Is the Marketing Funnel Still Relevant to Modern Marketers?

The marketing funnel has been around for ages but times have changed and customers are changing with them. Does the marketing funnel still have a place in your marketing and communication strategy?

Marketing Funnel Relevant?

Read any topic related to marketing and it’s not uncommon for the marketing funnel to find its way into the conversation. It shouldn’t come as a surprise as the marketing funnel has long been considered a valuable tool.

As times have changed, people have changed with it. The marketing funnel isn’t immune either.

While it may still be prevalent throughout the world of marketing and communication the marketing funnel has found itself surrounded by some controversy.

A leading consulting firm wrote an article in 2019 and it wasn’t kind to the idea of the marketing funnel.

This didn’t go without notice and some industry-leading figures declared the marketing funnel dead.

This begs the question, is the marketing funnel still relevant to those working in modern marketing and communication?

This is what we will explore in today’s article.

What is the Marketing Funnel?

If you googled “marketing funnel” you would find many different types of marketing funnels. Some have more steps and some less. There isn’t one definition of the marketing funnel out there that is common to all of us.

This in itself presents a problem.

Before dive any deep into this conversation, we need to start with a common meaning of the marketing funnel. I define it as:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Retention
  • Evangelism

The first step is awareness. If people don’t know who you are, you can be assured they won’t do business with you. You can develop awareness in a variety of ways such as running ads, media relations, social media, or search.

In the interest stage, people want information about how your product or service might solve their particular problem. They will likely want to know something about your business as well. The content on your website can be a great help in helping to generate more interest.

The next step is consideration. This is where If people will look at your products and services under a microscope. They will make product comparisons and comb through reviews to make sure you are right for them.

Conversion is what many consider the final step. While most people see a conversion as a sale it’s important to understand that it can be defined in many ways. A better definition would be your prospect has taken the action you want them to take. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to define it as a sale.

Maybe this is just my years in customer service but I don’t see a sale as an end. I see it as another step in the relationship between you and your customer. Retention isn’t a given. You have to work to keep your customer coming back.

The final step is evangelism. I see this step as the holy grail. Your evangelists are the people who love you to the degree that they will happily sell your product for you.

Enter the Gartner Study

In early 2019, there was an article on Gartner’s website that caused a bit of a stir. Before I get into it, for those of you who may not know who Gartner is, the are, in their own words:

…we are the leading research and advisory company. We’ve expanded well beyond our flagship technology research to provide senior leaders across the enterprise with the indispensable business insights, advice and tools they need to achieve their mission-critical priorities and build the organizations of tomorrow. Together with our clients, we fuel the future of business so that a more successful world takes shape.

Gartner – About Us

The article, which you can read here, asserted that the sales and marketers have a problem. This problem is that the customer journey, also known as the buyer’s journey, has become too complex to be captured in the linear model that most organizations use.

More plainly, something such as a marketing funnel showed the process in a straight line when it is now anything but which this is a major problem.

Here is the graphic that they shared on their site:

buyer's journey
Graphic courtesy of Gartner

There is no arguing that the customer journey that is illustrated in this graphic is pretty complex. There is so much going on here it’s kind of hard to follow.

This is far from the nice linear marketing funnel I talked about in the previous section and this is where our discussion becomes relevant.

Many people who do marketing and communication have jumped on the Gartner article and have proclaimed that the marketing funnel is dead. The argument is that marketing funnels are linear but the Gartner research proves the buyer’s journey isn’t linear.

There is no doubt. Every marketing funnel I’ve ever seen, including the one I went over earlier shows the marketing funnel as being a linear process.

However, there are some problems that arise out of the conclusions that Gartner has made.

Is the Marketing Funnel Dead?

This is the question and I don’t think Gartner did a very good job in providing evidence that the marketing funnel is truly dead.

The issue I have with its article is that there is no context on how they came to this conclusion. I only know that they did a survey. I don’t know how many companies are involved and I don’t know the methodology. As far as I know, the survey might only be five multi-billion dollar corporations with 100,000 plus employees.

Garner is presenting this customer journey as fact without hardly any context.

The biggest issue I have is this is a technology survey. You can see it right on the graphic, “2018 Technology Roadmap Survey”. This business-to-business (B2B) customer journey is specific to purchasing technology. Yet, there is a conclusion that is being applied to every B2B buying experience.

Some marketers then jumped on this and in turn applied it to every buying experience and point back to the Gartner article as proof.

I’m guessing, unless you sell technology to companies, your customers don’t go through the above process. Depending on what you sell, and assuming that your target is a company, it may be something similar but it won’t be the process you saw in the chart.

If you sell directly to consumers, Gartner’s chart probably doesn’t reflect something that remotely reflects the reality of your customer’s journey.

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you sell to an individual or a company that has created a process that is full of red tape to be navigated. It still comes down to the fact that people have to be aware, become interested, and consider your product or service before they buy it.

I want you to understand is the buyer’s journey has never been linear and the marketing funnel isn’t meant to imply that it is. It’s simply a representation of the areas that a customer needs to pass through to make a purchase.

Why Build a Marketing Funnel?

If the marketing funnel is just a representation why would you want to spend the time to build one?

My answer to you is that it provides great benefit to your marketing and communication activities.

To be clear, your marketing funnel is how you view your customers going from awareness to purchase to evangelism.

This isn’t necessarily how your customers view it. Part of building your marketing funnel is to not only understand their journey but also the levels of awareness they have while moving through it.

Tying together the marketing funnel, buyer’s journey, and the levels of awareness is a more complex conversation. If you’re interested I did write four articles covering this topic. (here, here, here, and here).

The marketing funnel helps you define your marketing activities and the type of content you’re creating. This its greatest benefit. This alone makes it relevant but let me give you a couple of examples.

What you’re doing when your trying to create awareness is different than when somebody is at the consideration stage. A whitepaper would appeal to somebody who is considering your product or services while it likely wouldn’t be something somebody who is unaware they have a problem and is unaware of your company would care about.

Paid media (ads) can be helpful at any stage but knowing who you’re targeting is going to impact the content in the ad. You aren’t going to talk to somebody in the consideration stage the same way you talk to somebody who has never heard of you before.

Most of my blog posts are top of the funnel which means I’m talking to people who have just become aware of me and my company or have shown interest. This means every blog post I write is meant to help and to educate.

There are other pieces of the website that have a different purpose. They are meant to pull people from interest to comparison or from comparison to a conversion.

As I said earlier, regardless of how complex a buyer’s journey is it still goes through the steps of awareness, interest, consideration, and conversion. Post conversion, there is also the opportunity to retain your customer and turn them into fans that will evangelize for you.

Is the Marketing Funnel Still Relevant?

While some may declare it a relic of the past and have already held a funeral for it, I hope you’ve seen that it is still relevant.

My advice to you is to ignore the debate around the marketing funnel. It’s still a great tool to help you define the way you communicate with your prospects and customers.

*Image by _Marion from Pixabay

Shane Carpenter
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