Bye, Bye Marketing Funnel — It Was Fun While It Lasted

Dear marketing funnel,

It’s over. We had a good run together, but let’s face it: We’re just not good for each other anymore. And I’ll be honest; it’s you, not me. You’re just too linear, and you don’t prioritize the people that matter to me or care about the activities that I know will make me more efficient and relevant. After decades of good-enough, I’ve found someone who puts people first and recognizes how important it is to get to know them, putting loyalty over one-time encounters. I’ve found my soul mate of the future, and I’m going all in.

I’m sorry, but I’m better than this.


Chief marketing officer


Yep, it’s true folks — the chief marketing officer’s long-running love affair with the marketing funnel has come to an end. But put away your tissues because the CMO’s new love interest is a major upgrade. Meet the customer life cycle, which we reintroduced today in a new report, “Embed The Customer Life Cycle Across Marketing” (subscription required). 

 Forrester's Customer Life Cycle model

The research reveals that the marketing funnel no longer applies to modern marketing, with its fragmented paths to purchase and a strategic imperative to place the customer at the heart of everything a business does. The customer life cycle, defined as the “customers’ relationship with a brand as they continue to discover new needs, explore their options, make purchases, and engage with the product or service experience,” is the right approach because:

  • The customer is at the center. By putting your customer at the center of marketing, priorities and budgets will change to singularly respond to customer needs. Each phase in the life cycle is about what the customer does, not what marketing seeks to achieve. Better data will propel brands forward when it comes to creating customer-obsessed marketing programs and meeting customer needs in the right location (physical and channel) with the right content at the right time.
  • It considers the complete brand experience. The life cycle encompasses the full scope of the brand experience — from earned media to the in-store experience and the website — and therefore encourages marketers to go beyond traditional activities and sales numbers and instead focus on that whole experience, particularly customer satisfaction and engagement. Digital tools vastly expand the marketer’s arsenal for creating these superior experiences, and consumers expect a high level of interaction
  • A purchase does not always (or even often) equate to loyalty. Today’s smart marketers understand that a transaction isn’t an automatic recipe for positive word of mouth or a repeat sale. Instead, loyalty is something that has to be earned and nurtured on an ongoing basis. The life cycle emphasizes that goodwill must be built up and continually delivered on to build successful — and profitable — long-term relationships.

Check out the report for a further explanation of why the funnel is outdated, for access to new data about consumer behavior in each phase of the life cycle, and for recommendations to get your company on board with the customer life cycle (CLC).

This report is the first of a stream of research around the CLC. So let us know your thoughts, and help us shape future content for this topic. And thanks!


There's more

I would just call it the Customer journey (from never-a-customer to always-a-customer). Customer Journey work has also concentrated very much on customer decision journey just like Funnel did, and that is about acquisition. The Full Customer Journey has a lot more dynamics to consider up to a point where it enables a sustainable management model. More about this mapping and analyzing customer journey at

This change certainly changes the whole perception of what is the role of CMO, which is why we started a FutureCMO movement. Join the debate at

CMO’s are specialists in understanding customer needs, preferences and they have their senses tuned to customer’s frequency. Simultaneously they are operating within the board of directors and get internal business information. They also manage liquid capital and prioritize its use. They should know whether this capital provide best return on investment if it’s used to promotion, CRM, service development or operational excellence. We expect to see development in which CMO’s lead the change or they are required to do so

I like how the customer is

I like how the customer is central to the selling process. It really makes account intelligence or the quality of your email marketing list critical.

Circular Funnel?

Great post Corrine ... I definitely agree that a purchase does not always (or even often) equate to loyalty--repeat purchases do!

One thing I noticed is that your graphic could be considered a circular funnel. In the digital world, we'll still need to move the customers from phase to phase to drive purchases. Engagement is a key factor in your customer’s life cycle--but if they don't buy anything then their life will be very, very short.

How does the customer get to

How does the customer get to the middle?

Let's not kick the Funnel to the curb just yet...

Nice post, Corinne -- I definitely agree that the cycle does a much better job of capturing a key element of the buyer's journey that the funnel does not: the part about "What happens after purchase?" It doesn't capture the full scope of the brand experience, as you said. However, I'm not quite ready to pound in the last nail on the funnel's coffin.

I'd like to second Brian's suggestion that the idea of a circular funnel has merit since buyers' information needs change as they move from unaware to swiping the debit card.

For B2B in particular, the funnel reminds marketers produce different content to address buyers' different information needs -- from educational and provocative in early stages, to descriptive and comparative in the exploration stages, to persuasive and convincing as the sales process draws to a close.

The funnel also acknowledges that -- whether we like it or not -- not every prospective buyer who sees our messages or engages with our marketing becomes a buyer. Nor should they: there is such a thing as a bad deal. The funnel reminds us of that progression from many to fewer is inevitable as both buyers and sellers decide with whom to make a deal.