Someone Put Holes in the Marketing Funnel — Now it’s a Sieve

A diagram of he state of the marketing funnel.

“Marketing sees the world as they want it to be, communications see the world as it is.”  Telco CEO

A lively discussion on LinkedIn about the state of the marketing funnel inspired me to invite the ever-fascinating Michael Ziviani of Precise Value to continue the conversation at this year’s Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement.

The online debate was over whether the traditional marketing funnel was dead. I had been thinking that it had become inverted: the customer at the top searching for a solution to their problem, and after a number of detours and influences they would find their solution. But Michael convinced me that it isn’t nearly that simple. He poked so many holes in my theory he turned the marketing funnel into a sieve.

The marketing funnel has big problems

He argues that the attributes that communications contributes to a sale, like credibility, trust, reputation, legitimacy, etc., are seen by marketing folks as completely separate from the marketing funnel. In the past there was Team Communications in one corner building legitimacy, trust, and credibility vs. Team Marketing promoting transactional relationships and delivering profit in the other.

The problem today, Ziviani argues, is that you can’t have one without the other. The bridge in the middle is your license to operate—which can be taken away by society at the drop of a Tweet. “Both sides have to respect that license and what goes into it,“ he explained.

The other problem with the traditional marketing funnel is that it is full of simplistic assumptions about the customer journey. It assumes that customers become aware of a product or service and then some of them flow straight down the funnel and into a sale. But that’s not today’s reality. And none of the traditional models take into consideration customer churn, which obviously eats into profits.

Ziviani cited Google’s use of the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). This is when a potential customer is almost ready to purchase, but then they need to read ratings and reviews, ask their friends, search for a lower price, double check their credit card balance, etc. That’s where it becomes obvious that the alleged funnel is not watertight. There is leakage at every point, and dissonance at multiple points—from processing your credit card to the latest news to climate change.

Ziviani also suggests that these days we must take into account where reputation is built. Any model of the process has to be developed around the individuals who are making the decision, and what their needs, wants, and motivations are.

And oh, by the way, this leaky funnel situation isn’t just a problem for corporate marketing. Nonprofits face a similar situation with donors. And talent managers have the same issue with potential hires.

A new model to replace the marketing funnel

So rather than patch up the failing marketing funnel, Ziviani suggests evolving a new model that looks at traction, integrates reputation, trust, and credibility, and includes the post-purchase process.

He has used the model successfully for non-profits, helping them go deeper and broader into their potential donor base, learning the characteristics of customers, and customizing their journey around their preferences. His model also takes into account tribe mentality, the concept that “like begets like.” Giving to a non-profit means joining a tribe of like-minded individuals who can share and learn together and give social rewards for your actions.

To build loyalty, he suggests creating a sense of exclusivity as well as reciprocity to create social capital. Ultimately you want these donors to become advocates for your cause, so you need to equip them, measure and track their commitment, and activate “member get member’ programs.

He uses internal and survey data to quantify the impact of this process. He compares the number of contacts made to how many people go from being aware of a cause to consider donating to actually giving a gift. In other words, he divides the number of contacts made by the number of people who say they are more likely to consider. To show how bad the leakage is, every organization has its own awareness-to-consideration-to-giving ratio. By mapping it out, the clients can see how their ratio compares to those of their peers. Then they can identify how to improve using focus groups and survey data.

Driving the leakage might be perceptions of the organization’s credibility, competence, popularity, impact on society, and trust. All of which are attributes that communications are responsible for.

The model would also apply to recruitment, from looking at how many people are aware of your openings (traffic to your “Join us” page) to how many click through and actually take the job. He suggests getting recent hires into a focus group to find out what made them join your organization. Ideally you might also contact those that didn’t join to find out their reasons as well. “You want to know what were the triggers or motivations that got them there,” he suggests.

In the end, the point is that we need to evolve the funnel into something that more accurately reflects today’s reality. ∞

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.