Forget Funnels and Embrace Journey-Centric Marketing

Marketing funnels are dead.

Let me say that again so it doesn’t get lost: Marketing funnels are dead. The notion that customers go through an orderly, sequential process that nicely aligns with marketing efforts in each stage of the funnel (awareness, preference, etc.) is as outdated as fax machines. Marketers who continue to tie their campaigns to the notion of a funnel will increasingly become less effective.

What killed off this tried-and-true marketing concept? Customer experiences have changed.  The marketing funnel was a wonderful model for decades when people gathered information through a limited, dependable set of sources and then interacted with companies in dependable ways. But new technologies (e.g., Internet, mobile, social) have enabled people to behave in a different way today than they did 20 years ago—or even 10, five, or two years ago.

The realities of today’s customer interactions

Before I get into what’s replacing the tried-and-true funnel, let’s look at how people behave today. Compared with just a few years ago, customer interactions are more:

  • Information-rich: Companies used to dole out pieces of information knowing that customers had little access to anything more that could validate or repudiate their message. Information is now widely available. Marketing messages, therefore, have much less influence today on what people think about a company.
  • Multichannel: Companies used to depend on a stable set of interactions in each channel: sales in stores, service over the phone, etc. But an increasing number of interactions are happening in online and other digital channels, and are being blended with those traditional channels. A recent Temkin Group study found, for example, that 43% of U.S. consumers check competitors’ prices on their mobile phone when they’re in a store.
  • Interconnected: Companies are recognizing that marketing and service interactions aren’t isolated events. When a customer has a great service experience, they’re open to messages about making additional purchases or believing positive comments about your brand. After a bad experience, any marketing event will likely fall flat.
  • Beyond you: With the growth of social channels and technologies for sharing information, people rely less on what they hear directly from companies. As a result, influencing an individual is no longer sufficient for affecting behaviors. Marketers need to support the customers’ ecosystem.

Embrace journey-centric marketing

How can marketers thrive in the post-funnel era? By infusing what we’ve learned about customer experience into marketing processes. Fusing those disciplines together, I created a concept called journey-centric marketing (JCM), defined as:

Supporting customers along their paths to becoming loyal customers

The JCM process starts by defining key customers and identifying their preferred interaction paths. This isn’t about looking at internal processes or specific touchpoints, it’s about understanding how your organization fits within the context of your customers’ lives. How can marketers gain this insight? By tapping into the growing customer experience methodology called customer journey mapping. 

Customer journey maps are a representation of the steps and emotional states a customer goes through during a period of time that includes, but is not limited to, interactions with an organization. Journey maps are valuable because they help identify how a customer views an organization by putting company interactions in the context of the customer’s broader activities and goals.

Marketers should use this tool for identifying the key paths that your high-value customers go through and identifying opportunities for helping them succeed. Instead of trying to push customers in one direction or another, understand how you can provide them with the information and encouragement to satisfy their needs and desires.

Marketers also can get a great deal of the value if they actively consider customers’ journeys in everything they do. Temkin Group has identified a methodology called customer journey thinking, where organizations can gain broad understanding of customers by continually asking and answering these five questions:

  • Who is the customer? Start by recognizing that different customers have different needs. It’s important to understand who the person is before we think about his specific journey.
  • What is the customer’s real goal? Customers aren’t usually contacting a company because they want to; they’re doing it because of a deeper need. To understand how customers will view an interaction with your company and what’s shaping their expectations, you need to think about what they’re trying to accomplish.
  • What did the customer do right before? When customers interact with your company, it’s almost always part of a longer journey. So you need to think about where they’ve been prior to the interaction to understand how they’ll respond to an interaction with your company. In many cases these previous interactions will include people and organizations outside of your company. After you’ve answered this question, ask and answer it at least two more times.
  • What will the customer do right after? When customers interact with your company, it’s almost never the last step on their journey. So you need to think about what they will do next to understand how you can best help them. In many cases these subsequent interactions will include people and organizations outside of your company. After you’ve answered this question, ask and answer it at least two more times.
  • What will make the customer happy? Rather than just aiming to satisfy customers’ basic needs, think about what it will take to provide each customer with the most positive experience–given what employees know about customers’ real goals and their entire journeys. The focus on customers’ emotional state will help employees stay mindful of customers’ holistic needs.

The bottom line: Don’t push customers through a funnel, support their journeys.

  Bruce Temkin, managing partner and customer experience transformist at Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting company. He is widely viewed as a leading expert in customer experience.
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