If you want your business to survive COVID-19, adopt the disrupted marketing funnel

Why is an antiquated marketing structure seen as the roadmap out of a modern day crisis? Fifth Dimension Consulting founder and director Lyndall Spooner says it's time to change.

To this day, marketers have been relying on the traditional marketing funnel as the best working model for marketing strategy, however there is one major problem – the marketing funnel was developed in 1898. In those days, there was no internet, no TV, radio was in its infancy, and there were far fewer products and services to choose from, meaning less complexity for consumers. Brands only really needed to raise their salience and awareness levels, and then consideration (and often sales) would follow. 

The traditional funnel breaks down the buying journey into stages, starting with awareness, then interest, desire and action. There are several versions of the marketing funnel, however they all depict that the more people you have at the top of the funnel the more people you end up with at the end.

The problem with this concept is that the buying journey is not a linear process and optimising people at the top of a single funnel does not lead to winning more customers at the other end.

In the modern world, we are constantly disrupted with brand messages and brand introductions, at every step of the path to purchase. These disruptions veer consumers off any sort of linear path. This is especially the case in this uncertain and turbulent period of COVID where consumers are moving online in masses.

Today your brand is not only competing with other brands through traditional marketing channels, but also with consumers who willingly advocate on behalf of brands, and technology that introduces consumers to new brands quickly and easily right when they are looking to make a decision. The marketing funnel has been disrupted and is ever increasing in complexity.

Mass brand consideration is becoming a less relevant metric to measure marketing success or potential future growth, given the large number of factors that can intervene between the start and end of the product decision journey. One of the biggest issues with the marketing funnel is the timeframe at which you measure your marketing success. If you compare brand consideration within the mass market to actual brand sales, you often find across many categories that there is quite a discrepancy. This is because of timing. If I ask someone their likelihood to consider a brand for a decision they are not planning to make right now it has little to no relevance to asking someone who is actually in the process of making a decision.

Clearly establishing brand awareness and consideration counts for something, but other factors that drive consumers towards a final brand choice include online reviews, conversations between consumers, social media activity, product trials, or simple in-store promotions. All of these things can dramatically influence someone’s brand consideration and decision, and all of these tend to only occur once the consumer is in market.

Most marketers are measuring consideration sets that are based on market awareness – the bigger your brand the more likely you are to be considered. But this has little relevance to whether or not your brand is winning customers in a competitive context – and especially in a turbulent and uncertain market.

The real consideration set is how well your brand performs when consumers have had a multitude of different influences informing them on which brands to seriously consider. In 1898 we chose from brands we knew, in 2020 we can access a wide range of different opinions. We often end up considering brands we had never heard of before, or brands we would have previously rejected. We also know that price is a key factor in a recession; brand loyalty goes out the window for many people.

Given all of this, the disrupted marketing funnel is far more complicated than first thought. We see a distinction between the work of branding and mass marketing, versus disruptive sales and promotional marketing, and how brands need to grab attention and fight to be chosen at the end of the buying journey – your mass brand campaign is not enough, your brand positioning is not enough.

Mass marketing and branding is all about increasing mental availability; when consumers think about a category you want them to think of your brand.

Disruptive marketing is about creating a web of marketing touchpoints that can connect with and influence consumers at each stage of the path to purchase. You need to identify the key touchpoints, their potential to influence and adapt the marketing mix accordingly. This may mean employing different disruptive strategies for different target consumers.

Disruptive marketing by its nature is always evolving, hence you need to monitor recent decision processes so that you can continually adapt your marketing strategy and defend against new and innovative competitors.

Lyndall Spooner is the founder and director of Fifth Dimension Consulting.


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