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Did Social Media Kill the Marketing Funnel?

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Originally written by Ted Bauer.

One central component of marketing is the idea of "the funnel." You can look at it in different ways, but essentially it teaches you how customers move through their interactions with a brand: typically it's something like awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, adoption/conversion, and advocacy.

That's a bit of a problem though, because social media and other developments (i.e. content marketing, e-commerce, and simple word of mouth) have changed the marketing funnel fairly drastically.

First of all, by no means is the process linear — which is how the funnel is typically taught. It's instead now circular, meaning that people can enter at different points and return to previous stages as opposed to simply moving through.

Another major thing: there's long been this idea that "advocacy" (i.e. talking about the brand) has to come after "adoption" (i.e. buying something from the brand). That's 100 percent not true anymore — for example, one can "like" the Los Angeles Lakers on Facebook but never attend a game or purchase a piece of merchandise. (Heck, they might not even live on the same continent as the Lakers.)

So in some context, they got the advocacy but not the conversion/adoption.

The system has thus changed.

Here's the central issue, as explained by HBR, and then one potential idea:

In both B2B and B2C businesses, customers are doing their own research both online and with their colleagues and friends. Prospects are walking themselves through the funnel, then walking in the door ready to buy.

As an example, Julie Bornstein, CMO at Sephora, has seen social media change how people buy beauty products. Recommendations from friends have always been important, but now these recommendations spread “quicker, faster, and further” at every stage in the funnel. The decision on what to buy increasingly comes from advocates who share their experience in a way that pulls in new customers and informs their purchase decision. Sephora’s response has been to bring all the stages of the funnel together into a single place, creating its own online community where people can ask questions of experts and each other about brands, products, and techniques.

There are different ways to approach this problem — some just re-designed the funnel as a circle and called it something like "User Experience Journey." That's definitely one approach.

Another approach, bigger with tech companies/Silicon Valley, is to simply integrate the marketing into the product itself, rather than having the marketing be solely external force. A concept there? The iTunes store.

Apparently the head of Global Small Business Marketing for Google has said the discussions there are never "How can we market this?" but rather "What products deserve marketing?" The goal of marketing there is essentially amplification of a trend that people would have gravitated to anyway.

It's hard to exist on social alone — some companies have done it, though — but what Sephora did, described above, is another approach: basically you create social on your own site, turning it into a forum of like-minded individuals sharing context and information. You're ostensibly just looking to create networks of connected individuals, which is probably the most powerful way to get a product sold. (We actually can help you with this.)

Learn to embrace social, as it can uplift your brand and product, and it won’t be going away anytime soon. Take a look at how social is affecting your business (and leads), and strategically leverage what others — and your own company— are saying about your brand.

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Published at DZone with permission of Chelsea Bosworth, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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