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Has the traditional marketing funnel changed?

The traditional marketing funnel was born in the late 1800s to depict the process from the moment a potential customer first becomes familiar with a product or a service to the moment when they decide to purchase the goods.

The form of the funnel was chosen to demonstrate that there are many prospects at the opening, whereas there are exponentially fewer entities making it to every next stage.

Over the years, the stages of the funnel have been moderated, but the idea behind every stage has remained the same.

Below is the funnel model that we’re using in this article. It represents well the process that a travel agency’s (potential) customers go through before booking a tour.

Here are some slightly different names for the stages of the marketing funnel:

  • discovery, research, shopping, and purchase
  • awareness, consideration, preference, action, loyalty, and advocacy
  • awareness, interest, evaluation, comfort, sale

And here’s a visual representation of the marketing funnel as we know it:

The funnel is a good visual representation, but not the perfect shape to represent how marketing functions. Primarily it is because the shape of a funnel suggests that everything that comes in will eventually come out at the other end. If only that were true and all prospects became customers!

Another aspect of the traditional marketing funnel that’s getting second-guessed these days is the linearity of the traditional marketing funnel. However, a fresh perspective on the stages reveals that the funnel might nowadays have formed a circle.

A marketing funnel or a circle?

There are a couple of explanations for the suggestion that the marketing funnel might really be a circle.

One example is an adaptation to the original funnel model by McKinsey. Its circle shape emphasizes that customers’ loyalty is not an endpoint that companies should aim to reach. Instead, the model suggests that the loop ends with customer satisfaction, which then leads to another consideration phase before the next point of purchase.

Another explanation says the funnel’s shape is redefined today as a result of technological advancement. More specifically, due to the rise of the social networks, social is now a touch point at every part of the travel planning routine.

In 2018, over 50% of travelers used Instagram, and almost 80% of users follow at least one business account.

Has it affected the funnel stages?

Pre-purchase: The awareness stage

In the first stage, the customer is just getting familiar with the product. One way to spread awareness about your product is by advertising on Google and popular social networks.

Facebook and Instagram, in particular, were made by design to help travel agencies sell tours.

In fact, 52 percent of Facebook users report that friends’ photos inspired their own travel plans, according to WebpageFX and a 2018 industry report by Pinterest found 3 in 4 travel pinners will act on what they see, often booking an unplanned trip.

Use the platforms to inspire potential customers to explore your offer by posting stunning photos of the locations your agency goes. It doesn’t even have to be an exotic location to capture the attention of your potential customers. Click here if you want to find out more about travel trends expected in 2019.

This is also the stage when your website will get its first visits, as your main goal will be to drive traffic to the website for the potential customers to explore your offers in detail.

Pre-purchase: Consideration

Not all of the prospects have made it to this round, and even less will get to the next one. And because the stages of the funnel are not as clear-cut today as they used to be, buyers enter the funnel at a point where they are more prepared to make a sale.

That means the consideration stage is your time to shine. It also means companies need to get information online, such as an up-to-date website, product content and purchase reviews.

Many buyers of today do their own research online, comparing features and benefits of competitive products, rather than relying on a company’s traditional marketing activities to guide them through the funnel stages.

At this point, a potential customer might have inquired about that Southeast Asia tour or downloaded a brochure of the tours. They are trying to determine whether the product or service fits their needs.

Is there an option for single travelers? For the disabled? How about a gluten-free option in the hotel’s restaurant?

If you manage to answer the prospect’s questions and convince them that your product ticks all the boxes, booking the tour will (probably) follow.

The purchase stage

If travelers are finding travel inspiration online, they’re booking it digitally too. Mobile is the main driver as planning becomes more immediate and convenient. Facebook data shows 38 percent of travelers who researched their last trip on mobile, also booked on mobile.

These are the same travelers who drew inspiration from social, mainly from peer experiences.

In each funnel stage, marketing personnel must conduct activities that facilitate consumers through the funnel process. They need to engage promotional activities in creating awareness about the products, detail the benefits compared with the competition, outline the advantages of how a purchase will benefit the customer, or offer a special promotion that entices the sale.

Post-purchase: Loyalty and Advocacy

It’s a false premise that the pre-purchase and purchase stages are not more important than the post-purchase stage. At least if your goal is to do repeat business with (satisfied) clients and have those same clients recommend your product to others.

Once the sale is complete, marketing needs to engage the customer to get feedback and retain loyalty, as that can lead to repeat business and referrals.

Once booked, these visitors will share their own trip photos plus reviews, sparking additional interest from their followers. Purchase decisions tie back into discovery and awareness, completing the circle.

The conclusion

The marketing funnel offers a good basic model, but marketers need to be aware of how technology has altered the buyer’s journey because the traditional marketing funnel doesn’t work well anymore as a conceptual tool for planning campaigns and allocating budgets.

Some of the main factors driving the change are technology and social media. The difference begins in the awareness stage because digitally connected consumers research products differently and each step is another opportunity to connect with and inspire current and potential customers.