Back in 1898, American advertising advocate Elias St. Elmo Lewis first formalised the sales process that we know so well as the “Funnel”. It’s been great, but like Top of the Pops or the concept of a job for life, it’s well past its shelf-life (anyone sent a fax recently?).
It’s not relevant anymore because brands no longer operate in a vacuum where they can predict how and when customers will choose to engage, and they cannot dictate which information about their brand customers access and in what order, (or, for that matter, which information customers will choose to share, as newly empowered one-to-many digital publishers in their own right). Customers have a new kind of autonomy when it comes to brand decision-making.
In fact, the CEB / Google report on changes in the sales funnel, (echoed by Gartner, Forrester and many others), shows that customers have so much information at their disposal that they can be as much as 60% of the way through their sales decision making process before they make contact with a brand’s sales team, regardless of price point – which makes at least half of the “Funnel” redundant.
Inconveniently for us, potential leads now flow in and out of, and around, the “Funnel” fluidly of their own accord, without being shepherded through sequentially in a one-way direction from top-to-bottom; awareness-to-SQL? Instead, they make spiralling connections with brands at different touch points, and significantly, they are no longer solitary, because they influence and connect with other consumers thereby amplifying their (good and bad) responses to brands – an obvious illustration being a social like or share.
If brands map their communications to their lead “Funnel” stages, they risk looking out of sync with potential leads who might already have researched everything about their brand, but are being communicated with in the mistaken belief they are ‘unaware’. So how can brands make sure these people are communicated with in a way that is always appropriate to their current interaction with the brand, level of brand awareness, and their influencer status?
We need to recognise one thing and we need to do one thing.
Firstly we have to recognise and adapt to changes. I got some inspiration from the concept of ‘quantum journeys’, consumer behaviour identified in a recent Microsoft Advertising study, where users start an activity on one screen (their phone for example) and continue it on another (tablet, laptop, PC) – in a state of continual connectedness with multiple inter-dependent layering of influences and interactions. And the study shows that multiscreening behaviour is becoming normalised, with 45% of UK consumers taking quantum journeys.
As regards what we do, it’s now so outdated to think in terms of campaigns, or “Funnels”, with a defined start and end point. We need to develop a more dynamic, elastic, and ‘live’ engagement model that meets the consumer at every touch point from search to sale, with an intelligent response to their need at that particular moment in their complicated customer journey. It’s not about campaign delivery, it’s about customer engagement
I’ve come up with one version which, given the above, I’ve called it the “Quantum Funnel”. And it might look something like this.