Flip The Funnel

  • by March 1, 2010

Moving toward a more open and social model

RAM-Flip the Funnel

It's time to set our sights on the very foundation of consumer behavior itself: the marketing funnel, aka A.I.D.A. (the theory, not the opera) - Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. It is widely held to be the simplest and most accurate way of describing the four states or behaviors that almost all consumers experience - from being blissfully unaware of a product, service, offer or idea that they never knew they needed to the point at which they actually make some kind of commitment (usually monetary) to purchase, invest in, or acquire that item.

Warts and all, that is the marketing funnel in its simplest of terms and definitions: a linear, standardized and otherwise predictable process of defining, segmenting and describing consumer behavior from a marketing management, communications and even sales perspective. It is a funnel that has stood the test of the time - or has it?

Today, the once shiny funnel is dinged and dented, rusted and dusted. It relies on masses of quantity in order to arrive at a manageable end point of quality; it is a methodology that takes protracted time, endless reserves of energy, and a ton of money. The marketing funnel is synonymous with - and probably should just be called - an acquisition funnel, and it is a funnel of futility when it is an end unto itself.

So what's wrong with the funnel?

There's something inherently out of whack with the traditional marketing funnel and there are better ways to optimize it.

It's out of date. Come on - people aren't predictable, linear, rational or sequential beings. They probably never were. Though the four steps make sense in theory from a sequential or even chronological standpoint, the buying game is very different in reality. In a word-of-mouth and word-of-mouse led world, the process of researching and buying is decidedly non-linear, and it's likely that some steps are skipped altogether in an always correcting, efficient and evolving marketplace.

It's lopsided or out of proportion. The reason why the funnel is wider at one end and narrower at the other is not only because of the number of people that are theoretically present at each step, but arguably because of the amount of money spent or available at each step. If you think about it, shouldn't we be spending more money against qualified prospective buyers, versus shots in the dark at bagging a random stranger? Of course
we should.

It's oversimplified. There's a fine line between simplifying something complex down to a root or core state, and oversimplifying it to a fault. The marketing funnel does not factor in at least three critical components associated with the qualification process; and even more intriguing is that all three are consumer-driven or initiated, starkly contrasting against the incumbent steps which are all marketing-centric or oriented: Research, Trial, and Satisfaction.

Research: Search is just the tip of the iceberg - a portal into an aggressive and proactive due-diligence process. Consumers today are vociferous researchers; they will do what they can to make informed decisions that disintermediate marketing misdirection, hyperbole, overpromise and hype. They'll also spend increasing amounts of time talking with peers, colleagues, friends and family members, as well as interacting with newly formed "acquaintances" in the social networking and digital community arenas.

Trial:Try before you buy is a crucial solution to hesitation, inability to commit, or indecision. And just like search was the tip of the research iceberg, so too is couponing or sampling the tip of the trial step. Often times, trial is indirect or inferred; for example, a movie review today is independently and representatively vetted, endorsed and validated by a community of "me's" and "you's." When trial becomes an existential experience, there's no longer danger of seeing a bad movie.

Satisfaction: Interestingly enough (if we're using Wikipedia as the gold standard), this is the only missing component of A.I.D.A. that tends to make it into conversations about the consumer qualification process. Perhaps it's because it slots neatly into an acronym (A.I.D.A.S.), and who doesn't love the convenience of a neat-sounding acronym? Satisfaction is the one clue that the funnel is not quite done yet ...

Human beings have become increasingly unpredictable mammals. Expecting them to go through any kind of process (especially one we created for them) with a degree of standardization and/or certainty is a dangerous assumption to make. With incessant distractions, constantly new propositions and exciting ways of transacting with a company, it's no longer valid to bank on a predictable path to purchase. Instead, witness a more realistic behavior, mixed with accelerated, skipped and even repeated steps or pathways to purchase.

What happens to the chosen few that make it through to the other end of the funnel? They fall to their grisly deaths in the vertical drop of attrition. Put less grandiosely and more pragmatically: The funnel is purely an acquisition phase, and does not continue to retention. Perhaps if there were a bucket underneath, we'd be a little more reassured that there was some kind of safety net built into an incredibly costly (or risky) game of conquesting.

Even if the funnel were "closed" insofar that there was a destination or goal, it would still be incomplete; the end point would still be a dead end. The marketing funnel produces customers - but then does nothing with them. With so much effort extended to produce a priceless transaction, it is almost inconceivable that we all but abandon our intensity thereafter. Perhaps we're locked into a cruel version of Groundhog Day when we immediately are taken back to the beginning, only to have to repeat our entire marketing mating dance with (as history has shown us) barely any new lessons learned and diminishing success rates.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Flip the Funnel: How to Use Existing Customers to Gain New Ones. Copyright 2010 by Joseph Jaffe. This book is available at all bookstores, online booksellers and from the Wiley Web site at, or call 1-800-225-5945.

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