It’s time to reimagine the marketing funnel

Sammy Tatla07/01/2019

The traditional marketing funnel is no longer the best tool for understanding B2B customers. Here’s how to switch to a more efficient model for activating content marketing campaigns.

The marketing funnel is in desperate need of an update.

This simple tool has served B2B marketers well for 120 years. But today, it’s long past its best. The customer journey has changed hugely since Elias St Elmo Lewis first described the concept in 1898.

Back then, coal power stations were still cutting‐edge technology. And just as the energy industry is transitioning rapidly to more modern fuel sources, today’s marketers need a more efficient way to guide prospects through the customer journey.

As you’re about to see, forward‐thinking B2B marketers can already make the switch to a more efficient model for campaign activation.

But before we get to that, we should briefly outline how radically the role of marketing has changed in recent years. That way, you’ll be able to see why it’s so important for you to act now to change the way you design your campaigns.

Lewis’ original marketing funnel was designed to describe the path a buyer takes from when they first encounter a brand to the moment they make a purchase.

In fact, his model still does a pretty good job of describing the emotional journey marketers must take their customers on.

First, you need to grab someone’s attention. Then, you have to develop their interest in a challenge you can help them with and turn it into a desire to overcome it. Finally, you must prompt them to take action to fulfil that desire.

Lewis coined the acronym AIDA to describe this process – and it’s been a staple of the marketing world ever since.

The problem with this today is that marketers must use content to reach customers far earlier in the decision‐making process than they used to. What’s more, a client’s initial purchase is just a small part of the potential value of your relationship with them.

Thanks to the internet, customers now have all the information they need at their fingertips to independently assess their own business needs and research potential solutions.

As a result, up to 67 per cent of a typical B2B buyer’s journey now involves self‐directed research online – and 80 per cent will read three or more pieces of content before they ever speak with a salesperson.

At the same time, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the marketing process doesn’t end at the point of purchase. Forbes data shows that 90 per cent of B2B customer value is obtained after the initial sale. As such, marketers can’t afford to ignore the impact upsells, cross sells and renewals can have on the company bottom line.

Better yet, generating repeat business from customers who have already been through your marketing funnel is naturally more cost effective than finding new prospects and warming them up from scratch.

All this means that the scope of marketing is getting wider – and the marketing funnel must grow wider with it.

So today, we’ll outline how you can send the old marketing funnel the way of the coal fired power station. Along the way, you’ll see how to use a new model to develop content activation plans that let you reach prospects with the right content, through the right channels and at the right time.

How the marketing funnel is failing B2B brands

A key issue with the traditional marketing funnel is that it’s a ‘one size fits all’ approach. It implies that everyone joins your campaigns at the top of the funnel and that they then follow the steps you’ve laid out for them until they get to the end and are ready to buy something.

If only people were that predictable! In reality, there are many paths that may lead someone to decide they should buy from your company – and the marketing funnel of the future should help you take them all into account when planning your campaigns.

First of all, prospects can enter the marketing funnel at any stage of the buying process.

Some may have already identified a need and be ready to buy from you almost immediately. Others will already be aware of your brand and your content but have yet to identify a need you can help with, so still require nurturing through the middle of the funnel.

That means you need content ready to serve the whole customer journey before you launch a new content initiative.

At the same time, the customer journey is non‐linear. Don’t expect customers to engage with your white papers, blog posts and other content in any particular order.

Some will skip parts of your funnel in order to make a purchase decision more quickly. Others may flit between top, middle and bottom‐of‐funnel content many times before making a purchase.

According to Demand Gen Report, 16 per cent of buyers will consume more than seven pieces of content before they even speak with a salesperson. Not everyone can be easily funnelled.

In fact, not everyone is even heading to the same destination. You might want to take an ideal prospect on a journey that ends with them making a purchase. But it’s also important to remember other stakeholder groups like end users or journalists, where your focus might be providing onboarding content or turning them into advocates for your brand.

For all these reasons, your marketing funnel replacement should look beyond the customers who make their decisions in a simple or predictable fashion and it shouldn’t take a generic approach.

You need something that helps you create personalised content experiences which make the buying process as relevant as possible no matter what path a customer decides to take.

That means creating content that addresses the specific themes and ideas your audience cares about and remedies their biggest pain points at each section of the customer journey.

Once you know the key messages you need to convey, the next step is to package and distribute that content in the best formats and channels to reach your audience in the right place and at the right time. Automation technology will have a key role to play here, helping you gather information about ideal prospects and serve them the content they need when they need it.

For example, a research report can be a great way to engage prospects and provide them with useful insights that establish your organisation’s industry expertise. But, a content piece that substantial may seem daunting to someone who’s unfamiliar with your business.

To engage prospects who aren’t ready to read a full report, look for ways to repurpose that content into more easily digestible formats.

Consider publishing some sections as blog posts or infographics and repurposing its most useful insights as social cards to share in your audience’s preferred social media channels. Then, use automation software to share this content with prospects who can benefit from your insights.

Of course, this process extends well beyond each customer’s initial purchase. As you’re about to see, it’s equally important when designing your post‐purchase content initiatives.

A new model for the B2B customer journey

The limitations of the traditional marketing funnel mean it’s no longer the best model for activating modern B2B content campaigns.

It’s too simple to account for the many routes a customer may take on their path to purchase and says nothing about the crucial role content plays in unlocking the value of customer relationships post‐purchase.

That’s why we believe it’s time to replace this old concept with a new one that more accurately reflects the modern customer journey. We call this new model for campaign activation the ‘marketing loop’.

The first thing to note about the marketing loop is that the process doesn’t end when a customer buys something.

There will always be opportunities to offer clients additional services, or to enhance their experiences and make them more likely to come to you for repeat business.

For each stage of the loop, consider how you might repurpose your content so you can distribute it in a range of formats and channels and at different stages throughout the customer journey.

As we say, it is just as important to engage key stakeholders outside of your primary audience. Create complementary journey maps for these secondary audiences, considering how their actions will feed into your primary marketing loop and what content pieces will apply to them at each stage.

All this may seem a bit daunting if you’re used to designing rudimentary campaigns using the traditional funnel. But, remember that neither the marketing funnel nor the marketing loop actually is the customer journey you’re trying to visualise. They just represent it.

A map is not the territory it represents. But, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness
Alfred Korzybski, philosopher

Your success as a marketer depends on using the model that most accurately depicts the journey you need to take your customers on. And as you’ve seen today, the traditional model just doesn’t cut it in the modern age.

Expanding the funnel to include post‐purchase marketing will help you unlock the full value of your customer relationships.

Meanwhile, breaking down hero content into more digestible formats will help you reach less engaged audience members your campaigns would otherwise fail to influence.

The traditional funnel has served marketers well for more than 100 years, but it’s no longer the best tool for understanding B2B customers. It’s time to switch to a more efficient model for developing your content strategy. It’s time to embrace the marketing loop.

Key takeaways

  • Different customers will move through the customer journey at different speeds. So, be sure to launch your campaigns with content ready for all stages of the buying process.
  • Use a range of formats and channels to communicate with your audience. Bitesize content will help you convey key messages to buyers who aren’t ready to engage with meatier content pieces.
  • The marketing cycle doesn’t end with a customer’s initial purchase. You can’t afford to ignore the impact upsells, cross sells and renewals can have on the company bottom line.