The Marketing Funnel Is Dead, But The Customer Journey Is Alive and Well

Social media has an important role to play in a new customer centered marketing cycle.

Google returns over 3,000 articles saying the marketing sales funnel is dead. Pronouncing a classic principle dead is helpful to attract attention and signify a big change. What is not helpful, is throwing the bath out with the bathwater believing there is no longer a path to purchase. Mark Ritson in Marketing Week appropriately said, “Reports of the death of the sales funnels are greatly exaggerated. Consumers might be bombarded with media and marketing from all angles, but markers must still understand how to influence their journeys towards a purchase.”

The original marketing funnel, also known as a sales, purchase or customer funnel is based on a hierarchy of effects model indicating consumers move through a series of stages to make purchase decisions. Known as the AIDA model marketing, advertising and sales people have been trained to move consumers through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. It is illustrated as a funnel because the number of potential prospects decreases with each stage and tactics change from branding and mass media advertising to sales promotion and personal sales.

The problem with the funnel is that it stops at purchase and does not map out post-purchase customer stages that influence repeat purchase and referral. McKinsey found that now two-thirds of the touchpoints during the active-evaluation phase of purchasing involve consumer-driven activities such as Internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family – post-purchase consumer activity not accounted for in the funnel.

Post-purchase stages are now more important to consumers and marketers.

This social media fueled feedback loop has shifted power from seller to buyer. Search and social has enabled people to create their own paths to purchase via dozens or even hundreds of touchpoints. Google has found that no two journeys are exactly alike. The consumer is at the center of their own unique customer journey. Derek Thompson in Hit Makers describes this consumer revolution saying, “The gatekeepers had their day. Now there are simply too many gates to keep.”

The marketer has lost control over much of the information about their products and services. What’s more, the brand messages they do create are less trusted than content created about the brand by consumers. Edelman reports that 74% of consumers use one more advertising avoidance strategies and 63% trust what influencers say about brands much more than what brands say about themselves.

This doesn’t mean consumers don’t want marketing and marketers have lost all influence. Salesforce State of Marketing report indicates 79% of customers are willing to share data in exchange for contextualized engagement, and 88% will do so for personalized offers. Its no longer about being a gatekeeper it about joining the community of consumers who already talking about your brand.

Customers today demand connected journeys through more personalize marketing.

Salesforce research has found 84% of consumers say being treated like a person, not a number is very important to purchase decisions. And 70% say connected processes, such as seamless handoffs, situation specific engagement, and needs anticipation, are important to their customer journey. In other words, consumers are looking for relationships. We need to put the “social” back in social media.

Many experts have seen this coming and describe the shift in various ways. Mark Schaefer in Marketing Rebellion calls for human-center social media marketing. Joseph Jaffe argued for conversational marketing and a move from corporate centric to customer centric marketing. Seth Godin says marketing now needs to be relevant not loud. Shoving declining mass advertising into the top of a disappearing sales funnel is making less and less sense.

Consumer engagement is key in a new customer centered buyer journey.

In our digital era the marketing funnel is more like a circular system. The consumer is at the center controlling much of their own buyer journey while influencing other consumer’s on path to purchase. The marketer joins the conversation via engagement as a guide not a gate keeper. This can be seen in the marketing cycle illustrated below.

The customer journey no longer follows a linear path of predictable marketing tactics that move consumers down a funnel of awareness to purchase. A Facebook ad or blog post may appear in the consumer’s feed or search results to generate awareness or could be the touchpoint they engage with right before conversion. A customer service interaction with a current customer on Twitter may recruit a new customer as a customer rating and review on Amazon or Trip Advisor my influence a conversion.

The engagement in the middle of this marketing cycle can impact any part of the journey at anytime. Positive or negative interactions and comments can pull more customers in or push more customers out entering any stage of this new circular path to purchase. The customer is at the center of this journey, but the brand can still join in and help guide the path. Google research reveals a mixture of paid, owned and earned media is consumed via unique paths to purchase with dozens or even hundreds of touchpoints.

After purchase customers use the product or service, form an opinion and share that experience through social media. This user generated content (UGC) is found by perspective customers via search and social networks feeding back into the marketing cycle influencing their awareness, interest, consideration and conversion stages.

