Is the Marketing Funnel Dead or on Life Support?

“Is the marketing funnel dead?”

It’s a question that’s been asked many times throughout 2020.

It’s even caused some marketers to get into heated debates about it.

There’s no need to get all twisted up inside about the sales and marketing funnel.

While some directors of marketing, marketing managers, chief marketing officers, etc. believe it’s obsolete, others believe it’s transformed.

I reached out to my fellow marketers to learn what they had to say about the funnel.

I’ll let you know what I think at the end.

The Debate about the Marketing Funnel

Michael Glover, Content Marketer, ConvertFlow

The marketing funnel isn’t dead. However, I think marketers are becoming more and more aware of the fact that people don’t usually interact with a funnel in the linear way we’d like them to. It still makes sense to create many different types of content aligned to a funnel, that are designed to serve people at various stages of the buyer’s journey. But it’s also not uncommon for visitors to come to your website several times, from several different channels, and interact with it in several different ways—sometimes converting on the first interaction, sometimes taking multiple over a long period.

Instead, I think we as marketers should focus on a) segmentation; and b) personalizing the user experience based on that segmentation data. This means asking new visitors about the specific problems they’re facing through relevant technologies like chatbots, quizzes, and segmentation surveys. Then guiding them toward relevant website content and, in turn, down the most appropriate funnel for their needs.

Kimberly Smith, Marketing Manager, Clarify Capital

The marketing funnel was always meant to serve as a guideline for the relationship between consumer and brand. It’s inherently flawed because it’s based on the assumption that the consumer will always interact with the brand in a linear fashion. In actuality, we understand that consumers have a much more fluid relationship with brands and as such, a strong marketing strategy considers the many entry and exit points across consumers.

Because customers are not necessarily moving through the marketing funnel in a sequential and uniform manner, it’s important for marketing strategies to be flexible and fluid. The best way to accomplish this is to focus on personalization and targeting on an individual level.

By communicating with consumers in a customized manner, brands avoid the problem of fitting a square into a circle. Rather, strong marketing initiatives bend to the shape of each consumer. In this way, it’s crucial to have a process in place capable of meeting the needs of consumers, wherever they are. As marketers, we need to focus on implementing dynamic models, in order to build and strengthen brand-consumer relationships.

Adam Rizzieri, Chief Marketing Officer, Agency Partner Interactive

In 2021, businesses have to recognize that the marketing funnel is neither dead nor is it truly linear. Ai and marketing technology have enabled brands to more rapidly create awareness and most top of funnel marketing activity takes place with little human-to-human interaction. After that initial awareness is created, a marketing funnel is more circular and considerate of the fact that the buyer’s journey may restart with consideration for recurring and repeat product or service offerings.

While it is true that a marketing lead can move backward in a marketing funnel, there is often an outside influence that creates this type of behavior. In these cases, brands simply have to be ready to nurture and gain trust through periodic messaging that shares relevant value. In a nutshell, marketers have to fully understand the entire customer lifecycle and how it shapes the marketing funnel.

Ruth Plater, CEO, Radial Path

Traditional forms of lead generation are no longer relevant in today’s market. Trade shows, cold calls, and other forms of lead gen which naturally created an “in one end, out the other” marketing funnel are quickly becoming obsolete and unattractive to the modern and research-savvy consumer. As we move into 2021, marketers should focus on a more agile, flexible approach to the customer journey – think of it instead as a continuous path rather than a funnel. Leads shouldn’t drop out and become forgotten once they’ve purchased from you, and their role certainly shouldn’t narrow. With so many avenues to reach consumers from, you can continue to engage and be a positive presence within their daily lives. Create a choose-your-own-adventure style minigame which subtly features your products. Leverage AI to create a hyper-personalized experience on your website. The opportunities are endless (and exciting). Take advantage of the amazing technology available to marketers in 2021, and break out of the restrictive, redundant funnel.

