3 Shortcomings of the Traditional Marketing Funnel

Anybody who works in the marketing world has undoubtedly come across the word “funnel”. For a long time now, marketers have been using what are called “funnels” to define and understand the steps that it takes to turn leads into customers. Often called the purchase funnel, or the marketing funnel, this tool visualizes the various steps that customers go through before purchasing a product, starting with awareness and getting narrower and narrower until eventually reaching purchase at the bottom of the funnel. While different organizations have adapted the typical marketing funnel to fit their unique needs, the typical marketing funnel looks like this:


As you can see, the funnel starts with awareness, where potential customers become aware of the product through marketing campaigns and various other ways. This is what is called lead generation, or the identification of potential customers for a business’s products or services. If someone makes it past the awareness stage into the interest stage, they enter the lead nurturing phase of the funnel, where marketers are actively trying to push them further down the funnel to an eventual purchase.

While this tool is certainly helpful for visualizing the journey that potential customers take towards making a purchase, it is becoming increasingly criticized for misrepresenting the customer journey or falling short of capturing the way that customers make purchasing decisions in today’s digitally connected world. Some even go as far as to say the marketing funnel is dead. While that may be a bit of a stretch, there are some shortcomings to using the marketing funnel as a primary tool for understanding the customer journey today. Here are some of those shortcomings:

  • It views the customer journey as linear. The way that the typical marketing funnel is laid out sends the message that consumers enter the funnel at the awareness stage and move in order through the subsequent stages, passing from one to the next. The reality, however, is that most customer journeys are far from linear, and each person’s journey will differ. Some people will skip stages entirely, go backwards in the funnel, or stay in one stage indefinitely. To account for this, marketers need to focus less on simply forcing consumers further down in the funnel, and more on developing an understanding for why people enter or do not enter into certain stages, and learning what it takes to help them cross the bridge into the next stage of the funnel.
  • It underestimates the level at which customers guide their own journey. Visualizing the customer journey in one single image like this can be detrimental because it makes the assumption that all customers go through the same steps, and that marketers can easily tap into the various stages and take the same approaches to drive each customer further on down the funnel. The reality is that in today’s world, consumers have access to a plethora of information and have the ability to perform a lot of their funnel tasks on their own, without ever even encountering actual marketers or representatives of the brand or organization.  Marketers need to place more of a consideration on the external forces that are influencing the customer’s journey.
  • It views purchasing as the last stage in a customer journey. Obviously, being able to drive customers towards making a purchase is a crucial part of ensuring the success of any business. That being said, marketers that view the purchase as the end of the customer journey are completely overlooking the importance of nurturing relationships with people that are already customers. In a sense, the purchasing point is just the beginning of a new chapter in the customer journey. More and more marketers are beginning to realize the value in fostering consumer relationships with the brand, and encouraging brand advocacy. The current marketing funnel does not even take this into consideration, and is thus incomplete.

What more and more marketers are now finding is that the typical marketing funnel is somewhat inadequate in defining the customer journey, and does not give a full understanding of the path that customers take in making a decision to purchase. Furthermore, the funnel completely overlooks the second part of the customer journey, which comes after the decision to purchase is made, but is equally as important. Stay tuned for a future blog post, in which we will discuss this post-purchase part of the customer journey and why it is so important for marketers to pay close attention to it, in order to foster a more consumer-focused approach that fosters brand advocacy.