Is the Traditional Marketing Funnel Dead?

March 4, 2022

How the flywheel strategy is giving a trusty relic a run for its money

About the author:

Amanda Crangle is founder & team leader for Lamplight Digital Media. Crangle can be reached at [email protected]. Crangle can also be reached through lamplightdigitalmedia.com.

Recently, as I scrolled through Facebook on the lookout for updates from friends and family over the holidays, an ad caught my eye. A video of a well-known marketing influencer showed him driving a spotless white Range Rover onto a pristine tarmac where he smugly stepped out, straightened the collar of his buttery black leather designer jacket, and swaggered up the steps of his huge private jet. The headline was, “How I Turned $100 To $5.5 Million In 90 Days.”

On the other side of the world — or perhaps in another world altogether — an egg sat under a heat lamp. Suddenly, the egg moved ever so slightly and a crack appeared. Then another and another until a tiny beak broke through the surface. Soon a healthy chick hopped out and her life outside the egg began.

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At the same time, in a small town in Michigan, the owner of a long-established water treatment company walked into work. The phones were ringing, installers were gearing up for the day, service technicians loaded their trucks, his cell phone pinged with three new five-star Google review notifications, and a new hire waited for an interview in his office. He took a moment to reflect with gratitude and opened the door to begin the meeting.

What do a high-powered influencer, a baby chicken and a water treatment dealer have in common?

Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad joke!

Their commonality lies within what happened leading up to their breakthroughs. In each scenario, a series of intentional, focused, scientific and calculated events occurred that no one else saw. Built with momentum using energy previously generated, they are propelled more and more effortlessly into a cycle of constant improvement and success.

The concept of the flywheel is well illustrated in Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great,” and further expounded upon in his monograph, “Turning the Flywheel.”

The flywheel provides us with a perfect visual. In steam trains, certain types of engines, and in business, the energy to initiate the flywheel’s first few turns is exponentially greater than the energy it takes to keep it in momentum. Two factors influence the flywheel: force and friction.

Articles written by The Harvard Business Review, Hubspot and more have proposed the idea that the traditional marketing funnel is dead and the flywheel strategy is the new medium of marketing mastery. In this two-part series, we will dig into this hypothesis and decide for ourselves what is true.

What is the Difference Between a Funnel & a Flywheel Strategy?

First, we must ask, “what is the difference between a funnel and a flywheel strategy?”

The traditional marketing funnel consists of a few different segments: attract, nurture and convert. The goal is to find people who you can best serve, draw them in, nurture and educate them, and finally convert them into a customer. The goal of most funnels is to generate sales.

On the other hand, the flywheel is a closed-loop system that has the customer at the center of the flywheel causing the goal to shift from sales to serving the customer at each step on the journey. This also causes a shift in the focus to drive leads through traditional marketing channels and allows us to look at how we can create a better customer experience, causing our customers to share our business by word-of-mouth.

Think about the last time you purchased a product of significant cost without looking at their reviews. It was likely a long time ago. Where visually, a funnel ends with the sale, a flywheel shows sales as part of the continuum; one of a few strategic forces that add pressure to turn your business flywheel faster.

In the not-too-distant past, businesses held the upper hand of knowledge and information. Now the consumer has full access to learn nearly anything they would like about any topic. This illuminates the necessity to focus on customer experience and reputation over simply getting in the door to make a sale. In fact, recent studies have shown 81% of buyers trust their families’ and friends’ recommendations more than companies’ business advice.

This begs two questions: How are you creating a culture in your business to delight your customer at each step of the process, and how are you leveraging your happy customers to get even more?

Is the Traditional Marketing Funnel Dead?

So is the funnel dead?

I would argue that its components are still alive and well. It is a model that has worked incredibly well for centuries. However, I would encourage a slight change to the funnel. Instead of a linear process, perhaps turning it into a closed-loop system will yield better results as it shifts our mindset from a single output of sales to a continuum of constant improvement. The Japanese call this “kaizen.”

After all, Galileo once stated, “I tell you that if natural bodies have it from Nature to be moved by any movement, this can only be a circular motion, nor is it possible that Nature has given to any of its integral bodies a propensity to be moved by straight motion. I have many confirmations of this proposition, but for the present one alone suffices, which is this.”

“I suppose the parts of the universe to be in the best arrangement so that none is out of its place, which is to say that Nature and God have perfectly arranged their structure… Therefore, if the parts of the world are well ordered, the straight motion is superfluous and not natural, and they can only have it when some body is forcibly removed from its natural place, to which it would then return to a straight line.”

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The principles of gravitational pull and rotational inertia are natural forces to be learned and leveraged rather than fought. We would be wise to apply these principles to our business with customer experience as the gravity that holds all things together.

Effective marketing and sales systems, systematized operational structure, top-notch products, value-driven pricing, and smart financial management are some of the forces that keep our flywheel building momentum and storing energy to use when crisis inevitably hits.

The marketing influencer, the baby chick, and the water treatment dealer all had breakthrough moments where their flywheels took over, allowing them to reap the benefits.

We often only see the success of those we look up to. However, a massive amount of energy went into building that momentum. Over time, they learned the best places and methods to apply force to their flywheel and how to remove friction to enable faster and more efficient movement.

In the next article, we will discuss how to craft our own flywheel, better apply strategic pressure, and minimize friction. You will discover how to bend, mold, and shape your funnel into a closed-loop kaizen force to be reckoned with. Hold on tight, applying laws of nature to your business is a fun and wild ride.

About the Author

Amanda Crangle

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