How Technology Has Changed How We View Funnels
Jennie Lyon Monday, October 8, 2018
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Technology has changed almost everything in our lives. How has it changed the way we build and use funnels?
Almost all customer interactions in the modern market can be seen through the lens of a funnel. If you want someone to sign up for your digital newsletter, there is a marketing funnel. If you want someone to buy your product, they are usually going through a sales funnel. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the real-world or digital spheres, funnels are the key to positive customer interactions and outcomes.
Today, funnels are synonymous with digital communication technology, but it wasn’t always that way. Funnels have evolved with our technology, adapting, changing, and becoming more and more effective at drawing in customers. But how did we get here? How has technology really changed the way that we use funnels as a marketing technique?
Brick and Mortar
Companies and salespeople have been using funnels even before there was a word for them. The process that a customer goes through to buy a product was well-understood, they just didn’t call it a funnel. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the process of leading a customer from awareness, to interest, to desire, to action was codified as a “funnel.” Once it was, there was no going back. Funnels became one of the most foundational concepts in all of marketing.
Computers: Not Just Toys Anymore
Although it’s difficult for some to imagine, there was a time when computers just weren’t taken seriously by the public. While some of this was due to lack of exposure, it mostly had to do with the limited capacity of computers back then. A computer was something that a university used for academic work but had no practical purpose for the average person. They were large, cumbersome, and extraordinarily expensive. Everything started to change with the personal computer revolution. Suddenly, computers went from a vague concept to something that was sitting in offices around the world.
Once computers broke into the mainstream, marketing people started to look at them as useful tools to track customer engagement. Database management suddenly became a whole lot more convenient! And writing up marketing copy was a snap when using a word processor as compared to a typewriter.
In the mid-80s, contact relationship management software started to emerge as a useful tool for companies. This had a massive impact on the way that companies used funnels. Data analysis of customer behavior was much easier when you had all of the information on a computer. Instead of manually going through thousands of customer files, your computer could put together analytics that blew the door off the way that most marketers viewed the customer experience. The best thing about this was, as more efficient funnels were put into place, they would generate even more data that could be analyzed, creating a feedback loop of constant improvement.
Here Comes the Internet!
Here is a scary piece of information to many of the folks reading this article: there are actual adults working today who have never known a world without the internet.
Going into all of the ways that the internet changed, and continues to change, our society would be almost impossible. But boy, did it ever change the way that marketers viewed the customer! Suddenly, they had access to them in a way they never did before. Customers were now online and could order products and services without even leaving the house! Companies set up homepages that, in reality, were merely online billboards. But as things continued to advance and e-commerce started to be taken far more seriously, websites stopped being mere advertisements and became incredibly useful platforms used to guide customers down the funnel towards landing pages and conversions.
One of the most significant developments for funnels was the advent of social media. Once users started to connect with each other, creating incredible social networks, vast amounts of customer data become available to companies of all sizes. Now, funnels could be designed that would specifically target micro audiences with a much higher success rate than a super-wide funnel.
The way that we use the internet has naturally evolved a great deal from the dial-up days. Now, everyone has a computer in their pocket that is connected 24/7. Funnels have adjusted accordingly. Getting your customers’ contact information is almost as important as making the sale. In fact, arguably more so, as opting-in will allow you to have contact with them for the foreseeable future, allowing you to incorporate them into your email marketing strategies and other methods of getting them into your funnel.
A wise science-fiction author once said “Trying to predict the future is a mug's game. But increasingly, it's a game we all have to play.” Any marketers out there know how true that is. If they aren’t on the cutting-edge, the precipice of the next big thing, then they aren’t in the game at all.
That said, it’s almost impossible to predict the next digital platform that will gain traction. Nobody saw Facebook coming. Amazon sold books, and that was it. Twitter only had 140 characters, who was going to bother with that? Well, it turns out, just about everyone.
Rather than trying to track specific platforms that might suddenly emerge, it can be more useful to keep abreast of overall trends, especially when it comes to funnels. There was an absolute shock to the marketing industry early in 2018 when Facebook announced that they would be shifting their Newsfeed towards posts by family and friends, deemphasizing ads and other forms of marketing. But if you knew where to look, you could have actually seen that shift in company behavior coming after their disastrous public relations efforts in 2016 and 2017.
At the moment, some say that YouTube is rising up as the sleeping giant of the marketing world (although truth be told, it’s already pretty noisy). More and more younger consumers are flock to the online video service for news and entertainment, leaving television and even services like Netflix behind. So it might pay to start asking yourself the question of how YouTube could be
better incorporated into the current model of funnels. Could it be better used in the awareness phase, or perhaps it could be used to close the deal in the action phase?
One thing is for absolute sure, tech is going to continue to drive the way we use funnels to draw in customers. As more and more platforms become available, the wider the top of the funnel is becoming. Who knows what advances that advanced artificial intelligence, predictive algorithms, and other tech will bring. Well, we all will. Very, very soon.