The marketing funnel is dead – Change your marketing strategy for the digital age

September 8, 2016 - 7 minutes read

My phone has been heating up and apps have lagged more than usual in the past few weeks. I’d gotten two good years out of my mobile and I was thinking of switching to a newer model. I looked up the latest phones on the market, compared specs and read reviews. Before I made my final decision, I decided to go down to a physical shop to get a feel and touch for the phones. At the store I was on my phone comparing the shop prices with those online. Finding a cheaper option online I went back home and ordered the phone through my laptop.


My buying process here was random and I followed a non-linear path by going back and forth between various choices. I’m sure many of you can relate to this scenario when trying to make a purchase. The new age buyer has no dearth of options on hand and constantly shifts his attention between websites, stores and products in their search for a better deal. This means businesses have to let go of the linear sales funnel model to attract these buyers.

What is the sales funnel model?

Developed in 1898 by American advertising advocate E. St. Elmo Lewis, the sales funnel features a linear, top-down progression which illustrates the theoretical customer journey towards the purchase of a product or service. According to the funnel model, the key stages in a customer life cycle are awareness, interest, decision and action.



The theory states that a customer first has to become aware that the product exists and then develop an interest in the product group. After narrowing down options, prospective customers will want to buy a particular brand or product which leads to them taking action to carry out a purchase.

This worked well for businesses in the past when their customers had limited access to information about the products. Information like reviews and comparisons were not easily available. Customers had to rely on information fed to them through marketing channels. Once a customer was aware of a particular brand and showed interest in the product, it was easy for the marketing team to guide them down the path towards a purchase. These customers didn’t look for a better deal because they did not have access to information that would let them find it.

Why the funnel model won’t work today

Customers today, don’t just slide through the sales funnel. Savvy marketing efforts are wasted if companies try to keep prospects on a linear path towards a purchase. Customers have instant access to information about the product and they will conduct their own research and comparisons before deciding on a product. Even after a customer has fixed on a particular product they are easily swayed by a better deal elsewhere.

What can you do?

Steven Noble is senior analyst at Forrester Research who wrote about how a customer life cycle depends on four phases. Rather than a four step linear guide to successful marketing, businesses have to put customers at the centre of the marketing process building the brand experience around people. No matter which step of the phase customers decides to approach the business, they have to be treated to a seamless user experience. The four phases of a customer life-cycle include:


Discovering a product is the first trigger that can lead to a sale in the long run. Marketing strategies should leverage every platform available to them to make sure customers become aware of your product.


The exploration phase involves the research into a product that a customer wishes to buy. Rather than funnelling options, as theorised by the sales funnel model, exploration widens the customer choice as they are exposed to product reviews and similar products from alternate sellers. This is where customers understand the pros and cons of a product and cast a wider net to find their ideal choice.


At this stage the customer has decided to buy the product. But there are still gaps that need to be filled to make sure that businesses do not lose a sale at this point. The product should be in stock and the checkout process should be a seamless experience. Whether the purchase be from an online store or a brick and mortar store the customers should have access to in-store customer service and call centres.


After deciding on a brand the customer can engage with it in various ways. Healthy customer engagement inspires loyalty which then makes for repeat customers. It also assures the business a marketing channel through word of mouth.

As customer life cycles become increasingly complex, businesses have to invest more on an overall strategy to understand how the customer psych works. Collecting and analysing customer data will offer new insights into understanding triggers for customer interest, individually targeted marketing and increase customer lifetime value for the business. The break from the sales funnel model has cost us the ease of predictability but we gained from it many more opportunities to connect with and better understand our customers.

Tags: , , ,