The Dim Light at the End of the Funnel

Over the years, businesses have developed sales, marketing and service strategies around the funnel. Awareness, interest, desire, action, to this day, describes the likely steps a customer may take in making a decision. Over the years, it was assumed that the liner path would also continue through a transaction to a state of loyalty and ultimately advocacy. The process of customer engagement to this day is designed to shepherd people along this delicate path. For at any moment, consumer attention, interest, and resulting action could fall astray without superintendence.

I call this the “Cluster Funnel” and it’s meant to demonstrate how a customer lifecycle when viewed in aggregate is broken.

Without awareness there can be no consideration. Hence, businesses today invest to varying degrees and effectiveness in marketing, advertising, and communications strategies. To earn customer attention isn’t a switch that toggles on and off, it is a state of perpetual engagement. The blaring noise that customers continually experience has forced them to adapt. Second nature acts as a defense mechanism to tune out the constant barrage of marketing messages and clever campaigns. Awareness at the top of the funnel is elusive but never more important.

The Cluster Funnel from What’s the Future of Business


For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume that everyone understands the value of the funnel (or at least the idea of it) to attract customers and invest in long-term relationships. But what if businesses were investing their time and resources in the wrong places? What if where we think we can impress upon customers or get them to notice us is not at all where their attention is actually focused?

These are important and timely questions to answer as they will reveal a new journey to embark upon. The truth is that what we know and what we need to know are in fact separated by an unfolding reality that requires immediate intervention.

Your market has already been disrupted. Through an unforgiving series of technology revolutions paired with an era of individual empowerment, your customers are not only more informed, their expectations have matured. The “C” change in consumerism has ushered in a genre of connected consumers. As a result, your customers are learning about you or your competitors differently. How they make decisions does not at all follow a linear path. How they are influenced and in turn influence others is profound in its reach and effect. What was once simplistic, or overly simplistic depending on your point of view, representation of a fluted customer journey is in fact much more dynamic and connected.

Engagement is as much art as it is science. But to better understand the behavior of your connected customers or as I refer to them “Generation C,” takes practice of the social sciences from digital anthropology and psychology to sociology and ethnography. Understanding behavior exposes patterns in consumer activity that in of itself reveals new touch points. Appreciating how customers form and make decisions and why inspires empathy and creativity. This research will specifically point to what Altimeter Group refers to as the Dynamic Customer Journey. What you’ll learn following your research is everything. Most notably, your business will now earn clarity in how and where to focus efforts on shaping decisions and experiences pre-, during, and post commerce. Additionally, you’ll learn the specific factors, people, technology, communities, and resources that affect every stage of your customer’s journey. The results will contribute to a far more accurate point of view that tailors marketing, sales, service, and loyalty strategies to be more effective and engaging. But it won’t stop there.

Inspired by McKinsey’s work and my own research during the writing of The End of Business as Usual, we re-imagined the traditional funnel into a constant and very public elliptical path that often repeats itself.

1. Awareness
2. Consideration
3. Evaluation
4. Purchase
5. Experience
6. Loyalty
7. Advocacy

The stages of the Dynamic Customer Journey are familiar as they reflect similar methodologies in the traditional funnel. However each step is unique in the contributing factors for how consumers discover, analyze, choose, and share. The screens they use to search and purchase, the people who influence them, the content that informs them, the social networks they rely upon, the collective experiences of others, and the real-time conversations that shape impressions, each introduce guidance, doubt, and validation that works for or against your right now. The most important revelation in the DCJ is how every stage feeds into a discoverable online repository of shared experiences that influence all those who embark upon a similar journey. Without positive influence there is no hope for preference. And, without positive experiences there can be no chance for loyalty or advocacy.

It is only by traveling in the digital footsteps of your customers that uncovers a new landscape for engagement and also a new reality for your business. Embracing your connected customers will help them embrace you in return. At a minimum, the gifts you receive by embarking on this journey and investing in engagement, education, and meaningful experiences are empathy, relevance, and ultimately reciprocity…all of which is measurable by traditional business metrics.

The story continues…

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This post is based on a piece I wrote for AT&T’s Networking Exchange, which is a preview of content in WTF

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  • http://kapost.com/ Christine Leas

    “an unforgiving series of technology revolutions” What a great way to describe it! Technology can be wonderful, but it’s causing a lot of problems for poor marketers trying to keep up. We talk a lot about how the traditional sales funnel is dead, but it’s a lot harder to try to describe what’s replacing it. Thanks for sharing your insights, Brian!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you for this wonderful comment Christine!

