The Artist Formerly Known As The Marketing Funnel

The Egyptians had the pyramid. The Greeks had the circle. Prince had his funky love symbol. And marketers? Well, we have the funnel.


Stock image used with permission of Shutterstock.

The marketing funnel is probably the most iconic shape in marketing analytics. A big bucket of prospects are poured into the top of the funnel. It narrows on the way down, as prospects bail or choose competitors. And then, at the very bottom — plop! — out pops a subset of those prospects as customers.

It looks like (and acts like) a kind of sausage-making machine.

Many marketing programs have been built around the funnel. Top of funnel lead generation. Middle of funnel lead nurturing. Bottom of funnel sales enablement. TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU, respectively. A bevy of marketing metrics monitor the volume and velocity of prospects trickling through this tapering tube.

Yet despite its ubiquity, the funnel isn’t a particularly flattering shape for modern marketing.

It fails to take into consideration the powerful feedback loops between existing customers and newly arriving prospects that search and social media have wired up. It has no notion of repeat business or strengthening an existing customer’s account. It writes off people who end up choosing an alternative solution — when, in fact, those relationships still have value, too.

And, frankly, it’s kind of a negative metaphor. It excludes people as they fall off the toboggan on the way down. Successful customers are pushed to the bottom, where they tumble out into the void. Terms like TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU don’t exactly conjure the prettiest mental images, either.

Every Buyer Is A Winding Road

A better metaphor, which has been growing in popularity, is “the buyer’s journey.”

5 Stages of the Buyer's Journey

Courtesy of

It’s less about a downward-sloping filter and more of a forward-moving progression. It’s more customer-centric, rather than marketer-centric. And it encompasses not just the run up to an initial purchase, but also the ongoing relationship with customers, who may grow to become advocates and influencers.

Put another way: there’s more to the marriage than the wedding day. (Admittedly, there are exceptions to that adage, but what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.)

I like the buyer’s journey much better than the funnel. It sounds more like karmic advancement and less like a frat party prop. As marketers, more than anyone, we can appreciate the power of positive language.

However, one advantage of the funnel was that it provided relatively well-defined stages to mark a buyer’s progression. That helped us match the right programs to the right people at the right time.

So doodling one evening (as I’ve been known to do), I sketched the above staged flow of the buyer’s journey to blend the best of both models.

5 Stages Of The Buyer’s Journey

To me, the buyer’s journey is all about forward momentum. So I drew a left-to-right arrow as the driving force of the journey. Like the funnel, it begins with three stages:

  • Start of Journey (SOJO)
  • Middle of Journey (MOJO)
  • Conversion of Journey (COJO)

These align approximately with the top, middle and bottom of the funnel.

However, unlike the funnel, the third stage — conversion of journey — is not the end. A buyer who makes a purchase marks a transformative moment in his/her voyage, a conversion from a prospect to a customer. But the buyer’s odyssey continues, in one of two directions:

  • Rejuvenation of Journey (ROJO) — if they become your customer
  • Diversion of Journey (DOJO) — if they buy from a competitor instead

The rejuvenation path is a big part of the full life cycle of the buyer’s journey. First, for most businesses, a first-time customer has the potential to become a long-time customer. He or she may make repeat purchases, extend an ongoing service subscription, or expand into related products and services. That’s the first loop, from rejuvenation to follow-on conversions.

But second, with word-of-mouth amplified by search and social media, existing customers can have a tremendous influence on other buyers. Hence, the second loop from rejuvenation back into the start and middle stages of other buyers’ journeys.

While many companies divide prospect marketing and customer marketing into separate programs — they are, after all, different life cycle stages with different needs — I believe it’s important to keep the big picture feedback loop between these two groups in view. Happy post-purchase customers are extremely important to the success of new prospect marketing these days.

The diversion of a buyer’s journey happens when they convert — but convert by selecting a competitor. Unlike the traditional funnel, which would coldly say, “Fredo, you’re nothing to me now,” this more enlightened view of the buyer’s journey recognizes that there’s still value in the relationship.

