Consumers Go on a Journey, Escaping the Funnel

For decades, I, along with the majority of marketers, thought of the customer acquisition process in terms of a purchase funnel.

The funnel concept was uncomplicated. You dumped prospects into the top of the funnel. Through a series of qualifying actions (questionnaires, events, periodic direct or email contacts, sales calls, and so on), you determined which prospects were cool, warm and hot and tried to get the hot ones to fall out of the funnel as customers. It was a continuous process to be sure, but it was pretty straightforward.

Consumer Decision Journey

Not anymore. According to consulting firm McKinsey (whose insights are typically taken quite seriously by the business world), the funnel is old school. In today’s oversaturated, digitally-oriented media world, the funnel has been replaced by what McKinsey calls a “Consumer Decision Journey.” David Edelman, a principal in McKinsey’s marketing and sales practice, spoke at a CMO Council event in New York on November 17 and explained it this way:

“It’s taking a fundamentally different view of what’s going on in consumer behavior. What we have seen in sector after sector is that this [funnel] is not what’s going on; we need to reframe the consumer decision journey to something more iterative, circular and more about what the consumer is actually doing. And marketing needs to be about helping customers through that journey.”

McKinsey Consumer Decision Journey

Photo credit: McKinsey & Co.

4 Steps for Consumer Engagement

Edelman wrote in a May 2011 commentary that the Consumer Decision Journey was largely influenced by the new realities of online marketing; in fact, he wrote that it “takes into account the ways in which the Internet, particularly social media, affects the purchasing process, from the initial consideration to the creation of brand partisans.” He said McKinsey has identified four actions organizations can take to engage consumers during their journey:

  1. Align – Marketing organizations will need to align their resources with “where consumers spend their time.” The “evaluate” and “advocate” stages will likely become more significant to consumers than the “consider” and “buy” stages, and marketers will have to respond accordingly. Edelman suggests this could result in shifting media dollars from traditional paid media to customer-created channels.
  2. Link – Marketers will face the considerable challenge of ensuring that every message about a product or service is consistent across every channel. With so many different online and offline outlets, maintaining that consistency will be harder than ever.
  3. Lock – Marketers must “lock in” a customer’s attention by providing direct, opt-in channels, such as email promotions, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and apps that truly benefit the customer. This means allocating resources to media that engages the customer at every stage of their journey.
  4. Loop – The journey is a loop — so marketers must accommodate that process with a continuous loop that mines data, uses it to create valuable, relevant content, and then analyzes the response to the content. Edelman uses Amazon as a classic example: The company provides the ability for customers to rate products and then shares the information with customers; it then analyzes that information and uses it to create personalized recommendations.

Interactions from Beginning to End

Edelman made the point during his presentation at the CMO Council that the Consumer Decision Journey also demands a significant change in media strategy. While many marketers have always spent significant dollars on awareness campaigns (which seems logical with a funnel in mind), they now have to spread their resources out. Edelman says “we see 80 percent of spend either at the beginning of the funnel in brand advertising or in a promotional activity at the other end. But consumers are interacting all the way through the journey. … As they go through the process, consumers are constantly adding and dropping brands. You don’t need to be at the top of the journey.”

This kind of thinking is very much in line with the latest strategies being employed by such leading marketers as Coca-Cola. Its “Content 2020” vision, which I wrote about previously, is all about engaging consumers with compelling content that “provokes conversations” and encourages customer collaboration.

Admittedly, most marketers will not have the resources typical of companies who are the size of McKinsey’s clients; as a result, the Consumer Decision Journey may seem to be out of reach for many. But all of us can at least recognize the fundamental shift that has occurred and take advantage of marketing’s new reality: that consumers are continuously evaluating brands, and our brands need to be present and accounted for at every stage of consideration.

About Barry Silverstein

Barry Silverstein is a freelance writer/marketing consultant. In addition to writing for ReveNews, he is a contributing writer to, the world’s leading online branding forum. He is the author of three marketing books, The Breakaway Brand (co-author, McGraw-Hill, 2005), Business-to-Business Internet Marketing (Maximum Press, 2003) and Internet Marketing for Technology Companies (Maximum Press, 2003). Barry ran his own Internet and direct marketing agency for twenty years. You can find Barry on Twitter @bdsilv.

13 Responses to Consumers Go on a Journey, Escaping the Funnel

  1. […] The Consumer Decision Journey Replaces the Traditional Funnel, […]

  2. […] David Edelman, McKinsey, held a speech in New York in November on the challenges for the new consumer journey. Barry Silverstein has written a very good, short summary. […]

  3. […] my last post, I discussed McKinsey’s view that the era of the purchase funnel is over and, instead, marketers […]

  4. […] a recent post, I talked about the “Consumer Decision Journey,” a fresh perspective on how consumers evaluate […]

  5. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]

  6. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]

  7. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]

  8. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]

  9. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]

  10. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]

  11. […] Customers Go On a Journey, Escaping the Funnel […]