Marketers must shift from a control mindset to one of engagement.

Seth Godin says to be seen marketers must learn to see. This begins with social media listening. The focus is on creating meaningful and relevant experiences at the appropriate time and place. The brand engages with potential customers through varied touchpoints along the journey from prepurchase awareness, interest and consideration to purchase conversion followed by postpurchase use, opinion and sharing.

These touchpoints become the tactics of social marketing strategy. A social media measurement plan can reveal which tactics and strategies are producing positive interactions pulling potential customers towards the next stage and which are creating negative experiences pushing them off the marketing cycle path to purchase.

HubSpot calls this moving from a funnel to a flywheel where the marketers role is to add force to the areas that have the most positive impact, and decrease friction in areas with the most negative impact. Doing so will increase size of your flywheel adding more customer promoters. A flywheel uses the momentum of your happy customers to drive referrals and repeat sales. It brings customer relationship management to social media marketing where your own customers become part of your sales force.

Engagement with the connected consumer can’t be one-size-fits-all.

The shift from marketing funnel to marketing cycle has left many marketers confused. Social Media Examiner’s Industry Report reveals that the top question social media marketers face today is how to best engage their audience. Uncertainty may come from trying to view the connected consumer as one audience.

Brian Solis argued that there is no one audience. A target audience is made up of audiences of audiences representing varying roles of the social consumer. In a marketing cycle you must reach the right person in the right stage and touchpoint with the right message. Solis says, ” It is our responsibility to assume the role of digital anthropologist and sociologist to understand the needs and wants of people within each network and to design programs around these discoveries.”

Uncertainty may also come from trying to meet these varying consumer needs with a one discipline team. Different team members from various departments are best suited for engaging with consumers in different buying stages. Marketers are great at brand building, PR pros are relationship experts, sales people know how to close, and customer service gets problems solved. Marketers can lead, but to succeed social needs to be a cross-discipline team of marketing, sales, public relations, advertising, corporate communications, customer service and human resources.

This uncertainty and needed new approach can be seen in the executive summary of the latest Salesforce State of Marketing report. It identifies how marketing is evolving around the new connected customer. In this new model “marketing becomes the cross-functional glue of customer experiences.” Data unification, real-time engagement and consumer trust becomes the goal. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers an opportunity to help make it happen through personalized marketing.

Trust is a deal breaker in buying decisions.

In a recent Trust Barometer report 67% of consumers said they would stop buying from companies they don’t trust. How do you build trust? Edelman’s research found that the best way to build trust is to lead with peer (UGC, influencers, etc.) and amplify with owned, social and paid. In other words, to build customer relationships marketers must remove themselves from the command of a marketing funnel and put consumers in the center of a new marketing cycle. Trust starts with listening in a customer centered social strategy.

Trust built through connected consumer relationships has its rewards. Edelman also found consumers that trust brands reward them by buying their brand first (53%), staying loyal (62%), advocating (51%) for the brand and defending (43%) the brand. Social media and the connected consumer disrupted the sales funnel where marketing people played gatekeeper, but marketers still play an important role as guide in the new customer empowered journey.

Are you still thinking of the customer journey as a funnel? Does putting the consumer in the center of a marketing cycle change your social media marketing strategy?

Why You Need a Social Media Measurement Plan and How to Create One.

After years of increases, social media spending declined in 2019.

The CMO Survey saw a drop in social media spending to 11% of marketing budgets from a high of 14% in 2018. Why? The authors suggest, “… despite massive financial investments, social media is rated as contributing only moderate value to company performance (3.3 on a scale where 7=very highly and 1=not at all).”

If you’re not confident in social media’s return on investment (ROI), it will only get harder to secure funding for social media budgets. How can you improve this confidence? Ensure you have a strong measurement plan in place to better prove social media’s impact on the bottom line.Social Media Strategy Measurement Plan for Marketing Advertising and PRStart with business objectives not social tactics.

