Article first published in April 2018, updated June 2019
The traditional marketing funnel is dead.
What you might not know is that the “death” of the marketing funnel is good news for marketers, at least for those of us who can adapt to a new way of looking at the funnel.
All the stages of the funnel are still there, but they don’t look like they used to. Marketers still have to attract leads, generate interest and engagement, and prompt decisions and action, but not necessarily in that order, and not using the same tactics.
Leads now inform themselves through reviews and content, and, after they’ve become customers, they go on to advocate and act as brand evangelists. Now the marketer’s job, at every stage, is to delight those potential customers.
With a little knowledge of how the funnel has changed and what that means for the role of marketing, doing this is easier than ever. Today, we’re sharing more about the death of the old marketing funnel, and why that’s good news for marketers, but, first, let’s take a quick look at the old funnel just to refresh our memories.
What is a marketing funnel, and why should you care?
A marketing funnel is essential because it’s the strategy that helps get your audience from a prospect to a customer. This is done by adding prospects to your funnel and moving them through the various stages until they decided it’s time to make the final conversion, which usually ends with them purchasing a product or service.
What are the stages of the marketing funnel?
The traditional marketing funnel has four stages: awareness, interest, desire, and action. Visually, it looks something like this:
Source: Wikimedia Commons
What is an email funnel?
The email funnel refers to the email marketing journey subscribers take until they convert into a customer. Email marketers have long since used this marketing funnel idea to create email campaigns that would encourage users through the funnel, thanks to various email series.
Source: Campaign Monitor
Replacing the old funnel with the loop
So what happened to the old funnel?
Some have called it “broken,” others have said it’s been turned on its side or flipped, and others have even compared the new model to a pinball machine.
There’s even a convention that meets to address the “flipped” funnel. In 2015, Terminus put together their first #flipmyfunnel conference. Their goal was to raise awareness around the new funnel and generate solutions for how to adapt to it. In the spirit of best practices for the new funnel, the conference was a lead generation and customer acquisition event in and of itself.
Terminus’ willingness to share this knowledge broadly would’ve made no sense in the days of a traditional funnel that swallows hard-won leads and spits out customers. However, today’s funnel (or loop) considers the broader context of the buying experience. It creates opportunity in the once-neglected period following the sale, a time when customers can become repeat customers and brand advocates.
Most importantly, the new way invites us to stop thinking about pre-purchase and post-purchase stages and instead take a more holistic approach that accounts for the entire customer lifecycle.
Modern leads enter at any stage.
Today, leads can enter the new marketing funnel at any stage. They no longer are “acquired” and walked through a series of predictable and linear steps, from awareness to discovery to sale. Anyone who’s ever shopped online and gotten a cart abandonment email or has Googled customer reviews from the aisle of a brick-and-mortar shop knows this.
The buyer’s journey is now a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s omnichannel. Someone in the awareness stage might be just one or two clicks away from that all-important purchasing stage, or they could be engaging in a public way—like through social media.
While that might make it sound like key stages of the buyer’s journey are now out of marketer’s hands, just the opposite is true. Modern marketers now have unprecedented access to the customer journey at every stage. They no longer have to obsess over acquisition and can instead focus on a dynamic approach that can reach customers at any and all stages.
Email remains the most powerful and customizable way to do this.
Automation is tailored to the various stages of the journey—and the order in which customers move through them—with tools like behavior marketing and timing optimization to nail the where, when, and how of reaching customers and leads anywhere in the loop.
Now, if the idea of a funnel is still prominent for many marketing teams, another way to approach this loop is to visualize it as a double-ended funnel. Customers can still enter in at any stage of the process— although, instead of ending with a sale, the customer becomes a brand advocate to help bring in new clients.
Source: Campaign Monitor
Today’s marketing funnel uses an omnichannel approach.
Marketing in the new funnel must be personalized and omnichannel. After all, that’s how people experience the internet in general.
Ascend2’s 2017 State of Marketing lists personalization as the most effective email marketing tactic but also described it as one of the hardest to pull off effectively. Personalization at scale depends on the effective use of data and organizational tools like email automation and customization.
Each “ping” of contact with a lead—whether via email, social media, or the many other online channels—presents an opportunity to deliver a personalized marketing experience and collect data to personalize future pings further. This is why some have likened the new funnel to a pinball machine.
Source: Smart Insights
Using the omnichannel approach in your next digital marketing campaign
The entire point of omnichannel marketing is to unite the strengths of each of your communication channels to deliver a more consistent and effective band message. This requires multiple departments to work together, not simply the marketing team. Other teams include the sales, product, and the customer support department.
While building your brand’s next digital marketing campaign with the omnichannel approach, each of your departments needs to understand the goals and objectives of the campaign fully. Again, the plan is to create a more cohesive user experience across all your communication channels.
A good example of a brand using an omnichannel approach is Starbucks and its rewards program.
This rewards app allows users not only to collect starts/points to be used towards free goodies; it also allows users to add money to their rewards account via multiple methods:
Users can get rewards in various ways, including purchases in store. They also get the benefit of double-star days, birthdays, and email exclusives, and even the opportunity to earn rewards through games in the app. The experience is user-friendly and convenient, making it an excellent example of an omnichannel marketing campaign.
If we’re going with that analogy, learning the rules of the new funnel is the difference between getting replay after replay on your original quarter and shaking the machine in frustration, watching the pinballs go out of reach.
Once you’ve decided you’re ready to truly shake things up, it’s time to rethink your email marketing strategy. Check out our guide on how to build a foolproof email marketing strategy template to help get your marketing team off on the right foot.