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Ditch the funnel, build a marketing ecosystem instead

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The funnel marketing model reigns supreme online. Most entrepreneurs have been convinced it’s the most effective strategy for launching and marketing to potential customers and clients. But is it the best and only way?

What if instead of creating funnels, we built and nurtured marketing ecosystems?

The purchase funnel, or purchasing funnel, is a consumer-focused marketing model that illustrates the theoretical customer journey toward the purchase of a good or service. The purchase funnel is also often referred to as the “customer funnel”, “marketing funnel”, “sales funnel”, or “conversion funnel”. – Wikipedia

image of marketing funnel

Marketing Funnel. Source: Wikipedia

For most online entrepreneurs, this funnel concept translates to creating a free opt-in offer. People sign up for the offer and that puts them at the top of the funnel. From there, people are strategically guided down the funnel with carefully orchestrated messages. Eventually, they reach the bottom, where they purchase. There may be smaller purchases along the way, with the largest purchase being at the bottom of the funnel.

The idea is you are pushing large numbers of people down through the stages of a funnel.

I’ve never liked the term ‘marketing funnel’, or the concept. But I didn’t know another way. And so, like most of us, for years I went along with it.

I’ve had funnels of my own and even helped clients build them for their launches. Maybe you have, too? If so, this isn’t to make anyone feel shame or guilt. I simply want us to explore other ways of marketing that don’t feel sleazy and manipulative.

I can acknowledge the general principle. It’s based on the idea that people do not purchase when they first come across a business.

With the funnel system, they’re slowly baited, little by little, until they’re convinced they need what’s on offer and they perceive the risk of purchasing from said company to be lower. But this concept is flawed. And there’s another way.

Fundamental Flaws of the Marketing Funnel

Flaw #1: People do not only enter a funnel from the top.

From Harvard Business Review:

We asked some of the leading marketers in the world…to assess the relevance of the marketing funnel. What we found says as much about the future of business as it does about the future of marketing.

According to these marketers, the primary problem with the funnel is that the buying process is no longer linear. -HBR

The funnel model assumes the first point of engagement with a company is at the very top. But we know this isn’t always true.

Ever had someone come to your website for the first time and purchase something? I have. I ask most of my one-on-one clients how they found me and what led them to purchase. Often, they said they found me from a social platform, read a sales page, and purchased a product, or set up a discovery call with me for one of my coaching programs.

There are times when people purchase, even higher-ticket items, without needing a ton of exposure and trust-building.

Flaw #2 It’s not the most effective way to build relationships.

Once someone comes into your community, say, by signing up to your email newsletter, what happens next is more about building a relationship based on trust and value than about moving them down a funnel.

There’s a lot of noise and empty promises out there. People are often skeptical and cautious. They come across your stuff and keep looking, reading, watching, building a relationship of trust, till they feel they can trust you with their money and trust that your offer will be valuable. But if your content and communication with them are high-value, and presented consistently you’ll build trust. This is inevitable.

There’s no need to orchestrate a system of trust, it will happen organically.

Flaw #3 It assumes large numbers.

Think of the concept of a funnel, wide at the top, narrow at the bottom. This entire model is based on getting large numbers of people to subscribe and then ‘weeding out’ most of them. I dove into the issues with this large list-building approach in Why Most List Building Advice Doesn’t Work (especially for coaches, trainers, creatives, and other service-based entrepreneurs).

Without large ad spend — or ‘influencer’ friends willing to promote you to their audience— it’s near impossible to ‘be everywhere’ and ‘do everything’ non-stop to gather a large enough number of people needed to enter your funnel make the system profitable. The focus is on numbers. And playing the numbers-game is a futile exercise is exhaustion and frustration.

Let’s Explore Another way; A Marketing Ecosystem

First, let’s define the term.


1. a system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment.
2. any system or network of interconnecting and interacting parts, as in a business” -Dictionary.com

So, how do we apply this to marketing and use the concept to foster connection, value, and still earn income sustainably?

We can do this by following the principles of an ecosystem. Of course, there are many layers and a few different types of ecosystems. This isn’t an ecology lesson. We are going to look at the concept form a high level and see how it crosses over with marketing.

Four Ways to Build a Sustainable Marketing Ecosystem


In an ecosystem, there’s interconnection.

For example, here’s an illustration of an ecosystem and the nitrogen cycle:

Is there a way to foster connectedness within your community so that you’re not the sole source of ‘power/knowledge’?

One of the reasons most of my group programs have some form of virtual co-working sessions is because, during the sessions, participants connect with each other. Many have formed friendships and collaborations, they share resources, knowledge, and help each other with marketing and general business building where they can.

Some entrepreneurs do this through Facebook groups and forums. There is also group-oriented software popping up outside of Facebook for those who want to foster connections away from Facebook.

Other ways to do this are by encouraging connections through comments (on your blog and social media, like Instagram and YouTube). Although this isn’t as effective as hosting a group or maintaining a forum, brainstorm ideas for what would work for your lifestyle and audience.


An ecosystem allows for choice.

