I'm a partner in the advanced analytics group at Bain & Company, the global management consulting firm. My primary focus is on marketing analytics (bio). I've been writing here (views my own) about marketing, technology, e-business, and analytics since 2003 (blog name explained).

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April 16, 2011

The Marketing Funnel is a Brita Water Filter #OMMAMetrics @judah @schmults

Something you hear a lot these days is, "The 'Marketing Funnel' concept's dead.  It's just not clear what's replaced it."  At the recent OMMA Metrics conference in NY, IBM/Unica's Yuchun Lee described its successor as some sort of "spaghetti".  Judah Phillips had an excellent article in yesterday's Online Metrics Insider (Thanks to Rob Schmults for pointing me to it!) in which he suggested a "tumbler" metaphor and "seeking-shopping-sharing" structure for what we now do.

Here's my entry into the rename-the-funnel sweepstakes: The Brita Water Filter.

Let's consider our requirements for a metaphor to succeed the "funnel":

1. We still have a "current" whose power combines the "push" of customer needs and desires with the "pull" of companies with products that could satisfy those. ("I have testosterone, Porsche makes 911s.")  To me, that still makes "linear" metaphors useful.

2. For me, "Attract", "Engage", and "Convert", plus sometimes "Retain" -- or variants thereof, like Judah's, still work for me as basic stage descriptors.  What's changed is that channels have exploded in number, and audiences have fragmented as they use different ones.  So a good metaphor will describe a journey that is less predictable in both flow path and rate. (It's probably also useful to use stage descriptors that reflect the customer's perspective, not the marketer's -- "Awareness", "Consideration", "Purchase", plus sometimes hopefully "Loyalty" and  "Advocacy" -- but they're not quite as punchy.  Nonetheless, you get the point.)

3. The channel system that lies between nascent demand and final purchase is, these days, much more replete with advice that educates folks as they flow through, qualifying and intensifying final demand.  The metaphor we use has to describe the "chemistry" that happens in these intermediate spaces and interactions.  And, the behaviors we observe in these stages should inform, as Judah suggests in his article, how we market afterward.

4. Over time, however, the system in between gets clogged with a lot of junky information, or becomes technologically obsolete, so you need to refresh or replace your presences in this system on a regular basis.  The metaphor has to anticipate this need as well.

5. The operational and analytic processes for marketing within this flow are higher-tech than a simple funnel.

OK, so let's look at the Brita filter:

1. Water still generally flows through in a linear fashion; and, not all of it flows through at once.

2. As water flows through the charcoal however, it breaks up into much smaller droplets, that flow through at different rates and and less predictable paths.

3. The interaction of the water with activated charcoal only got rid of some impurities; Brita's engineers learned to add an ionic coating to get some minerals out of the water too.

4. Ideally, you change it now and then to keep its performance up.

5. It's higher-tech than a funnel (and more expensive too, but the benefits are sometimes worth it).

So, you say, "Cute but esoteric -- how is this conceptualization useful?"

1. For me, it helps me to validate frameworks I'm familiar with, like the Channel Pathways (TM) framework we used years ago at Monitor / Marketspace, or the similar "Wiggly Line" chart Akin Arikan and Don Peppers describe in Multichannel Marketing.  

2. It also helps me to extend them, by considering differential flow rates through discrete paths, and to focus on what we can learn from interactions at one stage and channel that might inform what we do in subsequent, different ones.

3. It helps to remind me that when populating and managing any such framework, when it gets too complex or overly-"excepted" with rules, I might be better off replacing it.  

4. It helps me to remember that at best I can only be probabilistic and not deterministic in my understanding of "customer flow dynamics", and that what's important is to be explicit about probability levels so that group decisions can be helped by a shared understanding of these.

5. Finally, it's oddly memorable (to me anyway), and the filter's specific properties help me remember the requirements better.

So, what do you think? Please answer the poll below, and comment with questions / alternatives.




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