Why It’s Time for Marketers to Rethink the Sales Funnel

4 minute read

Upland Admin

Hello from Content Marketing World, dear readers!  The lake is big, the people are nerdy, and orange is the new black.

My favorite insight so far of the day? Forget the sales funnel. Right now.

This morning’s opening keynote speaker, Andrew Davis, revealed how outdated, misrepresentative, and just dead wrong the sales funnel is in today’s search landscape. Yes, I’m talking about the same funnel we base our sales and marketing strategies on. Yes, this one:

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Do you know how old this model of buyer behavior is? It’s 116 years old. New Mexico and Arizona weren’t even states back then.

What if we still used the other things we used 116 years ago to get things done? We’d be riding around in horse and buggy. Men would wear top hats. Women would dress like this:

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The sales funnel model leans on the idea that users search only when they have a specific need, problem, or question. They find the answer to that question, become loyal readers and content consumers, and finally trust the brand enough to make a purchase. But, in reality, that’s not really how we search and make purchase decisions.

We’re humans, not robots. Our brains are emotional and associative organs. They work by honing in on what we’re looking for rather than finding exact matches.

As we search, we’re guided by our associations. Often, the primary reason we’re searching is not just because we want something. It’s because we saw a TV show or a movie or a woman on the bus wearing that “something” in a way that resonated with us, and that made us want to buy it.

This “moment of inspiration,” as Davis calls it, may be unconscious or conscious. Either way, it’s just the beginning. As we search, we keep on making associations and decisions that lead us to different sites and different content. And then we make more associations and decisions and search again. And again for something else. And then again.

Searching online puts our thinking into overdrive. We recruit areas of the brain that have to do with decision-making and conflict resolution. Check out the difference between your brain activity while reading a book (left) and searching on Google (right).

The deciding factor in whether or not users actually make a purchase decision with your brand is not (as the sales funnel would have you believe) based on some logical progression from awareness to trust to action. It’s based on how effective your brand’s “moments of inspiration” (MOI) are in appealing to our associative, illogical, highly emotional brains.

To build great MOIs, Davies encouraged us to focus on four main factors:

1. Build Suspense

We all thrive on drama. If your content doesn’t create some sort of anxiety around what will happen, readers will lose interest fast.

2. Foster Aspiration

People love content that inspires them to be better—a better person, a better manufacturer, a better father. Whatever it is, figure out what your audience aspires to do. How can you make content that addresses those aspirations?

3. Drive Empathy

While we may be becoming increasingly narcissistic these days, empathy is still one of the traits that defines our species. We feel for other people. Even if we don’t know them. Use this vulnerability to your advantage by putting your readers in others’ shoes.

4. Harness Emotion

What emotion is going to resonate with your audience to drive action? What do they care about? Davis quoted neurologist Donald Calne in this portion of his talk: “Emotion leads to action. Reason leads to conclusions.”

The time has come for marketers to explode the funnel model as we know it and develop a model that aligns more faithfully with the way we actually behave online. Want to give it a shot? Link to your mockup in the comments section.

For more highlights from content marketing world, follow me at @lizkoneill.

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