Friday, June 26, 2009

McKinsey’s Lesson for Marketers – Focus Less on Push and More on Pull

For years marketers have used the metaphor of the “funnel” to explain the process consumers go through when making purchase decisions. The theory being that consumers begin their journey towards purchasing a product at the top of a funnel where they have several, if not more, brands on their short list.

As they proceed down the funnel, so the theory goes, consumers become more familiar with the features and benefits of each brand. Ultimately, the funnel narrows and those brands deemed less desirable are rationally and deliberately eliminated by consumers save for the one that best meets their needs and requirements. At least, so the theory goes.

For better or worse, this framework has been at the core of many a marketing plan for a good part of the last half century. The result - marketing plans that almost exclusively focus on pushing messages (or offers, discounts, etc) at consumers at each stage of the funnel with the intent of moving them towards a purchase.

The Consumer Decision Making Process in the Digital Age
Not surprisingly, many have questioned the validity of this model on grounds that it’s overly simplistic, too rational, or that it fails to account for the increasing media fragmentation of the digital era. Now, a new study and report from McKinsey validates these skeptics.

The report, “The Consumer Decision Journey,” issued earlier this week was the output of a study McKinsey fielded that examined the purchase decisions of nearly 20,000 consumers across five industries: automotive, auto insurance, cellular carriers, personal computers and skin care. The key finding: the Internet, the rise of consumerism and a marketplace marked by an increasing array of product options have made push based marketing less relevant and, in many instances, less effective.

The study partially discredits the funnel metaphor and makes the case for a consumer decision making process that is less linear and more bi-directional where the consumer has increasing control over where, when and how they engage with a brand.

But what I find really interesting about the study was the finding that, incredibly, two-thirds of purchase influences during what McKinsey calls the active-evaluation phase involve consumer-driven activities such as Internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family.

Two-Thirds of Purchase Influences are Driven by Consumer-Driven Activities

In the Digital Age Consumer Outreach to Marketers is More Important
If anything, the study confirms the urgent need for brands to invest less in push-based advertising campaigns, and more in pull-based experiences that deliver relevant and informative brand-to-consumer interactions where decisions are being made.

The obvious places to start would be by delivering more engaging and usable Web and point-of-sale experiences. It’s also clear that leveraging the word-of-mouth power of the social Web should also be at the top of the list.

While there is clearly a continuing place for push-based marketing, an over emphasis on these types of tactics will not only prove ineffective, they might also indicate that a brand is out of touch with its consumers. In an industry where perception is reality what can be worse?


  1. I fully agree with your take on it. I think especially advertising is getting less effective (13% trust product advertising - Edelman 2009). I think it is a huge opportunity for brands to start focusing on the 'active evaluation phase'.

    When you publish content on the web that doesn’t ‘sell’, but ‘informs’ you establish a relationship with that customer that increases the chances he will come to you, not your competitor.

    My blog post:

  2. SEO Agency Kent

    As they commence down the direct, so the concept goes, customers become more well known with the pros and cons of each company. Eventually, the direct becomes smaller and those manufacturers considered less suitable are rationally and intentionally removed by customers save for the one that best satisfies their needs and specifications. At least, so the concept goes.