The sales funnel, the oldest, most illustrated and beloved marketing paradigm passed away today of old age. Originally, constructed to approximate the rational buying sequence for B2C and B2B customers, the Funnel leaves no immediate heirs.
Shopping was never really linear. Prospects take multi-directional, multi-dimensional and idiosyncratic paths to surface needs, identify buying criteria, list potential solutions and fall in love and purchase. Easy digital access to product information, testimonials, video demonstrations, user-generated or professional reviews, peer opinions and comparative pricing tools creates a more dynamic, unpredictable and emotional landscape than the Funnel ever portrayed.
The implications for marketers and merchants are that marketing strategy, messaging and media must shift. The number of inflection points has multiplied. Rather than aim messages or media units at a particular point in a reasonably predictable cycle, marketers now have to array their brands in ways to cover a much larger, expanding and morphing digital Main Street or mall and interact rather than interrupt.
A shift in consumer behavior to digital channels was documented in a recent study of more than 2000 US shoppers, titled “2010 New Shopper Journeys Survey,” conducted by Carat and Microsoft Advertising
The two big take-aways are
1. Brands have to engage customers across 3 or more screens. During a buying cycle and use each channel and each digital meme to its best advantage. Brands will meet customers in several settings during the purchase time frame so that specific aspects of the brand story and value proposition can be parsed through specific digital assets.
2. It’s Not Over with a Purchase. Customers almost instinctively use digital and social media to share and validate their purchases, review and recommend products, comment on customer service and plan subsequent shopping expeditions. In the survey, 48% of responders recommended a brand by name and 30% recommended a retailer. And while this fundamental behavior has always been true, technology accelerates the speed and scale to increase the impact on future sales.
The Funnel is dead. Customer behavior is in-flux. The search for a new paradigm has begun.