The Marketing Funnel vs. The Consumer Decision Journey

Customer Decision Journey Header


If you’ve ever worked in sales or marketing, you’ve no doubt heard of the marketing funnel. Google the term and you’ll see many variations. They’re all based on the original AIDA model (awareness, interest, desire, action) developed in 1898. At its most simplistic, the model includes these four stages:


Step 1: Awareness

When a consumer becomes aware of your product or service via advertising, word of mouth, research, etc.


Step 2: Interest

The consumer shows an interest in the product or service and gathers more information through comparison shopping and research.


Step 3: Desire

The consumer is primed to purchase, but the deal hasn’t closed yet. The seller must convert the prospect by convincing them to purchase the product or service.


Step 4: Action

The prospect becomes a customer by purchasing the product or service. Ensuring their satisfaction leads to brand loyalty and advocacy.

You might have seen funnels with additional stages or different labels, but the thinking behind them is the same. A prospect starts at the top of the funnel with many brands to choose from.  As they move through the funnel, they narrow their choices to a single brand.

Makes sense, right? Not anymore.


The marketing funnel is dead


The marketing funnel is dead

The marketing funnel worked well before the dawn of the internet. Once Google, smartphones, and social media entered the picture, everything changed.

Pre-internet, consumers absorbed a steady stream of advertising via “traditional” marketing channels like television, magazines, newspapers, billboards, radio, etc. This is what’s known as push marketing, one-way communication whereby marketers “push” their message to consumers.

Now, consumers engage in a mix of push and pull marketing. In addition to traditional push marketing, we have the tools to “pull” marketing to us by actively seeking out information about products and services.

For example, you might see a social media ad for dress shoes (push marketing). Instead of instantly making the purchase, today’s consumer will likely first engage in pull marketing. You might visit the company’s website, comparison shop on Amazon, read some reviews, and ask your friends if they’ve tried this particular brand.

While the linear marketing funnel may have worked pre-internet, now it’s simply not sophisticated enough to model the modern sales experience that includes:


  • a vast number of product choices
  • a multitude of marketing channels and consumer touchpoints
  • a curious and educated consumer


The consumer decision journey


Enter the consumer decision journey

Recognizing the inadequacy of the traditional marketing funnel to depict modern decision-making, McKinsey & Company developed the Consumer Decision Journey (CDJ) to better describe how today’s consumers research and buy products.

The CDJ is all about reaching consumers in the right place at the right time with the right message. Unlike the linear marketing funnel, the CDJ is a circular model that factors in both push AND pull marketing along with a multitude of choices and touchpoints. It also allows for consumers to enter and exit the journey at different stages as they consider their options.


Step 1: Triggers

The prospect identifies a problem and needs a product or service to resolve it. The problem is the trigger that begins the decision journey


Step 2: Initial Consideration Set (Awareness)

These are companies the prospect thinks of immediately after identifying their problem. To continue with the shoe example, let’s say you need a new pair of dress shoes. Without doing any research, what brands first come to mind? Those brands are your initial consideration set.

Touchpoints are the points of contact between the consumer and your brand. In the awareness phase, these can include:

  • PR
  • Word of Mouth
  • Advertising
  • Direct mail


Consumer Touchpoints


Step 3: Active Evaluation (Consideration)

Prospects gather information about your product or service by taking a deep dive—researching multiple sources and reading reviews to make their decision. Unlike in the marketing funnel, in which consumers relied on traditional “push marketing,” in the CDJ consumers “pull” information helpful to them.


Touchpoints can include:

  • Websites and landing pages
  • Social media
  • Reviews
  • Email marketing
  • Search engines


Step 4: Moment of Purchase

This is when the prospect becomes a customer and actually purchases the product or service.


Touchpoints can include:

  • Website
  • Mobile app
  • Store/branch
  • Sales rep/broker


Step 5: Ongoing Exposure (Retention)

Rarely does the transaction end with a purchase. Providing great follow-up service is critical to creating repeat customers and brand advocates.


Touchpoints can include:

  • Customer service reps
  • Call center
  • Live chat
  • FAQs
  • Online communities
  • Social media
  • Email


Step 6: Loyalty Loop (Advocacy)

In this stage, brands strive to develop ongoing relationships with consumers by providing excellent customer service to ensure customer satisfaction and elicit word-of-mouth recommendations.


Touchpoints can include:

  • Feedback surveys
  • Thank you gifts
  • Loyalty programs
  • Email


statistics header


Why does it matter?

It matters and McKinsey has the stats to prove it. While developing the CDJ, they examined the purchasing decisions of nearly 20,000 consumers. (They now have a database of more than 100K CDJs.) They’ve got the data to back up the model, and here are some key takeaways.


70% of purchases were from companies that were part of the initial consideration set.

This is a big one. Think about it. Most purchases are made with brands the consumer already knows. Not necessarily ones they’ve purchased from in the past, but ones they’ve at least heard of.

That’s why being top of mind—the company the consumer immediately thinks of—is critical to increasing sales.

How do you accomplish this? By building brand awareness through traditional push marketing.


But also, think beyond push marketing.

The change in how consumers make decisions means that marketers must move aggressively beyond purely push-style communication and learn to influence consumer-driven touchpoints.

When consumers research your brand, your SEO needs to be at the top of its game, your website must be accurate and updated, your social media needs to be informative and engaging, and you must have positive reviews.


70% of decisions are emotional rather than rational.

If you’re shopping for dress shoes in person, you’re going to buy from the clean, well-stocked store with helpful salespeople. Ditto for online—you’ll choose the website with the best prices and selection, easy checkout, and fast shipping. No matter what you’re selling, it’s critical to establish a positive rapport before, during, and after the sale.


90% of customers are no longer loyal to a brand, and 58% choose a different brand purchase every cycle.

Brand loyalty is (almost) a thing of the past. Sure, there are exceptions, but the fact is today’s consumer has too many choices and is inundated by a constant barrage of advertising in every possible channel.

How can you stand out against the competition? By providing high-quality products, excellent service, and compelling loyalty programs, you’ll convert prospects into repeat customers, build ongoing relationships, and create brand advocates.


What’s the bottom line?

Modern consumers have moved on from the old-school marketing funnel and embraced pull marketing. If you want to reach them at the right place and the right time with the right message (and make the sale), so should you.

Want to map out a Consumer Decision Journey for your brand? Our team of marketing experts are ready to help!

Schedule a Free Consultation Today!

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Consumer Decision Journey

The Marketing Funnel vs. The Consumer Decision Journey

Recognizing the inadequacy of the traditional marketing funnel to depict modern decision-making, McKinsey & Company developed the Customer Decision Journey to better describe how today’s consumers research and buy products. It’s is all about reaching consumers in the right place at the right time with the right message.

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