In creating a social media strategy it is easy to start with social media tactics. You ask questions like, “How can we improve our Facebook page?” So you develop strategies to improve engagement on Facebook and you increase likes, shares and comments. Yet having a better Facebook page is not a business objective. That is why it gets hard when management asks how Facebook Likes contribute to the bottom line.

Having a measurement plan ensures you start with your business objectives (what impacts the bottom line) first. From there you create strategies and tactics (current and new) to help get to those objectives. Then you determine how those outcomes will be measured through KPIs (metrics) tied to micro- and macro- conversions.

How to define business objectives.

The objective of most business’s is to increase sales, but each organization’s situation is unique and requires a much more nuanced definition. Insight can come from a situation analysis or the reason you are creating a new strategy. There is often a problem or opportunity that has become the focus of marketing efforts creating the story of your plan. The CMO Survey reports marketer’s see social media as a tool to help accomplish the following business objectives:

  1. Brand awareness/brand building
  2. Introducing new products/services
  3. Acquiring new customers
  4. Brand promotions (contest/coupons)
  5. Retaining current customers
  6. Improving customer service
  7. Improving employee engagement
  8. Marketing research
  9. Identifying new customer groups
  10. Identifying new product/service opportunities
  11. Improving current products/services

Identify strategies to meet business objectives.

Most social media plans have multiple strategies or ways to improve brand efforts and help to meet business objectives. List all your strategies such as an influencer marketing campaign, a special offer, an employee advocacy effort or branding social media ads.

Identify tactics used to support key strategies.

List the main tactics that support each strategy. For example, a business objective to increase sales to a new market may have a brand awareness strategy supported by a tactic of targeted Facebook ads, a tactic of influencer marketing on Instagram, and a tactic of employee advocacy on LinkedIn.

List measurable conversions by tactic and strategy.

List measurable actions users take to fulfill your business objectives. They can take the form of macro-conversions and micro-conversions. Macro-conversions are the key actions closest to business objectives such as an online sale. Micro-conversions are the smaller actions that move a prospect closer such as visiting webpages, signing up for a newsletter, down loading an app, or following a social media page.

Connect macro-conversions to business objectives.

Link social media metric KPIs by tactic and strategy to macro- and micro-conversions. Creating a dashboard of the KPIs for macro-conversions by tactic and strategy can be a top line report of social media’s contribution to company performance. Creating this in your digital measurement platform such as Google Analytics, Hootsuite, HubSpot or Salesforce gives you real time access or the ability to schedule regular reports to share with management.

Measure micro-conversions to map the customer journey.

Identifying and measuring micro-conversions on the way to macro-conversion can map out customer journeys. Micro-conversions help you understand human behavior giving insight to optimize strategies and tactics. Analyze metrics by tactic KPI to determine how many people are completing the customer journey and where you are losing or retaining people. This does not mean you will map one journey for all or even most customers. Google click stream data of thousands of customers found no two journeys were alike – varying from 1-176 days and 65-600 touchpoints across categories, brands and products. The marketing funnel still applies, but consumers have more control and options in moving themselves from awareness and consideration to conversion, loyalty and advocacy. Today it is more like a marketing scatter plot. The best you can do is optimize the touchpoint clusters around funnel stages and use CRM data for personalized content.

Conduct experiments to optimize strategies and tactics.

Having a good measurement plan that includes both micro- and macro-conversions enables you to know which tactics and strategies are contributing the most to company performance. From there you can experiment with different tactics and strategies replacing low performing ones to optimize social media. The results of a social media audit can help identify which strategies and tactics to experiment with first. While no two customer journeys are alike your micro-conversion and macro-conversion data can identify clusters of touchpoints versus outliers. Focus optimization efforts where many of your customers engage in the funnel stages on their  unique journey. Also deliver custom messages through unique customer tracking such as Google Analytics User-ID.

The benefits of social media measurement plan.

Going through this process can take considerable time and effort. But once you have the plan in place the benefits are numerous. A social media measurement plan:

  1. Collects the right data to answer company performance questions.
  2. Creates reports or dashboards to share with decision makers.
  3. Allows analysis of segments of your social media plan.
  4. Enables testing different solutions to improve social efforts.

Do you have a social media measurement plan? What else could help improve marketer confidence in social media’s contribution to company performance?