Lessons from the marketing funnel
It was a day like any other when one of my colleagues said, “I can lead a horse to water… but if there’s no water there… well… I don’t know how to help you.”
I said a day like any other, because the tone was sarcastic and he was being facetious—and the comment ended in the room bursting out in laughter. A day like any other, because most conversations here have a dry sense of humor and a lot of “inside our walls” meaning—which would explain why all of us were rolling on the floor laughing, and you’re probably not. So let me explain.
In the past, one might refer to that old cliché and say, “Advertising can lead a horse to water, a great concept could make him take a drink.” And in the past, I believe that was true—even in the world where there were no clear product differentiators. We did campaigns for parity products quite often, and most times the best campaign and the best media buy won. Providing the product was at least on par with the competitors. In those days (not many years ago), we’d be thrilled if we got a key differentiator or two. That made our job cake.
The humor, irony, sadness, and truth about the observation my colleague made is in the definition of “water.” A little context is in order: the comment was made in a conversation about how the marketing funnel has changed. How, the “water” that we referred to in the past as meaning “the product,” now means so much more. It is also ironic that we had this conversation before Sue’s trip to SXSWi and her post on Joseph Jaffe’s book, Flip the Funnel. The point of all of this is that it is no longer just about you as an advertiser spreading the word about your product or service.
It is no longer about drawing consumers into the marketing funnel and into the vortex of advertising, until they get dizzy and start to believe you and then buy your product. It’s now all about ensuring that there’s really good “water” at the destination. Think exceptional customer experience. Truly differentiated product features. And just as importantly, a way for loyal customers to become evangelists. In other words, these days, if we lead a horse to water and there’s an abundance of clean, clear, refreshing water, that horse will tell three friends and those friends will tell three friends—all by tomorrow morning. Hence, the marketing funnel has been flipped into a megaphone and the message is carried by customers.
There are still plenty of brands who believe that advertising should do all the work. Or that success is achieved in the marketing mix. Or conversely, that the answer is digital, or social media, or that their website is the be-all and end-all. Those are all important, but the best brands have realized that it starts at home—great product, exceptional service and a medium by which to share. But that doesn’t mean a brand is alone to create the ultimate “watering hole.” The last part of my colleague’s comment was, “…I don’t know how to help you.” Well, that too, was purposefully overstated and he was again being facetious. Because if there is not substance there for a consumer to quench their thirst, all of our hard work goes for naught.
Today, the lines have blurred between clients and agencies. That’s if we are doing it right. Today, much of our work is as brand consultants, customer experience representatives, and deacons for the evangelists. We can even be product developers if we need to be. We are realists when we have to be. A good agency is a great Litmus Test, because if the water is tainted, the word spreads faster than if it is pure.