Organisms naturally choose what to connect with and the areas most suitable for thriving.

When people come into your community, are they presented with your offers in a way that they can choose what they need, rather than covertly being ‘funneled’ or manipulated along a prescripted journey?

Give people the credit they deserve. If you’re building a purpose-driven business and value doing meaningful work, your ideal customers and clients are capable of making sensible choices, without needing to be manipulated.

If we take this approach, we shift from ‘pushing’ people down a funnel, to allowing them to make the best decisions from where they are and what they need.

Organisms are smart and will seek out what’s best for thriving. You don’t need tripwires and fake urgency tactics or any other psycho-neuro-manipulation.

If you’re doing remarkable work, let’s presume your ideal client/customer is also remarkable. They can’t be triggered so easily with tactics – and you wouldn’t want to do that to them anyway.


In an ecosystem, organisms are supported.

How do your messages, content, and offers support members of your community? Not triggering and guilting and shaming them into buying, but supporting them in a way that’s best for them. What support do they need?

If you keep that top of mind, rather than what support your wallet needs, you’ll help them to thrive individually and collectively. And, as a side-effect, you’ll thrive, too.


Long-term sustainability is at the heart of healthy ecosystems

An ecosystem is in it for the long haul. And you should be, too. Manipulative marketing tactics and launch funnels focus on pulling in immediate sales, but do they build trust?

Trust is the currency of any long-term business.

You build trust by consistently showing up, providing value, and demonstrating that you care.

A Few More Practical Marketing Ecosystem Ideas

Marketing message distribution

If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a fan of calling out marketing manipulation, without sharing alternative options. I believe we can first decode these tactics and then we rewrite a paradigm shift and an alternative way of doing business.

People create funnels to get sales. So if you ditch the funnel, you must feel confident that you’ve replaced it with another system that gets you the results you want.

If you don’t have big funnel-based launches, make sure you have a well-defined system for distributing your content and inviting people to purchase your offers (what you have for sale).

In Less Is More Content Marketing audiobook, I dedicate a chapter to creating rhythms with your content creation and distribution. You need to have a process and rhythm in place. This involves creating a sustainable pace for sharing your offers, not a massive launch where you expend a year’s worth of energy in one month and feel exhausted and burnt out after (been there. It’s not fun). Just like the rhythms in a natural ecosystem, create rhythms with your marketing.

A massive launch isn’t part of a rhythm. It’s more like a cyclone or a hurricane. There’s only so much you can do to prepare for it and it’s typically more destructive than good, energy-wise.

Can you get into a rhythm of lighter launches that don’t drain you and overwhelm your audience?

Create a clear pathway for people to reach your ecosystem

If you think of your ecosystem being a body of water in the forest, how will people get there? Have you laid a clear path for them to reach you? Do you put signs and mile markers? Have you cleared the way? How will people find you, and your offers?

The Most Powerful Aspect of the Marketing Ecosystem Concept

The marketing ecosystem is a guide. But it’s also a powerful mindset approach. You’re not shuffling widgets down a funnel, you’re creating an environment, a community, where members (p-e-o-p-l-e) can thrive.

How can you create and sustain a marketing ecosystem in your business?

Have a think about some of these ideas and let me know your thoughts below.

Let’s navigate this paradigm shift together!





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  1. Good points. I think the sales funnel system is something entrepeneurs who have massive (mostly paid) traffic are big fans of. It is storm-centered as you wisely point out. If you are trying to live your life and run your business from a place of peace, the whole drumming up herds of traffic (for perennial launches etc) and pushing that “traffic” down a giant funnel like sausage, is not appealing or practical. It doesnt honor readers as individual intellignet human beings. This article helps me see my business in a new way, as a peaceful park that needs tending. I’m a writing coach for heart-centered artists. Like you I have tried aspects of this funnel stuff but what I’ve found works best is caring for the people that are already drawn in to the ecosystem I have already lovingly created. So my takeaway from this is to see what you have already built as having value, and add some moss and cozy benches here and there and let people hang out with you rather than pushing them down a funnel.

    • Totally agree, Thea. I found the funnel system draining and impractical. Plus, it just didn’t feel right for me. When we decide to launch out into business, we get to make choices about how we run our business – and our lives. There are some things we’ll have to do even though we don’t like it (admin, for example. Not a big fan). But how we market our message is a choice.

      What a great point about the masculine/linear (funnel) system and the femine/circular (ecosystem)! Thank you for sharing. I hadn’t even thought of that. But maybe I was intuitively attracted to the idea of ecosystem for this reason. I’ve seen other talk about marketing ecosystems but not much practical advice on how to do it. So, I’ve been brainstorming on how I happen to already run my business in this ecosystem model and now I’m trying to put out some practical tips for others to explore the model as well. I’ll likely write a few more posts on this topic at some point. I value your input as a fellow heart-centered writer and coach. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  2. PS It also just occured to me how you are seeing it is more circular (ecosystem) as opposed to linear (sales funnels have a top and bottom.) This may point to a traditional male/linear vs female/circular preference or lens on a topic. Just a thought.

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