Customers, Etc

By Ben McCormack

Funnel vs Journey | Customers, Etc

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Funnel vs Journey | Customers, Etc
By Ben McCormack • Issue #44 • View online

Look at what happened at Airbnb:
Kieran Flanagan 🤘
Airbnb turned off their paid marketing in 2020 and didn't notice a massive impact because 90% of their traffic is direct & organic.

They now see the top of their funnel as PR (telling stories).

Search + Storytelling is how you build real demand.
Airbnb was able to turn off a paid customer acquisition channel and still turned out okay. Only by investing in the entire customer journey can you be confident that you’ll continue to generate business. But what does it mean to invest in the entire customer journey?
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash
Filling the funnel
Imagine it’s your first day as the head of marketing for a new SaaS start-up that sells the latest replacement for email. The product is great. You’ve got a great sales team. If only more people knew about your awesome product, your business could grow faster. It’s your job to generate leads so the sales team can go close more deals.
You start building out all the marketing departments. You’ve got the content marketing team writing blog posts and white papers. the product marketing team is connecting current and future product features to customer value. You’re working with sales enablement to make sure everything your team is working on is understood and useful to the sales team. You might even be buying Google keyword ads or video ads (I learned about the video we looked at last week in a YouTube pre-roll ad).
Building out these teams and all of this functionality is all well and good, but it doesn’t really mean anything if you’re not generating leads. If the sales team doesn’t have anyone to call, they’re going to look to you, the head of marketing, to “fill the top of the funnel.” Most importantly, you want to make sure your team gets credit for doing its job of filling the funnel.
A funnel
A funnel
One of the key functions of any marketing organization is attributing the leads it generates with the tactics it employs to try to generate those leads¹. If you’re going to do all this work, you want to know what works and what doesn’t. Your job as a marketer is in large part a function of how successful you are at telling the story of correlating the work your team does with the leads it generates.
Turning off the funnel
If I were the head of marketing and were forced to completely turn off one of my marketing tactics—perhaps because we were at the beginning of a global pandemic and my advertising budget was taken away—I might worry that would have an effect on my ability to generate new business. If I’m measured on how much new business I generate at the top of the funnel, I might be nervous that the business (and perhaps my job) would suffer. Remember, I’ve been successfully correlating my tactics to the leads I’ve been generating (“lead attribution”). The story I’ve been telling is that the tactics I’ve been using generates leads. We’re about to mess up my story.
What I like about the Airbnb story is that they had so much success with organic and direct traffic, they were able to stop paying to fill the top of the funnel and their business didn’t suffer for it. The only way that happens is if you’re investing in the customer journey such that your current customers not only bring in repeat business, but they tell their friends. Your customers and their stories become the fuel that brings new business into the awareness phase of the customer journey.
Another way to look at it is that instead of investing in a funnel, you’re investing in the customer journey (or, perhaps, investing in the brand). Yes, you often will still need to invest in tactics that insert prospective customers into the awareness stage, but if you’re caring for your customer’s experience along their journey with your business, your customers will help you do the work of filling the funnel. Existing customers will consider buying from you again (if you’re providing value and delivering a good experience) and will tell their friends, colleagues, etc., bringing more prospective customers into the awareness stage of their customer journey with you.
A virtuous brand cycle
A virtuous brand cycle
Do you see a funnel or a journey?
The challenge with organic growth is that attribution can be really hard. Sure, you can measure repeat business from current customers, but how do you measure when a current customer tells their friend that your solution would be perfect for them? Or how do you measure if an employee joins a new company and insists they purchase your product, which they used at their last company? This kind of organic growth can be hard to measure, but it’s exactly the kind of growth you get when you invest in the entire customer journey.
Do you see a funnel or a journey? Yes, you can (and maybe should) pay to get leads into the top of the funnel. But if your business is delivering remarkable experiences to customers, you can (and definitely should) make it your job to tell the stories of current customers. The end of one customer’s story is just the beginning of another customer’s story.
Footnotes:
  1. See this tweet from Stella Garber, which is where I learned about the Airbnb tweet: “One of the hardest things about brand building is attribution. Here’s a great example of one company that can show massive value from investing in their brand”. Stella joined Trello (disclosure: I used to work at Trello) when there was zero traditional marketing budget and she was able to successfully build out an organic growth model.
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Ben McCormack

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