Chris Norris, Certified Sleep Science Coach, Founder/Managing Editor

Besides being the business founder, I also manage the marketing side of my company. The marketing funnel is a step by step procedure on how to persuade consumers on purchasing your products and services. Nowadays, they said that the marketing funnel is dead, but I believe it is not, it just changed. Due to the different trends in marketing that came out, the marketing funnel wasn’t religiously followed anymore. There were just some twists marketers did that can comply with the demands of marketing in the new era. The stages are still existing, but they aren’t followed in sequence like it used to.

Businesses should prepare for 2021 and focus on digital marketing since everyone is now using the internet for both leisure and business purposes. The use of different social media platforms is the most effective way to market a brand because of the number of its users, making your brand more visible in the market. However, businesses should invest time and effort in creating engaging content to gain interests, and that will eventually turn into leads and potential customers.

Laura Fuentes, Infinity Dish

The marketing funnel, in a lot of ways, has been obsolete for quite some time. As more and more people turned to the internet to buy goods, they also turned to the internet to do their own research and have personal with products and companies and their competitors at the same time. Marketing is much more a circle now; people may enter the circle at various stages, so the key is to keep them engaged until they buy. The circle should look something like engage, learn, research, buy; people matt bypass the buy section several times before they commit. But once they make a purchase, the marketing shouldn’t stop; instead, keep them interacting with your product and your company. This can include ways for them to unlock special features on your website, links to different ways to use the product, and the “if you like this, then you’ll love this” tactic via email and text offers. The end game is to keep your consumers always engaged in some step of the process.

Steven Lord, Marketing Manager, Digital Next

Marketing funnels in the traditional sense are dead. Customers are not linear and therefore a linear funnel no longer works. Whereas the traditional marketing funnel consisted of five stages (awareness, interest, desire, action and retention) the digital revolution has resulted in the birth of many more stages to consider. What used to look like an upside-down triangle, now looks like a looping hourglass where new customers can appear at any stage of the process.

A modern-day marketing funnel consists of the following stages.

  • Awareness
  • Engagement
  • Consideration
  • Purchase
  • Adoption
  • Retention
  • Expansion
  • Advocacy

The retention of customers is no longer the last stop on the train line. However, this provides a great opportunity for businesses. Before, you would be required to spend huge amounts of money to consistently attract ‘new’ interest. Today, by understanding what really makes your customers tick, you are now gifted with a great opportunity to transform customers into brand ambassadors. There is no better marketing manager than your customers. For 2021 and beyond, businesses should pay as much attention to finding new ways that loyal customers can spread key messages on your behalf as you do to attract first-time visitors to your brand.

Christina Everett, Digital Marketing Manager, Rival IQ

The marketing funnel is certainly alive, though I’m not sure that it should be. Short answer: it’s not enough to rely on a linear funnel to get your leads to convert.

The modern marketing playbook includes a wider net of tailored content in every stage of the buyer journey, like remarketing campaigns, useful and widely distributed content, continuous re-engagement, and more. With purchasing behaviors changing so rapidly, it’s vital for marketers to continue to provide valuable information without expectation of the next stage. The key to being successful in this new marketing approach is accurate data tracking to make sure every marketing effort is fully optimized and given proper attribution.

Caleb Riutta, CEO, Dusk Digital

I have never been obsessed with the theory of marketing funnels in the first place. In my opinion, the marketing funnel is a concept created by scholars to publish in journals. I back this statement up with the observations made on my own Google Analytics account and my customer’s accounts. Online users are always in different stages of purchasing or intent when they hit your website or social media. There usually is no official entrance and exit point.

In 2021, I think the smartest thing to focus on is conversion as a whole. Customize your Google Analytics to better track your goals, set up better goals, switch to Google Analytics 4 (if you haven´t), and launch an SEO campaign that increases buyer intent with better-targeted keywords.

A good way to increase conversion rates is to use the HotJar plugin on your website. After you have collected enough data with Hotjar you can see a heat map based on user data and you will be able to determine what is Call to Action is used most and what to get rid of!

