Why the marketing funnel is bullshit and what you should do instead

by | Jan 22, 2021

Classic Marketing Funnel theory tells us that you should market differently to people in your funnel:

Top of the Funnel 👉 run brand awareness messages.
Middle of the Funnel 👉 align prospects’ needs to the product.
Bottom of the Funnel 👉 encourage prospects to purchase.

A classic marketing funnel split into top of funnel, middle of funnel, bottom of funnel


Once upon a time this made a lot of sense. When marketers crafted Direct Mail campaigns or bought advertising space in physical newspapers. Marketers had control over the flow of information and could drip feed it to you letter by letter.

The age old sales letter that often spans thousands of words was modelled off the funnel to create a spark of interest at first. Good sales letters then push you into awakening desire to have some of your pain points solved by the product in question. And before you know it you’re considering a purchase.

But today, in the age of the internet, the sales letter and funnel no longer work.

Prospects can be on your site in a few taps and buy your product. Where was the funnel?

People don’t have time for a wall of text and scroll down to the bottom to find the price and often click away.

Gone are the days of an orderly marketing funnel progression. Welcome to a messy attribution landscape where your best intentions to guide prospects from one end of the funnel to another go up in smoke.


Marketing Funnels: Another victim of the internet


So where does it leave us marketers? How do we make sure the “buy buy buy right now” message is sent at the right time of the customer’s journey?

We don’t.

There’s absolutely no way we can control the order of our messaging. Even if you set up your Facebook ads to target people in a very granular fashion, Facebook can’t (yet) control how you interact with a brand. Despite their billions of dollars in investment, tech giants cannot track everything accurately across the web or across internet devices. In fact, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be able to as Apple and Android are working to undo the backbone of cookie tracking in their coming software updates.

So we’ve only got one option.


We need to embrace chaos instead of a structured marketing funnel


By ditching marketing funnels, we recognise the risk that has always been there:

Our prospective customers may only see one of our messages and may never come back after that.

In order to mitigate this risk we need to add value at every one of our customer touchpoints. There are limits of course. Sometimes quite literally in the form of character limits within Google Ads.


Attract customers to channels where you can demonstrate value


Instead, we should focus on longer form content where restrictions don’t apply. Think audio (podcasting), visual (e.g. YouTube) and written content and platforms (articles, emails and/or social media).

So adding value might make sense, but when do you actually ask for the sale? Traditionally this happened in the bottom of the funnel, after you’d made the customer aware that your product solves their pain points.

Ask for the sale wherever it makes sense.

Now you may be thinking, won’t I alienate potential customers if I often ask for a purchase?

No, not if you’ve earned the right.

The reason why we’re adding value is two-fold:

1) The value we’re creating should get the prospective customer to come back. If you think of trust as a bucket that needs filling, we’ve just put our first little splash in it.

2) By being genuinely helpful, the customer won’t mind our sales message.

How much you encourage to buy is dependent on how high your product/service ticket value is.


Your product/service ticket value determines how much to focus on adding value vs selling


The higher the cost of your product or service is, the longer the consideration period is. At the top end more trust is needed for the customer to be convinced that your product or service is the right choice since there is also a higher associated risk of “getting it wrong”.

These hand-drawn charts is something I may need to work on


Adding value and increasing trust are two sides of the same coin. The more trust is needed for customers to be ready to buy your product, the less you need to focus on selling. The relationship you build with your prospects matters more.


Example: How CXL adds value, gains trust and gets sales


CXL is a website that sells courses for marketing professionals. They sell the courses individually but most people sign up for their $1300 annual pass to access all of their courses.

By almost any person’s definition this course has a high ticket value. So how does Peep Laja (CXL’s founder) add value?

He writes a free weekly newsletter.

I’ve been subscribed to it since 2015 and have gotten a lot of value from it. It is one of the few marketing-related newsletters I almost always open.

Peep has built value into his newsletter by providing interesting thoughts and high-quality articles. The value he builds with his audience transcends the companies he runs as you can see in his tweet below.

In most of the emails Peep sends, there is a CTA to start a trial. And I’m totally fine with that. I get so much value from the email I have no problem with him selling his courses to me.


Adding value is also a great marketing strategy for lower value products


But it’s not just high ticket value products or services that benefit from content strategy. Many paid newsletters that cost $5 a month have a free email they send out too. That way they can tease their prospects with a free version of their product until they have filled the trust bucket and prospect bites.

When you’ve built enough trust with your prospective customers, you don’t need scream at the top of your voice to get the sale.

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