You might have heard rumors that the Internet heralded some sort of revolution, and that the marketing funnel is dead. While that might be overstating the case, we’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Once upon a time, the task of a marketer was simply to nudge prospects through the various stages of acquisition, guiding them from awareness to purchase. The opportunities to influence customers were limited and discrete, typically sandwiched between halves of television episodes, or jammed into mailboxes with our junk mail.

The vanishing funnel

Today, the concept of the funnel fails to adequately capture the proliferation of touchpoints and influencing factors ushered in by the digital era. Worse, these opportunities for influence can occur asynchronously or simultaneously; witness the phenomenon of “showrooming,” where customers research deals on their phones while in brick-and-mortar stores. An overabundance of product choice, a profusion of channels, and increasingly sophisticated customers have rendered this classical model of customer decision making obsolete.

Conversely, the new customer experience is measurable and quantifiable in ways that would have been unimaginable when E St. Elmo Lewis first described the purchase funnel in 1898 (yes, that’s really his name, and yes, it’s really that old). We can now map customer activities and attribute the results to our marketing efforts with ever-increasing accuracy. While we have less control over the dispersed web of customer activity, we can identify when far more of those interactions occur, and evaluate the implications of those actions.

The customer journey

The new metaphor is the customer journey, a sequence of actions that depict the entire arc of an engagement between a customer and a brand. Like any journey, there are multiple routes one can take in order to arrive at the final destination. Market environments will vary by industry. Some are populated with lots of obstacles or competitors that might interrupt a customer’s journey, and some are more intuitive than others.

The role of the marketer now is to act as a GPS system for prospects, identifying their position, orientation and speed as they wend their way through the landscape of the marketplace. We must provide milestones and guideposts to help direct customers in an intuitive way, and that requires research. Customer profiles and personas as well as customer journey mapping will help identify to whom we’re speaking and where best to deploy those signs. Data analysis can determine how effective these mechanisms are functioning, and identify where we need to improve our efforts. In this way, we can continue to engage customers as they switch between devices and channels.

Propulsion for the journey

So we know we need to arrange the signs that guide prospects, but what propels them to their final destination? That’s where Value Proposition comes in. At its core, it’s a collection of the most compelling reason(s) a consumer should take action -setting customer expectations and providing the best possible rationale for buying at each juncture.

If the marketer is the GPS, the Value Proposition is the vehicle that drives customers from their point of departure, through that market landscape, and to a final conversion. It’s the fundamental engine of your business, and the reason customers ultimately buy. Without one, customers don’t have a strong reason to engage with a company at any point in their journeys.

A Value Proposition doesn’t have to be “Our products are the best in every respect.” If the company has at least one facet in which they excel, then that can suffice. It might be the cheapest, the most advanced, have the widest selection, or provide the best service. Very few organizations can do it all. That’s ok. People who value what the company does well in have a good reason to engage and buy.

Looking forward

In future articles, I’ll describe how you can develop a persuasive value proposition for your business, and how to effectively deploy it in your marketing collateral. For now, know that the landscape has changed. It’s a lot more complicated, and there’s a lot less control. But there are far more tools at your disposal, and marketing has become more transparent and accountable than ever before. Your customers are embarking on a voyage. Won’t you help them plan it?

Ryan Hickey Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is a rapid-fire, coffee-drinking devotee of hard data. As the Director of Digital Strategy, he guides S4’s strategic approach to both internal and client work with a near-obsessive commitment to critical thinking and substantiation through methodical tracking and analysis. Ryan studied diplomacy at Georgetown and has been known to turn a poisoned pen to album reviews in his spare time.

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