2023: The year of adaptation & the Flywheel model

11th Jan 2023

The marketing sector often likes to classify years like objects in a curiosity cabinet. Broadly filed under chaos, the labels for 2020, 2021, and 2022 read disruption, recovery, and of course, resilience. As we reach the peak of prediction season, I’m hoping my suggestion for the word of 2023 will be the first item in a new proactivity category — adaptation. 

Conversations about transformed customer habits are now well worn, with marketers aware that intensified digitisation has drastically changed buying journeys. For those who recognise these shifts as fatal to the already flagging sales funnel, there is rising interest around evolved frameworks. And among the most promising is an approach focused on creating, – and tapping – customer happiness to drive ongoing business success: the Flywheel model.

While it has gained greater mainstream ground since Hubspot’s adoption in 2018, switching to the Flywheel is no small adjustment. But as it becomes vital to marketing effectiveness, powering momentum over the next 12 months (and more) will need to be about retiring outdated processes at multiple levels, including doubling down on data basics. 

So long funnel, hello Flywheel

Over 100 years of longevity doesn’t guarantee timeless relevance. Despite holding up to multiple waves of innovation since its 1890s debut, the funnel is facing redundancy for several reasons; the most important being that brands are no longer the architects of customer journeys.

While companies in the era of Elias St. Elmo were able to shape purchase paths how they wished, this level of control just doesn’t exist anymore. Today’s consumers build their own routes, which don’t run neatly from awareness to conversion. As part of that, they also dictate engagement terms: interacting with brands across preferred channels and only once they’re ready — often after gathering knowledge about firms to make a personal judgement call.

Thanks to digital development, much of that freely accessible information doesn’t come from brands, but other shoppers. A decade ago, 92% of consumers trusted recommendations from friends and family over ads. More recently, studies have found almost the same number check online reviews before buying, and avoid businesses with under a 4-star rating.

Largely centred on singular revenue hits and essentially cutting off at the point of sale, the funnel is a poor fit for modern expectations; with sales pushes unlikely to fuel meaningful connection or generate critical customer delight. And that also brings us to why the Flywheel method is a better option. Prioritising long-term value, the revamped model strives to foster lasting brand love, and the rewards it yields, through continuously exceptional customer experiences.

Disordered data sparks Flywheel friction

Put simply, the Flywheel concept is about leveraging advocacy. The more enticing, enthralling, and enjoyable interactions are, then the more favour companies gain from loyal customers who become willing and authentic champions of their brand. In turn, this win-win scenario helps secure the confidence, and trust, of potential new prospects and boosts rolling growth. 

Theoretically, this means brands must align with what should arguably always be the main goal of marketing; effectively catering to real customer needs. In practical terms, essential factors for achieving smooth motion are maximum force and minimal friction. Like a racing car, the Flywheel engine needs lots of energy and speed increases with enhanced input, which comes from constantly finding and seizing opportunities to optimise engagement.

Similarly, spotting and addressing any areas of customer frustration will remove bumps in the road that could slow momentum. Sticking with this analogy, pit crews work smartly and swiftly to sustain cadence, informing quick decisions using a granular view of quantitative activity — including specific marketing communications served and customer response — and qualitative insight collated from listening efforts, such as consumer surveys.

In short, driving mutually beneficial progress involves guiding real-time action with robust customer and performance data. But given that more than half (58%) of marketers still have data unification on their to-do list, meeting this requirement will prove challenging for many. 

Fuelling smooth experienced on unified insight

Fundamentally, good Flywheel practice comes down to a data management classic: quality over quantity. While amassing as much data as possible was considered mission-critical for ensuring complete, up-to-date understanding of individuals, marketing teams have clearly swung too far towards collation and away from coordination; as illustrated by the fact 52% now collect data using 14 sources or more, as compared to just six or fewer in 2019.

To improve data activation capacity, further adaptation is vital; with strategies designed for genuine useability, instead of pure scale. Detailed and ongoing evaluation of cross-channel efforts will identify what types of messaging on which channels can bolster in-the-moment happiness for specific customers and shopper segments, or where dis-jointed experiences are causing friction. This intelligence, however, has to stream through a closely integrated overall infrastructure configured to ensure rapid, cohesive access to relevant insight.

While exact setups will be different for each company, automated integration is generally a strong starting point for tackling data overload issues and preventing silos that lead to low-value customer experience. By instantly merging, harmonising, and translating data from myriad sources into one centralised store, such tools make it easier for the right people to access and analyse the right data, whenever they need it.

This kind of efficiency will form an integral catalyst for smart Flywheel operations at all stages. Enabling marketers to determine how they can ignite interest to attract customers and persistently produce delight, reliable data will be paramount to nurture relationships, entice fresh crops of customers, and increase conversions — both in the short and long-term.

As marketers seek enduring relevance and survival, and customer behaviour changes ever faster, the question is no longer if they should embrace the Flywheel model, but why they haven’t done so already. There is a need for brands to begin adapting their communications and leave the legacy funnel approach behind, sooner rather than later. And to stay ahead of the pack, success will hinge on ensuring data management systems are well-connected and orchestrated to generate a constant flow of reliable, actionable data fuel.


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