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. 🙂


Grieving the old is necessary for embracing the new

Old habits die hard. As we begin training our agency to take full advantage of the new processes and tools we’re putting in place to meet our industry’s challenges in the new economy and the Social Age, I’m reminded of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.  While our colleagues are supportive and most recognize the need for substantive change, Dr. Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief are very applicable to our agency’s adoption process.

  1. Denial:  In certain circles, there have been whispers that this is just the latest of many attempts over the years to fix what’s either not broken or or not so broken as to need replacing.  To a certain extent, there’s a mild air of”humor them and this, too, shall pass.”
  2. Anger:  Now, that we’re signing everyone up for a series of training classes, we’re encountering pockets of push back.  “Why do I have to take these classes?”  “I’m fine with the new process, but it doesn’t apply to me….”  “What’s wrong with the way we do it now?”  As we move from theory to practice, it’s understandable that now folks are paying attention—and might not be as comfortable with the changes as they thought.
  3. Bargaining:  I suspect that once we get through the training, we’ll hear from a lot of folks looking for exceptions or suggesting that our new processes don’t or shouldn’t apply to them.  We all think our circumstances are unique, but they rarely are.  Generally, with a little tweaking, old ways can shift seamlessly into the new.
  4. Depression:  I fully expect some sadness to set in as the new process takes hold.  We have a lot of great people who are pretty used to doing things in the manner that works best for them.  However, if we’re going to maintain our edge moving forward, we absolutely have to make sure everyone—from our CEO to our newest assistant AE—able to confidently perform against the same sheet of music.
  5. Acceptance:  Eventually, I think everyone will accept and embrace our new approach.  We have a great agency loaded with great minds.  Although change is difficult (and not without its hiccups, missteps and in-line enhancements), it is absolutely necessary.  As we move through the process, folks will accept what we’re up to.

Then comes the hard part:  changing individual behaviors to engrain the new process as a new, agency-wide habit.

A Change is Gonna Come

I’m with Sam Cooke on this one.  For over a year, I’ve been working on a project that represents a massive sea change for our agency.  A fundamental, sweeping, no-turning-back kind of change that I’m not really sure even those who have been proponents thus far fully understand.  Fortunately, our boss does or I’d just save this post for reading at my plank walking (generally, change agents rapidly morph from gurus to pariahs when the changes are implemented).

So, as I spend this weekend working on the training that will make the promise of transformation an irrevocable reality, it dawns on me that the hard part hasn’t started yet.  Sure, giving up most of my nights and weekends for over a year to help ensure we pull this off cleanly has been exhausting—but absolutely worth it.  However, the first rays of the real hard part, the “I was behind this until I realized it impacts my job” part, are just now peeking over the horizon.

The marketing communications industry finds itself in a perfect storm of a jobless recovery (if, in fact, we’re actually in recovery), the dawning of the Social Age, the rise of the third screen (e.g., smartphones and iPads) and a new inquisitor near the head of the agency selection table (i.e., Procurement).

At the agency level, nobody survives this storm on his or her own.  If we cling to that piece of turf we thought was ours, we’re doomed.  “That’s my job” or “that’s my billable hour” absolutely has to be replaced by “how can I help today?” and “what do I need to learn for us to be successful?” or we’ll never navigate our way to calmer waters.

In any symbiotic environment, the organism dies if the symbiants enter self-preservation mode.  And if the organism dies, things don’t end too well for the symbiants either.  To survive, we have to be willing to surrender preconceptions and historical responsibilities.  We have to embrace the new challenges presented and trust that, for a change, good deeds will not only go unpunished but that the rewards on the other side of transformation are worth the effort, the uncertainty, the self-doubt and the short walk off the long pier.

Agencies that reconfigure to weather the perfect storm will emerge stronger, I believe.  And the marketers we serve will be all the more successful for it.

But first, a change is gonna come.  On behalf of change agents everywhere, please check your pitchforks and torches at the door.