The demise of the purchase funnel

20 July 2009

I guess since the Cannes Lions closed three weeks ago, it’s ancient history. But there are still so many lessons to learn from the experience and the winning campaigns. Most of the commentary surrounding the awarding of PR Lions and the PR Grand Prix centered around the blurring of disciplines. Are any of us surprised?

My major take-away was the participatory nature of the winning campaigns – across more than just the PR category. They all had one thing in common – engaging and participating with audiences, harnessing influence and advocacy and, in some cases, evangelism.

This isn’t new to any of us in public relations. We’ve always been focused on two-way communications and engagement, and navigating the less controllable area of “earned” media.  It’s in our DNA.

As a result, when social media really started to get traction, a group of us from the UK and the US started working on a new model which effectively replaces the purchase funnel – since we believe that the process is no longer linear and instead is far more fluid and dynamic. It was both comforting and rewarding to see the McKinsey Quarterly recently validate our thinking in its article “The consumer decision journey” which was based on an examination of the purchase decisions of almost 20,000 consumers across five industries and three continents.

I couldn’t have said it better. According to co-authors David Court, Dave Elzinga, Susan Mulder and Ole Jorgen Vetvik, “today, the funnel concept fails to capture all the touch points and key buying factors resulting from the explosion of product choices and digital channels, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumer. A more sophisticated approach is required to help marketers navigate this environment, which is less linear and more complicated than the funnel suggests.”

This is no longer a profound view, but marketers still struggle to address the evolution in terms of spend and media mix in this broader remit. It seems to me that whilst the CMO is the most natural candidate to forge new pathways to success in the new marketing eco-system, it may be difficult for them to fully grasp the broad spectrum of skills required to do so and break down the internal silos still creating barriers to truly holistic thinking.

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