It’s time to reimagine the marketing funnel

The traditional marketing funnel is no longer the best tool for understanding B2B customers, and professionals now need more efficient models to activate content marketing campaigns

Sammy Tatla, Head of Marketing, RaconteurThe marketing funnel is in desperate need of an update.

This simple tool has served 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.

Lewis’s 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.

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 (Attention, Interest, Decision, Action) to describe this process – and it’s been a staple of the marketing world ever since.

Why Lewis’ marketing funnel is no longer fit-for-purpose

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 that relationship.

Customers now have all the information they need at their fingertips to independently assess their own business needs and research potential solutions. In fact, research from SiriusDecisions shows that up to 67 per cent of a typical B2B buyer’s journey now involves self‐directed research online, while a Demand Gen report found that 80 per cent will read three or more pieces of content before they ever speak with a salesperson.

At the same time, the marketing process doesn’t simply end at the point of purchase, so marketers can’t afford to ignore the impact upsells, cross-sells and renewals can have on the 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.

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 then follows the steps until they are ready to buy something.

In reality, there are many paths that may lead someone to buy – and the marketing funnel of the future should take them all into account.

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 almost immediately. Others will already be aware of a brand and its content, but have yet to identify a need it can help with, so still require nurturing through the middle of the funnel.

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

Some will skip parts of the 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.

In fact, not everyone is even heading to the same destination. Stakeholder groups such as end-users or journalists often visit corporate websites, but won’t be looking to make a purchase.

Customer behaviour isn’t predictable, so your marketing shouldn’t be

Content marketing cycle

For all these reasons, marketing funnel replacements should recognise that customers don’t make their decisions in a simple or predictable fashion, and they shouldn’t take a generic approach.

What marketers need to create are personalised content experiences that make the buying process as relevant as possible no matter what path a customer decides to take.

That means content should address the specific themes and ideas audiences care about and remedies their biggest pain points at each section of the customer journey.

Once marketers know the key messages they need to convey, the next step is to package and distribute that content in the best formats and channels to reach an audience in the right place and at the right time. Automation technology will have a key role to play here, helping 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 an organisation’s industry expertise. But, a content piece that substantial may seem daunting to someone who’s unfamiliar with a business.

To engage prospects who aren’t ready to read a full report, companies should look for ways to repurpose that content into more digestible formats. For example, by publishing some sections as blog posts or infographics and repurposing its most useful insights as social cards to share in an audience’s preferred social media channels. Then, automation software can be used to share this content with prospects who can benefit from those insights.

Of course, this process extends well beyond each customer’s initial purchase, and it’s equally important when designing 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 it’s time to replace this old concept with a new one that more accurately reflects the modern customer journey – a new model for campaign activation that Raconteur Agency has dubbed 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 back for repeat business.

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

And it’s just as important to engage key stakeholders outside of the primary audience. Complementary journey maps can be created for these secondary audiences, considering how their actions will feed into the primary marketing loop and what content pieces will apply to them at each stage.

All of this may seem a bit daunting for marketers who are used to designing rudimentary campaigns using the traditional funnel. But, it’s important to remember that neither the marketing funnel nor the marketing loop are actually the customer journey itself – they just represent it.

A marketer’s success depends on using the model that most accurately depicts the journey they need to take their customers on. And the traditional model just doesn’t cut it in the modern age.

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 planning content campaigns. It’s time to embrace the marketing loop.