What is a Marketing Flywheel? Is the funnel dead?

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Marketers have historically used the old reliable ‘funnel’ as the analogy of choice when it comes to describing a customer’s buying journey. And why not? The funnel has served us well. But, when the global market evolves and people adopt a more digital-centric focus, changing the way they interact with brands, the need for a more relevant mechanism has risen.

And here, the Marketing Flywheel is born.

Before we unpack the new marketing model, let’s look at our old funnel friend to provide a fair comparison.

The Marketing Funnel

When we refer to the marketing funnel as an ‘old friend’, it’s because the concept dates all the way back to 1898 where E. St. Elmo Lewis first coined the idea to map out a customer’s theoretical journey from the point they become aware of your brand and product, right through to the action of making a purchase and all the steps in between.

Adapted by marketers to change with the times and trends, there are dozens of modern versions, but all with the same linear principal and broken down into the following steps:

Awareness – Sits at the top and widest point of the funnel, casting a large net over a target audience

Consideration – Sits in a narrower position below awareness and describes the point a customer considers a purchase

Conversion – Lies in the narrowest part of the funnel, representing the point of a sales conversion

The funnel’s structure represents these stages, but also the quantity of people who reach each stage; the top representing the larger audience with the numbers dropping down as the funnel becomes narrower through the different stages.

The Marketing Flywheel

The flywheel is a device with a rotational mechanism designed to efficiently store energy that can be converted into gaining more momentum. If you’re not into physics, the flywheel uses its momentum to continue spinning. The more energy it gathers, the more momentum can be gained and added to its overall function.

How does it fit in with marketing?

It’s circular, not linear

The marketing funnel is a top-to-bottom linear structure. A lot of effort is put into filling the top with as many people as possible in hopes that a small portion of them will funnel down into a sales conversion. The buck stops there, and you start all over again at the top.

The marketing flywheel is circular, representing the ongoing customer relationships and brand loyalty that feed into growth and momentum for your business. The more energy you invest in your customer’s experience throughout their journey with you, the more it comes full circle and feeds back into the spinning wheel.

The three stages of the Marketing Flywheel

HubSpot describe the three stages of the flywheel as:

Attract – attracting the right audience through meaningful interactions, conversation, and engaging content

Engage – understanding your audience and their problems, then providing information and solutions to those problems to build your relationship further

Delight – Providing the best customer experience with your business that offers value and empowerment, giving them a reason to promote you to others

Friction – The Flywheel’s Weakness

The efficiency, energy, and momentum of a flywheel are its biggest strengths and what makes it such an attractive alternative to the funnel. But everything has a weakness, and friction is the kryptonite to the flywheel’s superman speed.

Friction slows momentum and compromises the performance of the entire flywheel. Friction might come in the form of monotonous and tedious tasks slowing down your team, a lack of direction or clarity, or even something as simple as team structure.

Identifying and solving friction points will ensure your marketing flywheel is in full swing and serving your business’s goals to its best capacity.


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