2023 Marketing Trends
Bye Bye Funnel, Hello Flywheel
Kit McKinley

Agency Director

If you are in a business with a marketing strategy, you have probably heard of the marketing funnel: the mechanism that turns leads into customers. The marketing funnel is the foundation that built the customer journey. However, with accelerated mobile pages (AMP), chatbots, and other intelligent agents, new digital experiences continue to disrupt customer journeys. Major brands are harnessing the disruption, in turn, transforming the customer experience (CX) into a more human experience with meaningful customer touchpoints that drive higher engagement and deeper loyalty.

Enter the Flywheel!

But first, a little history.

Our Old Pal: The Marketing Funnel

The purchase funnel, AKA, marketing funnel, customer funnel, sales funnel, or conversion funnel, was introduced in 1898. E. St. Elmo Lewis developed a model that mapped a theoretical customer journey from the moment a brand or product attracted consumer attention to the point of action or purchase.[1] It’s often referred to as the AIDA model, an acronym that stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action.

  • Awareness – the customer is aware of the existence of a product or service
  • Interest – actively expressing an interest in a product group
  • Desire – aspiring to a particular brand or product
  • Action – taking the next step towards purchasing the chosen product


Some marketers add loyalty and advocacy at the bottom of this funnel. Others add a note like “rinse and repeat.” At the same time, some have added an upside-down funnel and turned it into an hourglass to include desired post-purchase behaviors; adoption, retention, expansion, and referral. These are stages of the customer journey, but I want to point out that they are all building on a model introduced in 1898.

John Hall, a co-founder of Influence & Co., broaches this idea, “Right now, the marketing funnel as we know it accepts just about anyone and everyone, filters them through qualification processes, then spits them out at the end without much of a parting word. Too many companies see customers as gatekeepers to wallets; meanwhile, customers feel ignored at best – and insulted at worst – when the journey ends.”

Have I mentioned that I loathe the term “marketing funnel” and all its aliases?

In marketing and business, we should never grab the attention of people who aren’t in our audience for numbers’ sake and push them through a buying experience. We’ve all had that experience and then led to an automated customer service number where you never get to talk with someone.

We should look at customers as more than a wallet but as friends that we genuinely want to help. We want sales that encourage relationships, invite consumers to remain in the circle, the community of buyers and evangelists.

 It’s time to start looking at a marketing lifecycle.

Introducing: The Marketing Flywheel

The flywheel effect was a concept developed in the book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t by Jim Collins.[2] “No matter how dramatic the end result, good-to-great transformations never happen in one fell swoop. In building a great company or social sector enterprise, there is no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no miracle moment. Rather, the process resembles relentlessly pushing a giant, heavy flywheel, turn upon turn, building momentum until a point of breakthrough, and beyond.”

While in HubSpot Academy, I was introduced to their version of the Marketing Flywheel. Jon Dick, VP of Marketing at HubSpot, describes it as “a circular process where customers feed business growth.” Now, this is a model I can agree with! The marketing flywheel’s premise is to align the entire business organization around providing remarkable customer experiences (CX). Our old pal, the funnel, thought of the customer as an outcome, while the flywheel model looks at how the customer can help your business grow.

The 3-stage wheel is Attract > Engage > Delight, all moving around the customer in the middle. 

  • Attract – Providing genuine value to your target audience that helps you to inbound leads for your business
  • Engage – A constant relationship with the customer through sales, which consists of providing solutions, education, and personalized customer service for the customer throughout a customer’s buying journey
  • Delight – Offering such a positive experience to your customers with an aim to building strong relationships with your customers that they ultimately become the promoters for your business, which will help your marketing flywheel to spin right back to the attract stage

There are a few different versions with different layers, but one thing is constant, the customers are the force that gives the energy to keep the flywheel moving. Use the momentum of your happy customers to drive referrals and repeat sales. Basically, your business keeps spinning towards success. The momentum your business’s flywheel generates depends on three things:

  1. How fast you spin it
  2. How much friction there is
  3. How big it is

The more successful companies will adjust their business strategies to address all three. Applying force to the areas with the biggest impacts will increase the speed of the flywheel. HubSpot uses the example, “inbound marketing, a freemium model, frictionless selling, a customer referral program, paid advertising, and investing in your customer service team are all forces. By focusing on how you can make your customers successful, they’re more likely to relay their success to potential customers.”

For years, businesses have structured their strategies around the marketing funnel — and it worked well for many of them. But, in today’s digital world, third-party site reviews, peer-to-peer recommendations, and word-of-mouth play more prominent roles in customer’s buying decisions than ever before.

  • 81% of buyers trust their friends’ and families’ recommendations more than companies’ business advice
  • 55% of buyers report that they trust the businesses they buy from less than they used to 
  • 57% of B2B buying processes are done before buyers ever reach out to vendors

The Marketing Flywheel Model can be the most significant marketing model in modern-day businesses. It thrusts the company forward by putting customers at the heart of each business operation. While it may take great time and effort, it’s worth it. As with the flywheel process, you can enjoy continuous business growth driven by your business’s customers and raving fans.