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.

Distance to Engagement Determines Awareness vs. Lead Gen

This week, I’m taking a new delineation for a test ride; please comment in agreement, disagreement, disgruntlement, confusion or amusement.

I want to delineate between awareness tactics and lead generation tactics thusly:  an awareness tactic is one that requires an individual to take more than one step to engage.  Lead generation tactics are defined as single-step engagement drivers.

For instance, banner ads, search, emails and QR tags are lead generation tactics; PR, advertising and postal mail are awareness tactics.  Why?  The vast majority of engagement tactics today are online (e.g., web sites, mobile content, etc.).  If I get an email, I’m one click away from engaging with the brand.  If I see a great magazine ad (that doesn’t include a QR tag), I have to remember the URL long enough to type it into my browser.

For metrics purposes, I think this distinction provides a clean demarcation line for determining where to credit engagements.  Of course, this methodology divides direct marketing into two camps:  online and offline.  The online methods—email, SMS, etc.—would be safely in the lead generation camp.  However, postal mail would be considered an awareness tactic.  Traditionally, it has been simpler to classify lead generation as any tactic where you’re sending a message directly to an individual.  My approach says postal mail is really an awareness tactic with a higher response rate than its advertising and PR cousins.

The goal is accurate measurement and appropriate attribution of a tactic’s impact.  It seems to me that the actions-to-engagement parameter is a better classification when it comes to tracking than the traditional direct marketing vs. mass media approach.  What do you think?

Bringing Knives to the Social Commerce Gunfight

When the U.S. entered Iraq in 2003—whether to avenge the 9-11 attacks, sniff out WMDs or just establish a democratic foothold in the Middle East (pick your favorite)—it was widely anticipated that superior organization, firepower and traditional warfare acumen would be sufficient to topple Saddam Hussein and return Iraq to its purported democracy-craving populace.  Someone we’ll leave nameless may have also said something about being welcomed with “chocolate and flowers.”

It didn’t quite turn out that way and the U.S. learned an extremely difficult—and devastatingly costly—lesson:  when the rules of engagement change, no amount of traditional strategy, tactics or muscle are going to override the new rules.

I was fortunate to participate in a clear bellwether that the rules of engagement for marketing communications are in the midst of irrevocable change.  On September 23, Lift Summit 2010 was held in Atlanta, GA.  The theme of the one-day event was “practical, applicable ways that social commerce drives sales,” but the real vibe came from the emphatic nature of each speaker’s tacit proclamation that the real business of marketing is shifting dramatically out of the control of marketers and into the hands of the consumer (for our purposes, “consumer” refers to B2B or B2C targets; we’re all consumers, we just wear different hats at home and at work).

From Eric Bradlow (@ebradlow), Co-Director of the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative, to Sam Decker (@SamDecker) of BazaarVoice, Erik Qualman (@equalman), author of Socialnomics, or Boland Jones of PGi, the undertone was clear:  if you want to optimize sales, you’d better get on the stick when it comes to participating in the social conversations that will drive your business (or drive you out of business).

(One aside:  I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to attend a conference that wasn’t filled with Marketing 101 speakers; the Lift Summit was definitely a graduate course.  It moved quickly and demanded more than a cursory understanding of the social landscape from attendees who, based on the plethora of in-conference tweets, seemed to be eating it up.)

I won’t recap the conference here (you should check out #liftsummit on Twitter or visit an excellent blog recap at http://blog.liftsummit.com/ for more info), but it did completely reinforce how catastrophically wrong it is for marketers to ever accept a traditional marketing plan ever again.

As marketers, we’re literally bringing a knife to the gunfight that is social commerce today.  It’s time to fully embrace that traditional advertising, PR and direct marketing are now merely support tactics for social engagement and nurturing.

We can complain about it all we want, but the marketing funnel of our future is a social graph.  We still need traditional tactics to create “aha” moments and fill in the knowledge gaps that will undoubtedly be created by the less-than-expert UGC opinions that will surround our brands, but—for better or worse—the shopping mall just got razed.  In its place is a bazaar that’s more rave than flea market.  So grab your glow stick and dive in; the only way to understand this world is to immerse yourself in it.

PS:  Don’t confuse “social media” with Facebook and Twitter.  They may be the best known to the masses, but this revolution is way, way bigger.  Oh, yeah, and the fastest-growing social interaction device also makes phone calls.