We know a lot about consumers online and through data we can watch them behave. When we do, what we see is huge variety. They don’t conform to easily identifiable patterns and in particular we don’t see them behaving as the famous marketing funnel would suggest.
Marketing funnels have been around for years and encourage marketers to think about funnelling their audience from awareness (of their brands) through interest and desire towards action (buying). Agencies and advertisers have designed strategies for each stage of the funnel assuming that it represents a useful model of what we have to do to build brands and businesses: TV, print and outdoor are seen as ideal Top of Funnel awareness tools while search ads and targeted offers are described as Bottom of Funnel action strategies.
In reality, if we watch consumers and use data to really understand what they do, we will see that they rarely behave according to these neat models and are more likely to jump up and down the “funnel” apparently randomly.
To understand what is going on, we need to explore what makes people turn into product/brand/solution seeking problem solvers; they identify something missing in their lives, some pain point or some opportunity to improve the world around them. Clayton Christiansen called these needs “jobs to be done”. Jobs can be very simple like removing a wine stain from a carpet or as complex as deciding how to hold back the passage of time though purchasing a new car or gym membership. Christiansen identified that we are all have a mixture of practical functional “jobs” (stain removal), emotional needs (improving your mood) and social motivations (showing off to the neighbours). He encouraged innovators to design products and services to solve these jobs, and marketers to show how their solutions solved these jobs particularly well.
In linking jobs to be done with funnels we need to realise that consumers are often not fully aware of the range of jobs they are trying to solve.
Sometimes the job is functional and clear and they will type “remove wine stain from carpet fast” into Google, find a solution, use an existing product they have around (because Google tells them they can) or order a product using one of the new hyper fast urban delivery services. Job solved.
But more often, they will start to explore options for a nagging emotional or social need that they have not clearly articulated even to themselves. They will ask more general questions in search, go window shopping to their favourite online stores, meet friends, scroll Pinterest or Instagram looking for inspiration, become more aware of people like them on television, read magazines or take up a new hobby Some would say they are at the “awareness” stage in the funnel but in reality we cannot tell. They may spot something immediately and buy it (awareness to purchase in 3 clicks) or spend weeks or months exploring a need that does not have a name yet.
Modern funnel-less marketing means being there for them as they explore in as many places as possible. It means recognising that they are out exploring an unmet need but not trying to force a purchase too soon. It means allowing them to try things on (metaphorically as well as physically) and showing how your brand has helped others.
Some jobs can be quick to solve (buy a bubble tea to treat myself right now) while others may take a customer many attempts and a range of attempted solutions to get fixed (getting myself out of a rut). And as some jobs may recur or are never completely solved, brands should stick around after a purchase to remain connected with the the customer and the solution. This is why on-going membership type brands (in health, fashion, financial services, entertainment and technology for example) need to think about continuing to market to their customers after purchase.
Sandra Vandermerwe suggests that we should not use the funnel as a model for what consumers do but offers the Customer Activity Cycle as an alternative. She argues that brands need to get into their customers lives much sooner and stay with the customers longer. This matches with the jobs to be done theory. I would add taking the messiness of both consumer behaviour and the complexity of an omnichannel world into account when we are designing our future marketing.
Here then are a few suggestions as to how to design marketing for a funnel-less world:
- Think about all of the problems that you solve for your customers. Design content to show that you solve these without pushing too hard for people to buy (but make buying possible).
- Extend your offer to provide help, information and advice to non-customers
- Find people in social media who are already your advocates and give them tools and support to continue to talk about you
- Make short films to show how you solve emotional jobs. Share these widely. Again, avoid pushing sales messages in these videos
- Recognise the power of simply reminding people you exist. Make sure that you are consistently using the same brand assets and messaging so that your brand is recognised even when scrolled past.
- Remember that some consumers will take a long time to solve their own needs. Make it easy for them to try out your solution or provide them with a “freemium” version of your service.
- If your product helps people show off their status or success to others then accentuate this with your packaging, your after sales storytelling and perhaps “membership”
- Make sure that when you sell through third parties, marketplaces and e-commerce stores you demand ways to present your full brand story
- Go and talk to consumers to find out the jobs they are trying to do. Take time to really listen to them in a one-to-one setting (avoid focus groups)
- Use analytics to explore the complex paths your consumers take to become customers.