The Funnel is Dead, Long Live the Loop?

This article is part of the Digiday Partner Program and is brought to you by MediaMath, the creator of the TerminalOne Marketing Operating System™

Getting online shoppers to click the “buy” button used to be a point-A-to-point-B exercise. Mass media advertising drove consumers to a retailer’s website where they were cookied and targeted ads nudged them through the “purchase funnel” to the shopping cart.

Now, omnichannel marketing is making the path to purchase so complicated the linear funnel model is obsolete. Today’s consumer journey is more like an infinite loop, where shoppers are always discovering, considering and buying via multiple channels. So keeping them engaged is an ongoing process.

Here’s your field guide to omnichannel marketing’s infinite  loop.


No longer the exclusive domain of “upper funnel” brand campaigns, pre-shopping takes place via display, search, social or anywhere consumers are open to the new and shiny. Among these sources: targeted sites like Uncrate, where visitors learn about new products; mobile apps, television ads or even simple direct-mail circulars.

Online, social media is a heavy hitter. Recently, retailers have found particular value in Pinterest, which drives about about 25 percent of retail referrals online. Nordstrom’s, in omni- fashion, uses Pinterest to drive offline sales via a test program that features its most pinned merchandise in stores. This tactic encourages store visits and inspires shoppers to go back online to find more — a loop within a loop.

But social cannot be siloed as a mere discovery channel.

Merging social and content can move consumers from pre-shopping to serious consideration. Ford, for instance, will enlist influencers to write about their experience with their products in hopes of reaching shoppers who might not be visiting Ford-sponsored sites, said Scott Monty, global head of social media for Ford. “It’s not a Facebook post or a targeted tweet, but it is social because we’ve been involved with the influencer,” he said.


With so much competition online and off, it’s harder than ever to get into a shopper’s consideration set and stay there. In store apps, QR codes and content marketing all help marketers inform and educate consumers.

Methods such as search and display can also be improved by an omnichannel approach. Retailers collecting search data, for example, should note queries featuring brand names or specific product attributes.

“I’ve seen search trends where you can tell if someone is a tire-kicker or a purchaser based on how detailed their searches are,” said Matthew Witt, executive vice president of digital integration at marketing agency Tris3ct.

Meanwhile, display advertising continues to play a role in getting into and staying in the consideration set, particularly when brought together with content in compelling ways.

“If you give someone a five-second tease in a rich-media display and leave them wanting more … [the ad] will take you through to watch a full video where that curiosity gets satisfied,” Monty said.

At the same time, retailers can use data to identify customers who are the most likely to buy, prospecting new consumers who may not know about the brand. Once in the consideration set, retargeted ads help keep brands top of mind, even as shoppers do research elsewhere.


In a world of infinite options, buyer’s remorse can set in even before the purchase. With shopping cart abandonment rates averaging 67.75 percent (according to the Baymard Institute) purchasing should be seamless, said Witt.

Any point of friction, even asking twice for credit card information, gives consumers a chance to back out. Amazon’s automatic charges and Prime service provide a one-click buying experience and helps avoid shipping-charge sticker shock, a main cause of cart abandonment, per UPS.

Other retailers are making things easier with in-store pickup, which offers immediate gratification and eliminates shipping costs. This tactic also offers the advantage of getting folks in stores, where smartphone shoppers re-enter the discovery, consideration and purchase phases. In-store shopping apps allow visitors at Home Depot, Sears and Ikea to better navigate store aisles and find deals.


Unlike the traditional funnel, which spits consumers out after a purchase, the omnichannel loop has no end. Retailers must cash in on their customers’ good vibes by re-engaging them even after the sale.

First-party data generated at checkout should be used to build a more personal relationship with customers. Some retailers, like Lowe’s and Sephora, are using purchase history to create repeat sales by remembering products consumers previously bought, and making them easy to call up via app or register for future purchases.

Other brands, like online shave shop Harry’s, ask customers to share news of their purchase with friends via Facebook or Twitter, earning cache among a consumer’s like-minded network.

Still, retailers must take caution not to overstate their importance or pushing too hard for a return visit. Multiple emails touting sales and promotions are only a button-click away from becoming spam.

“It’s human nature to personify things, and you don’t want to be personified as that annoying person who won’t stop,” Witt said