There are a good number of marketers and analysts who have concluded that the marketing funnel is dead or flattened. The problem, as Sequentia Environics Chief Strategist Jen Evans explains, is that “marketing has fundamentally changed, and many in the profession are struggling to catch up.”
What caused the marketing funnel to flatten was the rise of the Internet and social media. As Ken Mueller of Inkling Media writes, “You can take the traditional funnel and step on it. Run it over with a steam roller. Flatten it out. That’s what social media does.”
Today prospects gather information, perform activities and express opinions at different touchpoints or entry points-on corporate websites, product review sites, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and through a variety of email correspondences (transactional, newsletter, request for information, etc.).
The problem, as Technology Analyst David Raab explains, is that the purchase process is no longer linear, and marketers cannot control how buyers move through it. Because of this, says Raab, “the marketing funnel is really and sincerely dead.”
Similarly, McKinsey & Co.’s David Court, drawing on a study his firm performed involving 20,000 consumers, argues that the traditional funnel concept “fails to capture all the touch points and buying factors resulting from the explosion of product choices and digital channels.” On top of this, he says, is the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumer.
The new environment has thrown marketers for a loop, says Jen Evans, particularly the loss of control in the face of a host of new touchpoints. “The framework by which marketers understand marketing,” Evans says, “is not set up for a non-campaign world where they don’t control timelines and control only experiences.”
Evans describes the new buying paradigm as a complex process with multiple stops, starts, and options. Each potential customer will move through the process in unique ways, and no two routes to that sale are exactly the same.
The best marketers can hope to do in such an environment, Evans says, is to manage the process so that even though all roads may not lead to Rome, eventually all roads lead to, and through, digital “toll booths” of content and information exchange.
Similarly, David Raab likens the new environment to a maze in which buyers can follow different paths and can end up at the goal, go in circles indefinitely or exit without reaching the goal. To win business in the maze requires skill on the marketer’s part to deliver quality and effective buyer experiences, he says.
New Methodologies Help Marketers Succeed in the Flattened Funnel
As these experts point out, traditional marketing approaches fall short in the new customer landscape. Thus, we see new methodologies emerging to help marketers succeed in the world of the flattened funnel, including Neil Rosen’s Chatter Marketing and Tony Zambito’s Buyerology.
Chatter Marketing involves sending triggered emails in response to prospects’ real-time activities on the Internet, or what Rosen calls Now Data.
Zambito’s Buyerology approach calls for the creation of buyer personas and mapping out the way buyers gather information and make their decisions. Zambito is in agreement that “conventional funnel thinking is woefully inadequate in today’s B2B buyer landscape and is limited in the ability to address new and evolving complexities.”
McKinsey & Co.’s David Court offers guidance to help marketers navigate what he calls “the customer’s decision journey” in the new buyer landscape. To succeed, he contends, it is critical for marketers to adopt more sophisticated approaches that enable them to be in the right place at the right time with the right information.
With studies showing that email is the most popular activity among users, including mobile devices, email marketing becomes a key channel for succeeding in the new nonlinear environment. Email marketers, however, must learn and master a new set of tools-including the use of social media and website monitoring tools and triggered email systems.
The skills gained in email segmentation and personalization can be applied to the real-time targeting of customer touchpoints. Demographic appending can provide the missing customer profiling data, while email validation and correction services can help marketers improve data quality to achieve better results.
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Photo Credit: Eva the Weaver