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  • Dave Crenshaw

    Brilliant! Thank you for sharing this valuable piece, Brian!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you Dave!

  • Steve Freeman

    Brian, I’ve enjoyed this article and have connected with you on our shared social platforms. I have a question about how segmentation plays into the funnel process.

    How do you market effectively without overwhelming the client?

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Hello Steve, indeed segmentation is key here. I believe that thinking about the “social graph” is a lot like saying “audience.” It’s just too broad and too generic. I look at the “interest graphs” and the series of interests and expectations that exist among them. Very interesting to devise various engagement programs in that manner that while not reaching a larger audience, do tend to increase results.

  • http://twitter.com/gilbertoegil Gilberto Gil

    I am loving the influence loop graphic. I just stocked up on your prior books, can’t wait to read them. After following you so long on social media, it feels like a rite of passage. Great post. Always quality stuff!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you!

  • http://www.giftsspace.com/blog Online Strategies

    I think it’s all about closing the digital divide. A good deal of social analytic and constant customer engagement through social networks is the only way to close this digital divide. The way the connected customer is making decisions is not always in the straight line and often distracted when they learn about different opinions they hear from social networks.

  • Nina M Saymeh

    This is an interesting perspective as many companies are barading their customers with messages regardless of how they can get them out there. To put a structure around the process helps to focus the efforts of social media marketing on specific phases in customer interaction.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you for this comment Nina.

  • Lukas Meijer

    It seems that slowly we are learning that the old ways have lost their ‘truth’. Opposed to what the original system meant to do (create ways to attract new costomers, but also very much create loyal customers) many marketers use(d) the funnel for hit-and-run sales. The new approach (illustrated so clearly by you, Brian) leaves no room for thinking one-time sales are the way to go.

    If this is the only learning marketers get from this, it will already be worth it.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Cheers Lukas. Let’s hope!

  • http://twitter.com/jim_shook Jim Shook

    The notion of a loop vs. a funnel is great. Marketing has to be a holistic and on-going process. Too many startups focus on the funnel when it is rarely that linear.

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thanks Jim!

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  • http://lancewyllie.com/ Lance Wyllie

    This is a very hard message to get through to some business leaders, yet so elegantly explained here. As always, thank you!

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you so much Lance

  • Guest

    I totally agree. We should understand the behavior of our customers. it is important to know how consumers make decisions and what inspires them.

    About the influence Loop in my opinion the most important stage is the experience because when customers like the product/service they will recommend it to other people and there is when we get the “loyalty”

    it is very important to make the connection with our customers through social media.

    Messages need to be simple and clear as well brief.
    @Boop28Kim

  • Kimberly Gurrea

    totally agree. We should understand the behavior of our customers. it is important to know how consumers make decisions and what inspires them.

    About the influence Loop in my opinion the most important stage is the experience because when customers like the product/service they will recommend it to other people and there is when we get the “loyalty”

    it is very important to make the connection with our customers through social media.

    Messages need to be simple and clear as well brief.
    @Boop28Kim

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Thank you for the comment Kimberly.

  • Michael @michaeluemura

    I really enjoyed this article, and thank you for such deep message. I see much potential in networked purchasing funnel. There are so many ways for a customer in one stage of the funnel to potentially affect another at different stage. If we embrace them as you say, there must be countless ways to reach out to the minds of the populous.

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  • Lawrence Smith

    I like the ellipsis Brian but am I missing something? Are you suggesting that an advocate goes back to the awareness/consideration phases for each purchase?

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      In some cases yes…validation and peer influence is important.

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  • Ryan Laing

    This is a great article Brain, really relevant to something I’ve been working on.

    One question – when dealing with a market where there is product parity and all the prices and products are pretty much the same, surely the experience part of the journey becomes a key differentiator?

    • http://www.briansolis.com/ briansolis

      Hello Ryan, the experience is a key differentiator indeed!

    • Ryan Laing

      That and brand advocacy of peers. I’ve noticed that a lot of the time people sell products, not brands. Obviously this isn’t true all of the time but it goes a long way. Thanks Brian!

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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