Marketers, Put Down the Funnel: Why You Need an Updated Toolkit


ADOTAS – Marketers, it’s time to put down the funnel. Yes, it has served you well. You could see when and how suspects, prospects and customers entered it. We all enjoyed this linear path from stimulus to desire to purchase. But guess how old that funnel is? In 1898, early American advertising proponent E. St. Elmo Lewis developed a model that mapped a customer’s journey from the moment a brand or product attracted his or her attention to the point of purchase. Yep, the funnel is over 100 years old – it’s rusty, it’s worn, it’s time for improvement and adaptation to the 21st century.

Marketers need a new model to connect successfully with today’s multi-tasking, multi-media, over-informed consumers. Search engines, social media and smartphones have dramatically affected the way consumers find all types of information, advice, entertainment, products and services. They have also fundamentally changed the way we buy goods and services. Today a vast majority of U.S. consumers research products online before they purchase and have already made up their mind before reaching the store. About 58 percent of people do online research – website visits, social media interaction, blogs or consumer reviews — before purchasing a particular product, up from 49 percent in 2004 (according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project). A large portion of consumers know more about the product or the service they’re about to purchase than the sellers themselves!

Instead of being exposed linearly from awareness to engagement to purchase through a predictable series of channels by brands pushing their products, consumers now journey through multiple channels simultaneously to pull the information they need. Now we no longer even have category awareness for some products, and we’ve started buying them from sources we didn’t know of five years ago. Rather than searching for known brands, consumers search for generic terms and then refine for brand or product names. This process exposes consumers to brands they might not have previously considered, expanding their options at exactly the point where, according to the traditional funnel, it should narrow. At the same time, it levels the playing field, allowing new brands to emerge while making marketing and advertising far more complex than they have ever been. Brands and products must have the ability to cut through the clutter and rise above the noise.

The Multi-Touch Engagement Path

The journey that internet users take from awareness to purchase is now a multi-touch journey. From the initial search, a consumer will visit company websites, read reviews on blogs or consumer sites, subscribe to newsletters, watch a YouTube video, visit a brand Facebook page, see a banner ad, see a retargeted banner ad, conduct additional searches with refined terms, look for a coupon or a discount – all before making a purchase decision.

Whether you call your strategy cross-channel, multi-touch, integrated, holistic or something else, it’s clear that marketing must now reach consumers on their multi-pronged path from stimulus to conversion. The most successful marketers will be those who integrate the right channels to engage users with a consistent message across that journey while making the consumers’ experience appear seamless.

Integrated marketing allows brands to reach consumers at various touch points along the same campaign, and enables marketers to leverage the strengths of one channel to support success in another. A multi-touch engagement strategy can significantly improve digital campaign performance while maximizing consumer insight, ROI and conversion volumes. The consequences of pursuing an outdated funnel approach in light of current consumer behavior can be poor campaign response or worse — getting beaten by your competition.

Siloed Vs. Integrated Campaigns

Pursuing an outdated siloed campaign rather than using an integrated, multi-touch approach can significantly affect your outcomes. The first of the key elements is to understand your target audience. If you lack a deep understanding of how and where your customers engage with your brand, you are at a significant disadvantage. Technology has created so many possible opportunities for these interactions to occur that you have to understand what these touch points are, who interacts with them, where they fall in the decision-making cycle of your customer and what kind of impact they have in progressing customers closer to purchase. If you are not measuring and managing every interaction across the value chain, you are not maximizing your marketing dollars.

Consider one example from the business of higher education. Schools A and B are large organizations that operate campuses in major metropolitan areas around the country. They both provide a broad curriculum with multiple degrees. Their target audience is diverse, socio-economically and ethnically. These potential students also have a wide range of interests and intentions related to continuing their education. And, perhaps most importantly, they are all at different stages in their decision-making and turning to multiple sources to gather the information they are seeking.

School A decides to pursue a traditional marketing approach, optimizing their website for the school name, degrees and curriculum and running PPC ads for these terms. They also have a social media agency managing their Facebook page and are serving display ads through an affiliate network. School A assumes that most prospective students are unfamiliar with them and are targeting them with marketing campaigns designed to make them aware of their brand and then interested enough to learn more.

School B is taking a slightly different approach. They know that while some in their audience are at the initial stages of information gathering, others have made the decision to go back to school, know what degree they want to pursue, and are in the process of picking a school and evaluating financial aid options. School B is looking at the behavior that prospects exhibit prior to seeking information and using that to identify them as an EDU information-seeker. It is serving display ads to prospects before they have “raised their hand” by performing a search. Additionally, School B has ensured that the key terms used in its display ads and social media are appropriately incorporated into its website’s content, increasing the likelihood that prospects will ultimately land on its website not a competitor’s.

Outsmart the Competition

By making sure you are present at every possible touch point throughout a customer’s journey, you put your brand in front of prospects even before they know that they are looking for the solution you offer. These prospects will find your brand when they do begin looking for information and, because you have provided them with valuable information throughout their entire decision-making journey, they will value your brand more highly than your competition.


  1. Great post Daniel. I couldn’t agree more with your statement “If you are not measuring and managing every interaction across the value chain, you are not maximizing your marketing dollars.” The example of School A vs. B is a great one. The funnel is old and it is time to market with a 360 degree view of our prospects so that we can present the relevant content to our prospects relative to where they are in their buying cycle. Pushing touch point information to the field results in more competitive sale teams who are able prioritize leads and focus efforts where they are most like to yield ROI. Thanks for sharing.

  2. The Buddha created the Four Nobel Truths. In 2500 years since then, everyone has taken a shot at refining Buddhism.

    My question, do any of the aspects of the funnel still exist? Does a consumer first need to know a product/company exists. If its a product or a company do they need to know what options are available to them. Will they want to know others opinions? Will they purchase something if they have no intent on purchasing something?

    Yes, the process will always change, but is this not a bit of a Mahayana Buddhist telling folks they have to come back to save others once they’ve found their own enlightenment?

  3. Getclear, that is a great question – has the process essentially changed or is it the same process with some refinements? From my point of view I think it has changed in some pretty dramatic ways, especially if you go back 20 years. Then we had no way to discover products other than what we saw in stores, read in print, heard from
    friends or learned about from ads. The fact that search engines have made it possible to “stumble upon” any number of products and services we may not even have known existed, plus the arrival of new platforms and technologies that are connected in unprecedented ways, I believe makes this process fundamentally different.


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