At the very least, you would like former prospects to have a favorable view of your company. If they have the opportunity to influence other prospects, you’d prefer that they say, “Well, they weren’t the right fit for me, but I really liked them. You should consider them because…”

And at some point down the road, they may choose to defect from that competitor. If they’re dissatisfied with their previous choice, odds are, you’d love to be the white knight to the rescue.

That’s not to say that marketing to people in the DOJO stage is easy. It should probably be done with a light touch, ideally in a way that it’s still helpful to that audience, even if they remain with the competitor. But they deserve a place on the map.

What do you think of this way of visualizing the buyer’s journey?

Hey, if nothing else, at least it’s an opportunity to use “marketing MOJO” in a sentence.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics


About The Author: is the president and CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of landing page management and conversion optimization software. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist. Follow him on twitter via @chiefmartec.

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  • baldjake

    I agree totally with the thought process, and have always known there was a better way to visualize the journey if you will. For me this doodle makes it easier to create conversations and content based on lifetime customers.

    The only thing I feel like might be left out is the two types of longtem customers.
    1. The steady-eddy who just keeps buying and doesn’t say a word
    2. The brand advocate who may only buy every once in a while but shouts your name from the mountaintops.

    There is a different way to address those people. Who knows I may be asking too much of one doodle to be super practical!

  • Scott Brinker

    Thanks for the kind feedback! If this doodle can spark some interesting conversations on the subject, that alone would make me very happy.

    Good point about the different kinds of long-term customers. I was trying to get at that a bit with the double loop in ROJO — some just do a “repeat conversion” cycle in their own track, but others end up feeding the SOJO and MOJO stages for other new customers.

    But I confess that this diagram is a little like modern art, and the narrative in my head may not have been well represented by the ink on paper, er, pixels on screen.

  • Lauren Littlefield

    Couldn’t agree more! Thought you’d also like Troy Burk’s article “The Marketing Funnel is Dead.” (

  • Corey Creed

    Fantastic, @scott_brinker:disqus. Great concepts and excellent picture. The funnel concept is a good starting point to understanding conversions, but I like your diagram a whole lot better. It’s easy to see how remarketing would fit into this, for example.

  • Douglas Karr
  • stroyburk

    Scott – great post. Agree that the marketing funnel is outdated and does not address the buyers journey (it is a great tool to track marketing generated leads and how they are progressing within the current sales process). The buyer’s (or non-buyers) journey with a brand is not the same as the seller’s sales cycle. However, all people (and companies) go through stages of a relationship with a brand (Lifecycle Stages).

    People can be influencers and advocates for a brand and not be a customer (which means loyalty and advocacy does not necessarily fall into a sales cycle (or marketing funnel). If marketers continue to measure effectiveness as moving more marketing generated leads down the funnel, well – they will focus on moving more marketing generated leads down the funnel. The question is this where they should focus?

  • Scott Brinker

    Nice article! Lifecycle marketing is a great way to think of it.

  • Scott Brinker

    Thanks, Corey. I’ll admit, I’ve had some lovely flings with conversion funnels over the years. But now I’m looking for a more meaningful relationship with a marketing analytics model.

  • Scott Brinker

    That’s a really good point.

    In the context of a “buyer” — hence, the buyer’s journey — either (a) they never convert (stay in their MOJO), (b) become your customer (ROJO), or (c) choose a competitor (DOJO). I definitely think those in the DOJO stage are an underserved segment in most lifecycle models — and that those folks are potentially very influential on other buyers.

    But there are non-buyers who can be powerful influencers and advocates as well. This diagram doesn’t illustrate that, but I agree with you that they can have significant impact on this model.

  • Kari Rippetoe

    This is very enlightening. What I’d love to see now is how to effectively market to people in the DOJO stage. What approach do you take? What content do you provide?

  • Scott Brinker

    One idea I’ll suggest:

    If a part of your content marketing is educational materials or other kinds of Youtility (to quote Jay Baer) offerings that aren’t specific to your product, people in the DOJO stage may continue to find value in receiving those.

    If you know for a fact that they’ve adopted a competitor’s product, maybe address that directly. Wish them the best and let them know that they’re more than welcome to continue to take advantage of any Youtility offerings you have. Assure them they can unsubscribe at any point.

  • Jeff Nelson

    Excellent article. Good points. Great diagram.


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