Aaron Norris, VP Market Insights,

The single linear funnel is dead. Multiple segmented funnels are so 2021, and data to make it happen isn’t just for Wall Street anymore.

The Rule of 7 was out a decade ago. Depending on who you talk to, it can take anywhere between 23-70+ impressions before a consumer converts and that is not a formula for success.

Each business is different, even within the same industry. Small businesses win when they approach funnels via segmentation by avatar. Avatar-driven funnels requires thoughtful insights into location, demographics, psychographics, and the technographics. This allows a business to speak to the right avatar at the right time in the right channel.

Working with a marketing company that has you convinced to run ads promoting your reverse mortgage products on TikTok? Run. Geo-targeted direct mail by age and equity in a home combined with remarketing PPC ads and direct phone calls in succession would be a far more robust program.

Come into play. It’s about reaching that avatar at the right time in the right channel.

Bill Flynn, Catalyst Growth Advisors

I have come to believe that the marketing funnel was initially generated primarily due to supply side bias. That is, we too often bend the marketing and sales process to our needs and forget that we are doing these things in service of others. I also think that we value volume over quality into which the funnel process can trick us. I recommend that business owners focus more on cash as the primary growth metric and not revenue so the funnel contains more core customers and fewer of the ones that are not as profitable or can suck the life out of the team.

With that in mind, I teach that the buyer goes through her own journey that is often different than the popular funnel represents. I like the buying process laid out by Bob Moesta and Clayton Christensen: first thought, passive looking, active looking, decision, consuming/satisfaction. It seems that we tend to move around these five areas as the situation dictates. We may go back to passive looking from active due to a change in lifestyle or fear of the unknown. We may be completely dissatisfied with our purchase and re-enter this timeline at the active looking stage to find a better solution. We may sit in the passive looking stage for as long as there is no compelling event that moves us to the decision process. The marketer can help here by sharing pertinent information to which the buyer was not yet privy. For example, hearing that others in your area have halved their commute time by using Waze versus Google Maps.

There is a lot more depth to this process but the bottom line is that we must focus on the root cause of demand versus supply-side thinking. That is, how do we find existing demand and/or how do we create demand that is not apparent. The iPhone is 2007 is a great example of the latter.

I think we should lay the funnel to rest and, while it is prone, turn it into a timeline where we can influence the process in different ways. It turns out that often there are four forces at play – The push (marketing) and the pull (future desired solution) that drive us towards a change, and habit and anxiety that can stagnate the decision. If we can solve for these items, we can help people move through the timeline faster and more fully solve their needs.

Luke Smith, Founder, We Buy Property In Kentucky

The marketing funnel is not dead. It’s important to have a sales pipeline (funnel) that is present in the market at all times. Customers may choose to wait to do business with you, but just being there allows the customer to become familiar with you. We rank #1 for a decent amount of keyword searches on Google (We Buy Houses Kentucky, etc.) and we have homeowners that contact us, then fall off, then later decide to reach back out to do business with us. Once they enter, we put them in a follow up system so even if they choose to wait, we’ll put them on an email drip campaign and reach out every 30 days.

Marketers need to focus on adding value to their traffic or customers rather than converting them. It’s the difference between offering a product, or informing your customer of their options and letting them pick what is best. By giving them options and sharing knowledge with them you build authority, credibility and rapport. Then your customer can make an informed decision. You should ask if you’re pleasing your traffic or trying to convert them to a sale. If you’re not adding value to your traffic, then you’re trying to convert them and it’ll result in a low conversion ratio.

Final Thoughts

Whether you believe the marketing funnel is dead or obsolete is for you to decide.

But here’s what I know for sure.

If you what you’re doing isn’t producing results, you need to make a change.

Look at your customer journey and ask yourself if it makes sense.

If it doesn’t, revise it and consider marketing automation software (if you aren’t using any) that can help you improve your results.

You’ll also want to look at your brand, email marketing, social media, SEO, etc.

In other words, review your marketing plan and strategy to ensure it makes sense.

If not, you may want to scrap it and start over.

Before you go…

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