Posted on 22nd February 2017 by Jazsmine.Stroulger in Ecommerce

While company disciplines such as Operations, Finance and HR wouldn’t consider running their departments the same way as in the 19th century, for some reason, this has been acceptable in marketing. When Elias St. Elmo Lewis created the cone shaped purchase funnel in 1898, he could not have dreamed that it would last 120 years. The fact is, it is now a completely unacceptable model for a digital world.
The wide top of the cone represented the largest relevant audience that a company could conceive. After all, with response rates of 1 or 2%, the larger the target market – the more likely a campaign was to succeed. This wide funnel, however, assumed two fundamentals. Firstly, companies would initiate the purchase journey within a particular market place. In this scenario, it made sense to make ‘the market’ as large a relevant group as possible. Secondly, that ‘attention’ was abundant. In other words, by bombarding a specific demographic with direct mail, calls and advertising, the messages would get through.

Of course, in a digital world, neither of these assumptions is correct. Firstly, customer journeys now inevitably start with a prospect searching for a solution. SEO is the discipline of making sure you are found when a customer is looking for your product or service. No longer, therefore, is this wide top accurate. Good marketing today is not about ‘shouting’ at the widest possible audience, but rather ‘attracting’ the relevant prospects at contextually the right time.

Secondly, attention is no longer abundant. In a world where everyone owns their own media channels (Facebook, alone, is expected to hit two billion users fairly soon) we live in an environment where information is abundant. Everything in life has a cause and effect. Nothing exists in a vacuum. The direct effect of living in a world of information overload, is that attention is now scarce. Therefore, simply bombarding a market place with commercial messages will not guarantee it cuts through.

The problem is, when Marketing Directors, CMOs and CEOs are employing SEO and digital marketing professionals, and yet still use the traditional purchase funnel as their basic marketing model, there is a complete misfit between the activities and the framework being used to understand results.


The ‘Digital Sales Funnel’ is a model that is designed for a new reality. The narrow top represents the fact that it is no longer effective for organisations to simply bombard a market place with sales messages. Rather, today, companies want to attract prospects to them. SEO, of course, is all about ensuring that an offering is visible when it is relevant for a particular prospect. This fits perfectly into the ‘Digital Sales Funnel’ model.

The wide middle reflects the fact that it is attention that is now scarce. Purchase journeys are now longer as prospects have more information at their disposal. Statistically, it is proven that individuals are now taking more time to evaluate their options. Moreover, the greatest currency of digital is ‘social sharing’. Companies used to bombard the market with sales messages and nurture a few prospects that might respond. Today, however, organisations need to nurture the ‘attention’ they receive. This allows them to guide a prospect through a purchase journey, much of which happens without any direct human interaction. Today, even in business to business propositions, salespeople are being involved much later in the buying process.

Secondly, with ‘social sharing’ being the most effective way of spreading a message online, ‘nurturing attention’ through disciplines such as creating great content, is a way of utilising what is now the most precious resource from a communications standpoint: attention.

Finally, the narrow base of the ‘Digital Sales Funnel’ reflects the unchangeable reality that not everyone who connects with a business will become a customer. The percentage conversion of prospects, who choose to interact with a business of their own fruition, will be higher than those who are selected by a company itself. However, it will still be a minority of people who make a purchase.

It is vital that those in digital disciplines such as SEO, content marketing and social media, create realistic frameworks for their customers to be able to make sense of the activities that are undertaken. After all, boards of directors and marketing departments must justify results and explain why budgets are being utilised in a particular way. The traditional purchase funnel is no longer fit for purpose. The ‘Digital Sales Funnel’ is a more appropriate and accurate reflection of the realities of the digital environment.


This article by was posted on 22nd February 2017

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