Ellen Kramer, Managing Partner, Funnelcake Strategy

As marketers, we have a dual identity. We are both consumers and marketers. For many of us – and the brands we lead – we know what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of our customers. That is, until we get to the office and try to use tools to map out the customer funnel or consumer journey.

Enter: irony.

As CMOs, we are a bit hesitant to embrace the new truth, that as consumers, we also have a dual identity. As much as we are all customers, all customers today are marketers. For a moment, put on your customer hat. Are you moving down a funnel? Taking a journey? Do you have a “path to purchase?” Are you aware of your “data footprint” as you leave it? In reality, data is a disorderly series of inputs and outputs from each of us; the data is not a footprint as much as an amorphous swirl around each of us.

My view is that we are each a living, walking cyclone of data. YOU are the new funnel. Imagine each individual has a virtual cyclone of surrounding data. This swirling funnel includes data input and output as well as the signals, implications, and predictions of those data elements. If we accept this new truth, how are we to adjust our marketing to jump onto this new consumer’s consideration set?

Let’s look at the data sources as a way to help unpack this new truth:

1. Shared output

There is data that we share ourselves and data that gets shared on our behalf. Our output includes photos, updates, and stories – from little white lies and humblebrags to job changes, birthdays, and complete social and business networks. This shared output extends to the Internet of Things. Did we get our 10,000 steps today, did we compile a grocery list on our refrigerator; did our lawn get watered? Location data is also shared, sometimes even involuntarily.

Other shared data happens through online game-play, opting into lists, signing up for information, household and census demographics, etc.

Historically, this Data has been the primary way brands could model and predict your next purchase.

2. Behavioral output

Our behaviors are recorded constantly and include everything from our current location, mobile travel data, app usage, online searches, purchases (online and offline), real estate transactions, social likes, social comments, brand reviews and recommendations and triggers that we either respond to or don’t. Depending on how authentic your behavior appears, brands will read our actions as signals to let them know when you might be interested in hearing from them.

Behavioral output plus shared output help brands determine when to trigger a particular message that is relevant to us and predict how likely we are to respond to that message.

3. Message input

“Traditional advertising,” or messages that brands target us to receive, whether we requested it or not is message input. These messages include digital media, text and email, television, outdoor, print and even radio. Nurture campaigns, retargeting, friend and influencer content, ratings and recommendations are all message inputs to our data cyclone.

These message inputs are being increasingly filtered by the consumer with opt-outs, ad blockers, etc. We may not want to be advertised to or talked at (grammar intentional), even when our behaviors might indicate otherwise. 

4. Brand Stories input and output

Stories are the newest source on the data scene. First, there is our direct experience with a brand. We take that data and store it as an input. We rate and review and re-purchase. Second, we share our brand experiences with others as output, and we form and help others form perceptions of each brand.

When brands attach themselves to a cause or demonstrate values that we support, we add that brand to our cyclone as a positive force. We contribute to the brand’s milieu, and they contribute to ours. Instead of residing at the bottom of the old marketing funnel, the new customer/advocates are wearing your brand as a badge, telling stories of interactions that are worth sharing with others at the top of the funnel.

Brand stories are the one marketing channel where consumers believe they are in control. In this way, customers are also your marketers.

5. Inferred data that matters

Whether B2B or B2C, wouldn’t it be nice to know what your customers value most in life? What motivates them to make the choices they do, at home and at work? Which responsibilities and triggers drive purchase decisions? What they intend to purchase when the time is right? When they need validation?

With the signals in the cyclone and the combination of shared business and consumer data that is available today, you can begin to infer these elements that form a better picture of your target customer.

So what does all this mean?  In essence, we need to introduce our brands into the data cyclone with the types of experiences and content that motivates customers to share. We need to understand that the predictive signals are out there that equate to a consumer’s raised hand: “I am ready to hear your offering, and I intend to purchase.” It is now the marketer’s job to recognize those signals and teach customers to become our marketers. This way, as the voices and the stories are heard, all data inputs in the new funnel are doing the marketing so you don’t have to.