The Extinct Metaphor; The Customer Funnel

The customer purchase funnel has long been the go-to metaphor for marketing teams.  It provides a framework to evaluate your conversion and purchase process of your consumers.  Are you getting enough awareness at the top of your funnel?  How do your consumers review your brand during the consideration phase?  Are you getting enough purchases?  All of which, to the rational professional, can be easily explained, understood and shared with the executive office.  The reality is that this model is fundamentally flawed in today’s social media driven consumer culture.

Fueling the Fire

The reason for this error is that the prototypical consumer funnel does not take into consideration the post-purchase experience for consumers.  Consumers are inundated with brands competing for awareness.  At the top of the “funnel” they’re overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to sift through to get a decent understanding of which brands they should consider – many of them are now using social media or word of mouth to discuss their friends and families experiences with your brand.  At the bottom of the “funnel”, the brand loyalists are no longer passive in their approach, but many are now openly discussing their experience with your brand with their friends and family – creating a much more circular pattern of the customer experience, instead of a funnel.

Courtesy of McKinsey Quarterly

The experience after the consumer forks over their money for their car, computer, or latte is a critical element in fueling what was formerly known as the consideration phase of the customer funnel.  In today’s world, customers are telling everyone they know about their new product via social media.  Everyone posts about their new car, beautiful dress, or slick iPhone 5, and all of those posts have opinions with sentiment and impact on their friends and families.

Awareness is Influenced by Your Network

Consumers spend oodles of time doing their homework on products before purchasing, and the opinions of their networks, review sites, friends and family has more power in dictating the ultimate decision than ever before.  Even in the food and beverage industry, where the Harvard Business School’s case study shows a 5%-9% impact on a restaurant’s sales that’s directly correlated to a half a star increase or decrease on their Yelp rating, people’s post-consumer experience behavior is becoming more critical than ever for an effective marketing approach.

In fact, it can easily be argued that increasing your awareness, or your initial consideration set, is more dependent on your actual customers than ever before.  In order to put your brand or product into this grouping, you must promote your brand advocates and key influencers – a dramatic shift from the traditional marketing approach of building brand awareness.

The following video, from McKinsey Partners, is a great illustration of this shift away from the customer conversion funnel.


While the board room and CMO offices across the digital ecosphere have demanded customer funnel metrics and evaluation, the reality is that their consumers have evolved.  The purchasing behavior has shifted from the traditional approach and now more than ever is driven by the customer experience beyond the antiquated funnel model.

In order to drive awareness and get your brand into the initial consideration set, you have no choice – you have to promote your customers that promote you post-purchase.



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2 Responses to The Extinct Metaphor; The Customer Funnel

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