The traditional sales funnel is dead. The way forward is paved with possibility.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, a sales or marketing funnel is simply the route a consumer follows from becoming aware of a product of service, to buying the product or engaging the service. The simile is derived from a real-world funnel, where a large quantity of a substance is received on the larger, open side of the funnel and channelled through to the concentrated point – where the substance is aimed to be. It is not a perfect simile, as in the world of digital marketing the funnel has gaps and leaks, and not all interest received at the start (the larger end) arrives at the targeted end.
The traditional sales funnel follows the path described by the model known as AIDA:
In a very simplified brick-and-mortar example of the model, imagine a table filled with baked goods. The consumer becomes aware (Awareness) of the table. The consumer then starts to look at the baked goods available on the table (Interest), finds a baked product he or she likes (Desire) and proceeds to purchase the product (Action).
This is the way we understand how sales work, and how both in the traditional and digital world, marketing is done. A sales or marketing funnel is essential to every business because it promotes prospective consumers to customers. It aims to add prospective consumers into the process, moving them along the stages to the point of conversion – closing a sale on a product or service.
However, in the new interconnected world of digital technology and mobile devices, customer journeys no longer conform to the linear AIDA model. Research over the last two years, using third-party opt-in tracking panels, have found that customer journeys are now not only no longer linear nor conform to a funnel, they do not conform to any set pattern – and no two are alike.
The technological advancement has put the control of the process into the hands of the consumer. Modern consumers can now seek answers to their questions in the moment the question occurs – in the moment they wish to go, do, or buy. These moments are rich with intent and they create unique journey shapes to fit the individual undertaking them. Intent, then, is redefining the marketing funnel.
The trouble with marketing for intent is that the intent changes according to both the information the new, tech-savvy consumer finds in mobile phone enabled research into the product or service they initially had in mind, but also the divergence of intent when their research introduces a new element in their decision-making process.
To explain this more complex process – as found by the tracking panel research – imagine a person at the start of summer. This person is wary of sunburn and decides to purchase a sunscreen. This person searches for an effective sunscreen through their mobile device. Their research produces several possibilities for them to consider. After reading some of the descriptions, the person becomes aware that there are two main types of sunscreen – physical and chemical sunscreens. Further research shows that their choice of sunscreen depends on their activity. The person is a swimmer and therefor requires a chemical sunscreen. During their research, the person learns that some chemical sunscreens are harmful to the marine environment, specifically coral. This person then expands their research into the chemicals contained in chemical sunscreens to weed out the sunscreens containing the harmful ingredient. They then further search through this list based on their needs and means to find the most affordable and applicable sunscreen. The ultimate choice in the selected sunscreen was the brand’s commitment to promoting marine health and partnering with a charity that protects sea turtle nesting sites.
If this process seems far too convoluted and complex, consider the routes through which the information is gleaned, from a simple search engine to several online product reviews from peers in the same interest field, very likely several YouTube videos on more than one interest point in the journey and finally on to the brand’s website. It has been found that this process can in some cases take up to two months!
Modern consumers narrow and broaden their considerations in moments that cannot be predicted by the old, linear sales funnel. They engage with brands that are relevant, helpful, and personal. Modern consumers demand, and expect, assistance and will pledge their loyalty to brands that offer it.
This opens a universe of possibilities to marketers and business. It starts with predicting the consumer’s intent and anticipating their needs throughout the customer journey. Utilising the same digital technology that created the more complex consumer journey, predicting consumer intent is far easier than it may at first appear. Consumers constantly signal their intent through online searches and engagement with content.
Anticipating the questions and decision-points and providing access to the necessary information to fulfil the consumer’s need in that moment, is critical to a successful marketing strategy in the new era. The New Marketing Funnel nurtures prospective customers along their journey through an omnichannel experience with the flexibility to be uniquely tailored by each consumer according to their needs. Optimising a marketing strategy to this new process can take a simple branding exercise to a mass saturation event in a short time.