We’ve spoken in some detail about the process of your digital marketing funnel. You’re now privy to a more intimate conversation taking place in the inner circles among marketing elites. There you’ll find talk that questions the funnel model of digital marketing, proposing that we instead look at a digital marketing “life cycle” or “eco-system.”

Model 1: The Digital Marketing “Life Cycle”

As Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Corinne Munchbach points out in a Forrester blog post on marketing funnel failures, the funnel simply doesn’t allow us to “prioritize the people that matter to me or care about the activities that I know will make me more efficient or relevant.” Corinne is in favor of the digital marketing life-cycle model, which does away with an arguably jarring linear model of marketing and replaces it with a model that embraces the customer’s relationship with the brand. Here the customer is at the core of a model that factors in the whole brand experience.

This model is ideal for agencies that focus exclusively on several “whales” – a gambling term for ‘big money’ clients who deserve the utmost attention. The fact that they have fewer and more choice clients is exactly why this model suits an agency. In an agency, you don’t have the luxury of dense conversions – in fact, a high conversion rate is counterproductive to your existence as a group that flourishes on garnering trust from respected client and then building on that relationship. The life-cycle model implemented for each client is perfectly situated for adapting to the shifting priorities within that account and allows for more flexibility within that frame. An agency for example could hold to a life-cycle model as a principle, and then create individual cyclical models tuned to the needs of each client.

Model 2: The Digital Marketing “Eco-System”

Linda West, a Partner and Marketing Director at Defined Creative, is in favor of the digital marketing eco-system model. Her observation stems from the fact that a whopping 75% of marketers struggle with integrating new strategies into a changing marketing landscape. As she perfectly phrases it, “they’ve attempted to fit blogging, or twitter, or SEO into the same mold they use for direct mail or print advertisements,” while noting that “components of digital marketing don’t follow the same patterns, and the rules are vastly different.”

Despite the difference in thinking, a graph highlighting the percentage at which you should focus on various aspects of the eco-system shows that the underlying foundation for this theory isn’t that different from the funnel – at least when it comes to expectations. The expectations here include 50% of efforts geared toward driving traffic in the same ways, including blogging and social measures; the remaining 50% gets diverted in equal measure to lead generation and lead nurturing. While it its true that the theoretical foundations are the same for the funnel and the eco-system, the way in which we view the client here is fundamentally more pronounced than in traditional model. Not only is evolving digital media changing how we view clients, it’s changing how we view our relationship with them; we are placing less emphasis on a fish-in-a-barrel view and more value on creating conversations.

Choosing the Right Model for Your Business

In an ecosystem, all components hang in balance with one another – often working together through an understated exchange. Conversely, the funnel method pushes for movement while this new counterpart interacts cohesively. Linda argues against a model where customers are pegged into the same hole. If they can’t be seen the same way, if they don’t have the same expectations, then they shouldn’t be marketed to in one wide sweep.

Choosing the right model of digital marketing is really an independent decision to be made by each CMO. Some brands and industries might find the linear approach the most fail-proof, while others may find that their own brand and engagement needs are flexing organically in the digital diaspora. If you feel your customers are diverging needs that need to be explored in an environment that lets you engage them fully and openly (without necessarily pushing them through a funnel), then you might opt for a digital marketing “life-cycle.”

Ultimately, the choice is yours. For the budding entrepreneur, I’d recommend the simpler straightforward linear model that will allow you to get a solid grasp on your business flow before exploring alternate models. The traditional funnel model is also best for serial entrepreneurs with multiple web-based businesses who aren’t necessarily interested in engagement as much as quick calculated conversions.