they have purchased it.  They might spend longer on your site at this stage then at any previous time. Providing a good experience here is critical. A consumer that has a good experience with the brand will turn into an advocator, which is the strongest form of marketing.   It will influence others at their ‘Consider’ and ‘Evaluate’ stage.

Purchasing a Blender

I recently decided to purchase a blender.  When I think back to how this idea came into my mind, I recall that I saw a blender at my neighbour’s house.  On noticing me eyeballing his Nutribullet, my neighbour told me that it’s a fantastic blender. I started the Consideration phase with just one brand and was influenced by a brand advocator who was happy with his product.  As an advocator he didn’t even need to be asked, he automatically wanted to promote the product. 

Still in the consideration phase, my next step was to head online and learn more about this Nutribullet.  I started to see competing brands and now I had created a basket of goods in my mind that I believed were similar.

I then entered quickly into the Evaluate stage where I found myself reading reviews on each blender and beginning to understanding the pros and cons of each type.  I threw some blenders out of my basket in my mind and added some others. I read many reviews on Amazon and even tried to compare them against each other.  In this case the comparison didn’t work to well for me, but the reviews were critical. As soon as I read one negative thing about any particular model it sent my head into a whirl thinking ‘this can’t be good!’  At this stage I was mainly interacting with ‘earned media’. 

I even found myself in a physical store shortly afterwards where I found myself  asking the advice of the store owner, I was still in the evaluate stage but now interacting with owned media.

I did move through to the purchase stage in the sense that I decided on a model I liked and started to look for sales / promotions.  However I never ended up making the purchase. Although I am sure if I did, I’d be researching and reading a lot about my blender after buying it, to put my mind at rest that I got a deal and that my blender is better than my neighbours!

Only with Market Research

Thinking about the funnel in this way makes you realise that each journey is industry specific.  Travel insurance, for example takes a completely different path. On a possible journey, once the customer has booked his or her flights they will realise they need insurance.  There will likely be a lot of time spent on comparison and investigating differences in insurances as well as pricing. The point is that every industry has a unique CDJ and in fact every customer has a unique CDJ.  Only through market research a picture can be built up in each industry to understand it better and invest properly in marketing to it.

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