The Death of the Marketing Funnel

Media buying still reflects an era that ended a decade ago with the Great Recession. Before that recession, consumers were concerned with accumulating “stuff”; it was all about bigger houses and cars, fashion and status. But the shock of losing all their stuff in the recession, or perhaps not being able to buy anything new for years, changed consumer sentiment, and now people seem to favor experiences. That’s why AirBnB is growing, as is Uber and its rival Lyft. These companies reflect different consumer desires.

Coupled with that shift in consumer buying behavior was a shift from willing recipients of marketing messages to empowered purchasers who turn off ads and talk back to brands on social media. These new people can’t be shoved into the traditional marketing “funnel” and propelled down a greased chute toward buying; rather, they’re on a journey to get information, discover what they want, make choices, ask friends, give recommendations. The top of the funnel was where resources were spent building awareness and mass reach. Awareness and reach are the leftovers of the old-school media mix model that allocates marketing spend at a gross level, without taking into account the specific goals of individual touchpoints along the customer journey.The top of the funnel is no longer a place of ignorance where mere awareness is sufficient; we’d argue that few consumers come online without any prior knowledge about products they will later buy. Instead, they probably have a general idea what they want, and simply need to ask for a little more information. The funnel has flattened out considerably.

So why shouldn’t media planning take that into account? Since there is information online about just about every product or service, consumers don’t have to spend a lot of time comparing and learning. Instead, they often come with a readiness to buy — or a complete unwillingness to spend time on your product or service. When you buy for reach and frequency, and you hit someone who is never going to buy your product, you just antagonize that person and they reach for the ad blocker. “In this context, reach-focused paid media investments make less sense than utility, service, curation, native advertising and intimate community management.”

We’re arguing for more highly targeted media buys, niche buys, to help the new consumer engage with the brand enough to build trust and make a purchase. We’re also arguing for better community management and social engagement of brands with online purchasers. This is a tremendous opportunity for  challenger brands, because they will be able to get into the market with much smaller more targeted media buys, rather than by making scattershot investments like some traditional brands have done in the past.