The traditional sales funnel worked in a world where we had limited number of channels reaching a wide number of eyeballs. The advent of the internet has brought forward a myriad number of alternative channels. As a result if you ask someone on the street, a random TV advertisement today is remembered by far less number of people than what the same advertisement would have gathered in the 60s.
Someone walking with a mobile phone in a shopping mall is no longer in the shopping mall, but impulsively dodging things that come by as the mind is somewhere else than in the physical realm. Someone scanning Twitter on a mobile phone while in a restaurant is no longer in the restaurant either, but lured into an endless flow of retweets.
“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
– Social Scientist Herbert Simon (1971)
Due to blogs, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, information aggregators, news radars etc. our attention is now highly fragmented. Traditional mass media channels no longer have the same control as they used to have. Attention Economy is an economy where our attention has become scarce and fragmented, unfocused and disoriented, something Linda Stone calls Continuous Partial Attention (CPA): we only pay partially attention to what goes on around ourselves as we scan different channels for new opportunities, barely paying attention to things around us.
It is no surprise that the AIDA model (Attention + Interest, Desire + Action) from the end of 19th century is no longer as relevant as it used to be. In 2007 Forrester Research suggested that engagement is the new metric. They said that the traditional sales funnel based on awareness is broken and no longer works in digital media. In place they suggested a labyrinth depicted below, showing contributors as one potential outcome:
The complexity of this picture sure doesn’t look very welcoming to managers who want command and control, predictability and assurance for their marketing euros. What ever may be the case, the reality is that customers on the internet now have a wide variety of opportunities and low threshold to gain second hand opinion.
The labyrinth can be understood in many ways. Here is mine:
Shifting from company perspective to customer perspective, things get highly non-linear and could go towards any path, not just the one the company depicted to be their sales funnel in the first place. From this perspective many sales funnels companies employ are delusional and grounded in false belief systems regarding the linearity of the purchase process and miss the beauty of the complexity involved in decision making. Taking the point of view of the customer reveals insightful details about the process:
- Searching & Browsing: over 80% of browser sessions start with a search. Over 90% of people search online while considering a major investment like a digital camera, a trip or a car. Search is the primary means through which people start browsing the web.
- Recommendations & Persuasion: As soon as one fires a search, conversation appears. Forums full of second hand advice start to influence our decisions. Some people out there have a vast amount of knowledge and their opinions persuade our own opinions.
- Reinforcement & Sacrification: New information enforces our expectations but makes us also sacrifice initial assumptions, as new information emerges from the conversation.
- Usage & Value Creation: One decides to get involved with a solution or product. Usage reveals new requirements and reveals non-predetermined unexpected benefits. Value is created through the way how a solution is actually used, not what it appeared to be in the first place.
- Value Recognition & Self Expression: One starts to recognize the true, deep and hidden value the solution represents. You may as well call it wisdom in the context of using the product. Self expression leads to recommending and persuading the decisions of others: fancy details and complex reviews are being revealed to others on internet forums.
A friend of mine, Anssi Mäkelä from Nokia did a little mystery shopper experiment. As an avid Nike fan, he was looking to buy a pair of running shoes from the internet and took a screenshot of each website he visited in the process. Out of the around 180 screenshots only two were from websites owned by Nike. He only went to their website to have a feel of the products, as is the case with high-definition digital advertising.
The word engagement is so deep that it has even made itself to the values of Nokia. In their lobby I saw a banner reading “engaging consumers“. the same words insisted by a marketing person from Louis Vuitton in a conference talking about social media and how it relates to their brand. What this is to me is an oxymoron: active engagement and passive consumption do not go into the same sentence without a logical conflict.
“56% of American consumers feel both a stronger connection with, and better served by, companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.”
– Center for Media Research (2008)
The potential buyer no longer comes through the front door to be lured through various steps to become a customer. Because of Google, he is entering through any door he wants instead – even a window or a backdoor – armed with the opinions of his peers carried over from the conversations along the road. As he starts to use the product, he starts to speak to other customers about the true benefits and deficits of the product: even dodging manuals to hack the product to make it what one wants, as has happened at Ikeafans.com.
From this perspective, the word consumer describing passive behavior is no longer valid. Alternatives have been suggested for the new era of participation, such as produsage and prosumerism. In any case what we are actually talking about is empowerment. The customer is not just engaged, but in an ideal situation is empowered to go beyond the product: rate, comment, converse, feed forward, troubleshoot and hack the product in the context of other empowered customers.
Give a man a fish and he is engaged. Give a man a fishing rod and he is empowered.
Smart companies know how to leverage co-creativity. Such is the case with MyStarbucksIdea.com, understanding the importance of customers as active participants in product and service development processes. The value thus is created in interaction and not embedded in the product and production processes alone. This is what Esko Kilpi talks about in his blog about interactive value creation.
Sales funnel is a selfish concept utilized by companies who are mainly interested in themselves. Words like “capturing leads”, “lead acquisition”, “customer retention” and “engaging consumers” are concepts emerging from looking inside-out from oneself as a company, rather than outside-in.
Smart companies switch off their corp-ego-centric world view and make customer-centricity a true value evident in their tactics in practice, not just an empty shell in their mission statement. To push the boundaries a little bit, attention and awareness are also selfish concepts. The true currency is not attention but the intention of your customers: intent to do something, not just attention to marketing messages. In an Intention Economy, customers are empowered participants.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
– Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com