Fun·nel, (fuhn-nul) n.
A consumer-focused marketing model which visually illustrates a customer’s journey toward the purchase of a product or service. Also known as a “purchasing funnel.”
“If I have to use the word ‘funnel’ one more time today, I might die. #buzzwords” — @abhinemani
Posted on Twitter by Sacramento’s Chief Innovation Officer, Abhi Nemani, on Aug. 22, this was the tweet heard ‘round the Comstock’s office. It kicked off a lengthy debate among our staff about what “funnel” actually meant. Did it mean turning a company’s resources into money? Maybe it meant directing resources to another project? For someone whose job it is to know about jargon, I was (admittedly) woefully uninformed. But, as it turns out, I had little reason to hear this particular buzzword used in context: It’s jargon most often used in marketing. So I asked 3fold Communications CEO Gordon Fowler to shine some light on why our city’s new CIO might be deathly tired of hearing it.
“I think it is very jargon-y,” Fowler says with a laugh. He explains that marketers often use funnel as a visual example when talking to clients about how to move customers from being interested in a product to actually buying it. “If you view it as an actual funnel, that’s what we’re talking about,” Fowler says. “The widest part is what we use when we are trying to get people to start engaging in a service.” Clients move down the funnel when they are aware of a product, follow the product, decide to purchase the product and eventually buy the product.
“Where I think people misuse it is when they apply it conceptually,” Fowler says. “Everything becomes about a funnel, so you hear all the time ‘Let’s get them into the funnel!’ or ‘We need to get the customer in the funnel!’” But it doesn’t exactly work like that; you can’t just throw a customer or idea into the funnel. “That’s not necessarily about a funnel, that’s about convenience.” You have to work to get the customer to even enter the funnel — and then you can work on moving them through it.
“We’re trying to get the customer to go from visiting the site to adding an item in their cart and then actually buying it,” Fowler says. When I mention that I’ve been guilty of putting items in my online cart only to change my mind, log off and not buy them, he says this means somewhere along the way, I was a customer that “fell out of the funnel,” probably due to a poor marketing campaign.
While we might never know why Nemani was so frustrated with “funnel” that day on Twitter — he didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time — it’s easy to understand why. Like most #buzzwords, “funnel” conveys an idea quickly and easily … but that means it’s also far too quickly and easily overused.
So while the word — and the practice — might make you roll your eyes, playing hardball can be useful and even necessary when the stakes are high. But please, use sparingly both verbally and in action.
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