Monday, November 8, 2010

Is it really time to bury the marketing funnel?

Last week, Forrester's Steve Noble wrote an excellent blog who's title pretty much says it all: It's time to bury the marketing funnel. In marketing circles this is the rough equivalent of John Boehner telling Congress that, come to think about it, tax hikes just make a whole lot of sense. The Funnel is a matter of marketing doctrine and woe betide anyone who says otherwise.

Lest we've forgotten, The Funnel is the way marketing tracks raw awareness and the subsequent conversion to consideration and eventual sale. Critically, The Funnel serves as a way of tracking leads and provides a handover to sales. It is also the usual way for marketing to justify value to the business: Various metrics around opportunity value are common and give a gage of the net return campaigns generate. Sales management tools all use some variant on The Funnel as a way to instill discipline and process around marketing and sales. The Funnel has been around for eons almost unchanged. It works well, by and large.

So why change things? Why muck around with success?

Noble has some good arguments: Customers exist in a lifecycle; marketing isn't a conveyor belt process; the model ignores complexity; it's really geared toward a volume sales model. All true. And Noble proposes a new model that is indeed a lifecyle. I like his proposal but I'm still reluctant to leave The Funnel behind... Here's why.

First, I think there was always an acknowledgment that the classic Funnel was a simplification. Real life is convoluted and nonlinear and irrational. Customers don't behave is a fixed pattern. We all tend to behave differently in high and low involvement purchasing situations, we're fickle and have changing attitudes and desires. We suffer from buyer remorse. But these complexities have been known for a long time and arguably one of the benefits of The Funnel is it irons all this complexity out, and provides a neatened way to track meaningful outcomes.

Second, things definitely have changed in marketing - customer behavior may have changed. For sure, that behavior is more transparent and measurable in our always-online world, which also draws attention to certain attributes of prospects and customers that may have been hidden in the past. I definitely agree that this new insight should be used to inform marketing better, but does this mean we flush The Funnel?

All this said, Noble's right to focus on the marketing model. Marketing is undergoing a noisy revolution, provoked by technology, changing consumer behavior, and a renewed interest in refining processes to more accurate reflect our complex world. Getting the model right will inform everything else: process, programs and metrics.

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