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November 2, 2018

If a campaign fails but no one is there to measure it, did it ever really fail?

Years ago, while spending some days in a hospital (never mind why, it wasn’t my fault), I roomed with a retired junior high school math teacher. When he introduced himself as such I recoiled, shaking off some nasty memories. But as time passed, with little else to do, we began conversing.
“Do you know what I loved most about teaching math?” He asked. “That moment when my students realized there was only one correct answer to each question.” (He seemed mirthful when he said it, and for a moment I felt a sad and silent empathy for his former students.)
I’m not a mathematician, but as a marketer I’m a problem solver by nature. But the funnel progression challenges I often deal with are not problems with a single possible answer. Like many of you, I have a love/hate relationship with the funnel in part due to its elusiveness. It gives us a best-practices way to approach go-to-market challenges, but it also locks us into an abstraction.
Abstraction. The funnel isn’t real. Those data points are in fact stand-ins for real human beings exhibiting human choices and behavior. And, while every human is unique and capable of irrationality, the funnel demands that we level them – often based on a single behavior – to generic classes.
The problems with this are many but here’s one that I’m seeing grow, QBR* after QBR: credibility. Sales and business leaders are increasingly jaundiced towards funnel analyses. Too often, I've witnessed meticulously-researched analytics rejected out of hand because they’re seen through a kaleidoscope lens of ignorance and anxiety, misunderstanding and miscommunication, and preconceived ideas and conflicting agendas. And yes, politics. Add to all that the abstract nature of the funnel, and you’ve got a credibility crisis.
My conclusions: the complexities of demand marketing must become simpler, and the abstraction of the funnel must become real.
Better technologies will help us simplify, as data becomes less fragmented and more insightful. And AI technologies, given time, will shatter the funnel. Every campaign communication will someday become a 1:1 invitation to dialog. No more funnel.
There's more: the art and simplified mathematics of storytelling, to which businesses are awakening. With the right skills, marketers can weave compelling stories from our message matrices, providing content that people want to consume, translating brands and products into meaningful story arcs that trace our buyers’ progressing needs and wants. And the metrics should focus, not on the "shrinkage" calculations of funnel conversions, but on the simple tracking of content and consumption. Who’s consuming what content and when?
Few business leaders are prepared to see the funnel abolished from QBRs. That day will come. Until then, let's offer our buyers better stories: more content of better relevance, to better invite those precious dialogs. Isn’t that what our great campaigns strive to achieve?
*QBR = quarterly business reviews

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