A few months ago, I asked marketing leaders: Does the funnel still work for you? Or are you moving onto something else?

This led to some very interesting briefings and an enormous amount of thinking and debate. The upshot: It's time to bury the marketing funnel.

The marketing funnel, shown below on the left, is a simple and broad-ranging model, which is part of its appeal. However, it's from an earlier era and does a poor job of summarizing how we think about customers and marketing today. Luckily, the customer life cycle, shown below on the right, is as clear and usable as the funnel but provides a far better fit with marketing in the 21st century.

I could write an entire report about why the customer life cycle should replace the funnel — and in fact, I have — but here are just some of the reasons:

  • The role of marketing. At its worst, the funnel portrays marketing as a conveyer belt with the job of delivering a continuous supply of customers to the business. On the other hand, the customer life cycle portrays marketing as the function that is responsible for orchestrating the total brand experience. 
  • The value of the customer. In the funnel, a prospect is a prospect, and a sale is a sale. It's a volume-based model. On the other hand, every customer group has its own life cycle, including its own lifetime value, and its own journey.
  • The acceptance of complexity. In the funnel, the customer moves linearly from awareness to loyalty. But in the customer life cycle, the journey never ends, as customers continually engage with brands and their peers and process new information and experiences. 

I am now researching how companies manage the transition from the funnel to the customer life cycle. The result will be a report tentatively titled "The Customer Life Cycle Action Plan." If you're a CMO or marketing leader and you're willing to discuss the opportunities and challenges you've experienced in making this transition, please email me so we can discuss the possibility of a briefing. All of the participants in the briefing process will receive a complimentary copy of "It's Time To Bury The Marketing Funnel" as well as "The Customer Life Cycle Action Plan" when it is ready.