Forrester Raises the Latest Sword to Slay the Mighty Marketing Funnel

This week, Forrester Research (for whom I have great admiration and respect; they employ some great thinkers) drove the latest dagger into the heart of that old marketing standby: the Funnel. I’ve always liked the Funnel, its a great shape for representing leakage throughout the buying cycle. Yes, it has little practical value in its traditional Sales and Marketing incarnation but I’ve leveraged it with relish over the years as a better metaphor for getting from mass marketing to micro marketing than, say, my favorite graphical representation of dwindling numbers introduced (to me, at least) by Edward Tufte: Napolean’s ill-fated winter excursion to Russia. Wicked cool, but a bit unwieldy for most marketing plans, so the Funnel served nicely as a substitute.

Into the fold come two publicly available introductions to Forrester’s recommended successor, from Nate Elliott in AdAge‘s CMO Strategy section and Corinne Munchbach’s Forrester blog post. Both are excellent reading and valuable food for thought. To me, though, they serve as a reinforcement of my notions of the Funnel as a 3-D shape instead of a 2-D one.

I’ve always thought of the Funnel as a spiral much like those donation kiosks where you drop in change and watch it spiral its way down toward the collection bin. The Forrester diagrams, in my Rorschach reading, are like looking through the top of the funnel at the spiral of interactions from a prospect’s first impression of your brand all the way to their loyal advocacy of it. The spiral introduces the notions of recursion and time, two very necessary components of any Customer Journey.

Which got me to thinking… Journeys are not cyclical, they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Our jobs as marketers are to generate a lot of beginnings and make the middles sufficiently interesting and valuable to prolong the inevitable and natural end. So, perhaps Forrester is presenting a diagram that’s really one revolution in the Funnel’s spiral. It’s up to the marketing strategists to coherently link the revolutions into a long-lasting Funnelicious spiral.

Milton Bradley Chutes and Ladders game board c...

Milton Bradley Chutes and Ladders game board c. 1952 showing good deeds and their rewards, and bad deeds and their consequences (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And, if we need a metaphor for that, try this on for size: Chutes and Ladders. You know you’ve played it. I think that the Chutes and Ladders game board might be an excellent Customer Journey map. Plot out all of the steps of your sales cycle and the prospect’s and customer’s buying and loyalty cycles as squares on the board. Then, identify all of the activities and behaviors that could lead someone down a chute (i.e., accelerating the buying cycle) or up a ladder (i.e., a hiccup in the process or temporary infatuation with a competitor’s product). While I still like my Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Theory of Customer Behavior Mapping as a broader construct for predetermining the myriad attitudinal and behavioral states that brands must influence to win consideration, trial, preference, loyalty and advocacy, the Chutes and Ladders concept is decidedly less abstract and could become a very productive means of engaging the entire brand team in mapping out the appropriate messaging and tactics for each stage of the Journey.  When you’re done, you can roll the game board into a cone.  I bet you’ll see both a Funnel and all of the points the new Forrester model covers when you look inside. 🙂


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