February 12, 2016

Chasing The Funnel, Part 1: Evolution Of The Purchase Path

Marketers today have an enormous challenge on their hands: The purchasing funnel they have relied on for more than a century to represent the stages of a consumer's path to purchase has been obliterated with the maturation of the Internet, social media, and multi-device media consumption behaviors.

The neat and tidy linear funnel of yore has been replaced with the modern purchase path - which is not only nonlinear, but resembles a twisted heap of wires. What's more, consumers aren't waiting for marketers to lead them through the funnel as they did in the past; today they're driving their own path-to-purchase trains.

In order to be successful in this new landscape, marketers must fundamentally change the way they think, act, and organize themselves.

Origins Of The Purchasing Funnel

The purchasing funnel was originally conceived in 1898 by American Advertising advocate E. St. Elmo Lewis and was valid for more than 100 years. It identified key stages in the buying process that marketers could identify and use to push marketing messaging along to move the potential buyer through the funnel, leading to a sale. It relied on customers having access to limited resources, time, and money when it came to discovering (awareness) and analyzing potential products, with a limited set of options for purchasing outlets.

Marketers established significant budgets to create awareness for their brands. They staffed 800 numbers, increased inside and outside sales staff to answer questions, or created a point-of-sale and/or packaging at the retailer to move the customer from interest to desire to, ultimately, a purchase.

Over time marketers evolved the purchasing funnel to include additional steps and incorporate modern marketing technologies, such as TV and radio.

These days, consumers are no longer limited to a few intrusive media for entertainment and information channels. Rather, they have volumes of data and opinions at their fingertips (oftentimes at the point of purchase via their mobile devices). And they have expanded their networks of influencers to include more than their close circle of confidants and friends.

There is overwhelming evidence to support this shift from a linear "company-led" funnel journey to a "consumer-led" nonlinear journey:

So what must the modern marketer do, recognizing this shift from a company-led journey to a consumer-led journey? In the next three "Chasing the Funnel" articles, we will examine:

  1. Putting the consumer in the center of the purchase journey.
  2. Mapping a complete cross-channel customer journey.
  3. Bringing it all together with modern tools that lead to a "customer command center."

Though the model for the consumer decision journey has changed, our job as marketers has not. By embracing the modern purchase path and understanding the central role today's consumers play, marketers can and will find success in this new landscape.

This content appeared previously on: CMO by Adobe