From Marketing Funnels to Circles, the Secret to Engaging Buyers Today

Digital Marketing Trends


The traditional marketing funnel may be as dated as bell bottom pants, but that hasn’t held back Charlie Metzger, the chief marketing and communications officer for the Detroit Pistons and its parent company, Palace Sports & Entertainment, from turning in spectacular results. Metzger has deployed marketing technology in the company’s operations to help drive a 90% season-ticket renewal rate. The secret? Metzger has traded in the funnel for what he calls “the circle.”

Read this excerpt from an interview Harvard Business Review Analytic Services (HBR-AS) did with Metzger during the development of our whitepaper, “Designing a Marketing Organization for the Digital Age.”

HBR-AS: Are you seeing the traditional sales funnel itself changing?

Metzger: I think it changed eight to ten years ago.

HBR-AS: What is its equivalent now?

Metzger: It’s social, search, sale. You’re building a community, and it’s not a funnel anymore; it’s a circle, and at the beginning of that circle is the fact that we’re looking for advocates. So you’ve got to put yourself in a position where people are recommending your product and talking about you. That is really where it starts. It doesn’t start with you driving awareness. It starts with working on creating advocates for your product or service and, hopefully, they are telling others.

HBR-AS: What sort of pressures or opportunities is the marketing organization under and how are you dealing with them at the moment?

Metzger: It starts with the ability to have access to data and also to have access to data in real-time. Then you need to be sure that you’ve got the ability to move fast. The pressure is far greater than it used to be because you could be missing opportunities staring you right in the face.

HBR-AS: Your situation is probably unique because there is a product on the field. It’s a team and you’re not necessarily able to change these rules.

Metzger: Yes and no. Certainly, our product is on the court; it’s the Detroit Pistons and we also have outdoor music that we do. But whether you’re at P&G, IBM, or the NBA, all organizations have the ability to use technology and gather intelligence on their customers. Not only what their customers are buying, but what they’re thinking, what they’re saying, and what they’re sharing with other people. You just have much more of a window into what people are thinking and, more importantly, sharing about you with others.

HBR-AS: How is that changing the role of marketing?  

Metzger: If we’re learning things about our existing customers or future customers, we’ve got to be able to translate that easily and simply to our sales team. If they want to follow up and get smarter, or hopefully make a sale, or influence a sale going into the future, that data and information has to get transferred to them as quickly as possible but also in a user-friendly way.

HBR-AS: In terms of the innovation between marketing and sales, how does that relationship work?

Metzger: At the end of the day, business hasn’t changed really. We still want to build brands and drive ROI and sell a product or a service and create loyalty.

HBR-AS: How is your marketing organization itself changing?  

Metzger: I see marketing groups insourcing more than outsourcing. Marketers always will outsource certain things to partners, but I think you’re going to see skillsets, particularly in content creation, social and digital, probably being insourced a little bit more. You’ll probably see more of that in the future.

HBR-AS: That’s because of speed?

Metzger: Speed and technology, and also because of the way that people are used to consuming technology. So instead of viewing an offer again, going way back, through television or through a direct mail piece, or even a Sunday paper, people are communicating all the time on their phones. You’ve got to be able to create content that can work there.  It’s democratization of the ability to be able to create some of that yourself now. I think it allows marketers to potentially be able to take that on, whereas historically they might have had to outsource that to an agency.

HBR-AS: So you’re saying that by and large agencies aren’t able to move as quickly around all those different media platforms, from television to mobile?

Metzger: I spent 12 years in an agency so I see the huge value in agencies.  I just think that agencies will be different, too. Technology is going to change the speed and the pace at which everybody has to move. If you build the community the right way, and you’re building your social network the right way, and they’re searching for products or services or ideas or whatever it is that you’re offering, we believe that will translate and then lead to sales.

It’s so much different than the old purchase funnel where it was pending consideration and awareness. We now know that the first place anyone shopping for anything will go is online and look at what others are recommending. You don’t influence them at all the way you used to so now you’ve got to be part of those communities.

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