The New Marketing Funnel

(Jointly authored with Rosetta‘s Director of Social Media, Gargi Patel)

The world has changed. We are in the midst of an unprecedented shift of power to the consumer fueled by the virtual megaphone handed to them through social media outlets. When a customer is angry or has a bad experience with a product or service, the old rule of thumb was that they told an average of 10 people about it. In today’s world some could easily be telling 10,000 (or more!). On the flip side, happy customers can be telling many more than the old average of 3 people about their good experience. Marketing executives just need to design initiatives that enable and activate them to do so. That shift can be represented through adapting one of every marketer’s favorite marketing conceptual frameworks, the funnel.

Infusing Engagement into the Marketing Funnel

With the expansion of the marketer’s toolbox to include social media, marketing is no longer about pushing out one way communications. The marketing world is no longer defined solely by impressions; it’s now a world of interactions. Today’s marketing includes the customer’s voice throughout the process, whether it’s intentional or not. Customers will talk online and comment on a brand’s marketing campaigns, products, services, and even how a company treats employees. It’s not enough to think about how companies communicate outwards; it’s just as important to think about how customers can communicate back, with each other, and arguably most importantly, with new prospects.

Rethinking The Funnel

A few years ago, Forrester Research published a report on “engagement” and suggested that the marketing funnel has become much more complex in today’s environment.  (See image.  Former Forrester analyst Brian Haven wrote about the complexities impacting the funnel in 2007).  While the influencing factors are more complicated, the same simple, visual framework as the traditional marketing funnel can be leveraged to show this complexity. The design needs to account for engagement throughout the process rather than looking at it through a lens of static messages we push out.

For example, traditionally, marketers look to create awareness by placing carefully planned messages across appropriate media outlets. Today, customers can create and spread their own messages about a brand through user-generated content and social networks. Traditionally, marketers would hope to influence customers in the “consideration” phase through strategic promotions and sales tactics. Today, user-generated ratings and reviews are frequently enough to convince a customer to make the purchase. Building loyalty is no longer just about loyalty points programs for repeat purchase or sending regular emails to customers. Building loyalty now means entering into a dialogue with them and letting customers participate in more meaningful ways than static customer feedback surveys or a constant barrage of emails announcing special promotions.

Extending the Marketing Funnel

The old marketing funnel generally followed some version of this pattern:

  • Awareness > Research/Consideration > Purchase / Conversion

With the widespread adoption of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) in the 1990’s, marketers began focusing more on loyalty or customer retention and brought the funnel one level deeper. The customer’s voice was considered important, but only in the context of customer service and a closed feedback loop. The old thinking was that sending customers regular emails would keep the brand top of mind and that special offers would keep customers from switching to competitors.

As mentioned before, today’s marketers will need to build a more authentic, deeper relationship with customers by truly engaging them to earn their loyalty—and this is how companies can begin to cultivate advocates.

Figure 2: The New Marketing Funnel

It’s time to extend the marketing funnel one level deeper to account for advocacy. There are two reasons that cultivating and enabling advocacy is critical in today’s world:

  1. People trust other people more than they trust companies. A recommendation from a friend or family member is still the single most important criteria in making a purchase decision and recommendations from strangers online also hold more weight than marketing messages.
  2. With the growing voice of the customer online and the “power” (virtual megaphone) handed to them through social media outlets, it’s important to help make sure the voice of happy customers is louder than that of the few unhappy customers.

Cultivating and enabling advocates will generate authentic word-of-mouth, bringing the best new customer prospects into the marketing funnel. The ROI on that? Priceless.  (Rosetta does in fact have a framework to measure ROI on advocacy programs.)

What do you think?  Is this old news?  Would this help you construct a framework to measure social media initiatives or sell the concept of driving advocacy to executives?  How would you change it?

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