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In Defense of a Simple Marketing Funnel

April 19, 2023   By Jim Cuene

Most marketers today are building plans around customer experiences, but sometimes the simplest tool - a marketing funnel - can be the most effective at driving clarity.

What a time to be a marketing leader. There are so many tools available to us to help build the business around engaging brand experiences. And, there appears to be an unlimited pipeline of platforms, software, methods and approaches to help marketers do their jobs by optimizing the efficiency and effectiveness of just about every slice of the the marketer’s job.

There are so many choices for tools because the actual work of marketing teams is so expansive today. Influencer programs, TikTok, managing the app, SMS, content strategy, collabs, audio strategy, ecommerce, etc. are all core to growing brands.

Meanwhile, marketers are still challenged with the job of finding their audience and creating connections to the brand. Marketing segments are growing apart due to demographics, cultural shifts, economic disparity and, increasingly algorithms. While its easier than ever to get your message out, it’s also never been easier to get lost in the noise of a busy, fractured information landscape. We need a full toolbox to stay connected with  our consumers!

With so many options, it’s no wonder so many marketers get caught in the trap of managing tactical choices and forgetting to re-assess their strategic plans. Often, when I meet marketing teams, they are in the middle of their operating cycle, activating their plans. They are in “execute” mode, driving results. When asked, “hows it going?” the answers are almost always about the short term, the immediate tactical or channel results and rarely about how the overall marketing strategy is working.

Balancing Strategic Clarity and Operational Complexity

Too often, the reality of executing complex marketing programs means the folks “on the ground” get too focused on the “what” and “how”. They forget the “why”, and end up disconnected from the overall strategic priorities they agreed to at the beginning of the year.

As someone prone to complexifying, I’m trying to advocate for a “keep it simple” approach. I see the wisdom in keeping the basics front and center.  At the very least, marketing leaders will serve their teams if they have a bias towards clarifying and simplifying the set of strategic choices a marketing team has to keep in balance.

The good, old fashioned marketing funnel has become a go to tool for conversations with our clients. I’d make an argument that a “funnel” is to marketers what a topographical map is to explorers.

Some might argue the funnel is passè in the age of hyper complex consumer journeys, but we are finding it’s value comes as a tool to force discussions and decisions about strategic choices and prioritization, setting up more productive planning for tactical choices down the road.

The marketing funnel forces clarity because it’s a blunt instrument. Even the more complex versions that are non-linear force a conversation about the multiple options marketers have across the customer lifecycle from “awareness” through “Consideration” to “conversion” and ultimately to “advocacy”). But the key point is easily forgotten or overlooked: You’re trying to move people (your future customers) through the stages, from one side of the funnel through to the other. The movement is the key assumption.

Even Simple Funnels Drive Prioritization

While marketing teams must balance multiple goals, some goals are going to be more important. So, regardless of how you construct your funnel, you’re setting up a series of fairly straight-foward decisions:

  • Which stage takes the priority? And which are NOT priorities?
  • What does “success” look like in the stages we prioritize?
  • How will we “win” in the stages that matter the most?

By using the tool, marketing leaders force the team to discuss:

  • What must be true to get people to move from one stage to the next?
  • What customer outcomes are the ones we care about the most (vs. focusing internally on our channel effectiveness)
  • What is our ultimate business goal? the one that actually sustains the business over time? (Hint: it’s not CTR or CAC or ROAS).

The volume and complexity of work being delivered by marketing team is only going to increase. As complexity goes up, it will be too easy for teams to lose the plot, to get bogged down in executional considerations and go off-strategy in pursuit of channel efficiency.

Using a tool like a marketing funnel, as cliched and “basic” as they are, gets everybody onto the same page. The “get back to the basics” conversation creates an opportunity for a marketing team to re-commit to the core growth strategy, to ensure alignment to the overall business outcomes (e.g. “we want to create profitable, long term customer relationships”), and make an explicit connection between tactical projects (i.e. your influencer program) and the overall growth plan.

So, keep the funnel in your toolbox. Appreciate the power of simple tools to do a necessary job, well.

Co-Founder and CEO

Jim has over 20 years of digital brand building experience. From running a start up digital agency to leading digital strategies for global brands at Ameriprise and General Mills, he’s been at the front of digital marketing his whole career. He loves the web and the opportunities it is creating for people and businesses to actually make the world better. Jim has an entrepreneurial mindset, the ability to see how the dots will connect in the future, and the knowledge & experience to put plans and teams in place to get results now.

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