Love it or loath it, we can't escape the marketing funnel. It's under our collective skin.

Why? For a start, most marketers agree that only some of the people who are aware of their product are actually considering it. And only a portion of these people will go on to prefer it, buy it, and perhaps become loyal users. We could illustrate this observation in a number of ways. For example, we could draw a dartboard with "total addressable market" as the largest outside circle and "loyal customers" as the smallest circle in the center. Likewise, drawing a funnel is a natural and useful way of making this very basic point.

If only marketing were that simple. In truth, marketing is a messy business. For example, moving from awareness to consideration and preference might be sound advice for a rational shopper, but actual buyer behavior involves heavy doses of emotion and chaos. And loyalty is not the end of a customer's journey; it's a state that the marketer must cherish and sustain, hopefully leading to positive word of mouth. 

On top of this, one can imagine a boorish marketer taking the funnel a little too literally. Draw it with the wide end at the top, and you can imagine some marketers believing that the more water they pour into the top, the more water they will watch gush out of the bottom. Of course, most marketers are smart people who use the funnel without abusing it, but it would be nice if we could find a model that was 100% idiot proof.

So, in short, the funnel is certainly not dead. However, it's overdue for a good coat of paint, and if a smarter model is there for the taking, then now's the time to take it. The critical issue is that whatever model we move to should have all of the funnel's advantages but fewer of its downsides. For example, it should be at home on a marketing dashboard, just like the funnel, while accounting for some of the complexity that the funnel brushes aside.

Now, asking what comes after the funnel could be a highly theoretical exercise. And to be sure, I have been considering the theory. But for this research, I'm taking a slightly different approach. My emphasis will be on what works for innovative and succesful marketing leaders today. I want to ask CMOs whether they use the funnel — or something else entirely. I want to know how they use their model of choice to interpret the data they extract from their Customer Intelligence system. I want to know how their model of choice frames their marketing strategy and guides their choice of tactics. I want to know whether it helps them explain the role of marketing to the CEO or muddies the water.

So, dear marketer, I hand this blog post over to you with a question: As you go about your business today, what works for you? The funnel or something else?