The most common question I get when I bring up customer journeys is “Are you talking about funnels”? Funnels are quite popular these days, but are these really the same things? In this article, I will highlight Top 5 Differences between building your marketing around “funnels” vs. “customer journeys”, the way these terms are most commonly understood.

#1> Central Perspective: Company’s vs. Customer’s

Let’s start with the most critical point. The funnels emphasize the company and its needs first, while the customer journeys emphasize the customers and their needs first.

Your customers don’t care about you or your company. They don’t care about your ads, landing pages, and offers. Couldn’t care less if your ads are profitable and if your business is succeeding or failing. They only care about their own experiences and needs at any given moment. Most marketing methods that emphasize funnels, start with the needs of the company, not the customers.

Understand your customers first. Get into their head. Map out the steps in their thinking and decision process. Research how they are buying similar products right now. Only once you’ve mapped out their customer journey you should start building the funnels.

Can you see the world through the eyes of your customer?

#2> Marketing Strategy: Disconnected Tactics vs. Integrated Experience

Funnels tend to promote narrow tactics at the expense of consistent customer experience.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many great tactics for many great marketing channels. But how would you know which ones to choose? Which ones are most relevant to your business? Which ones are going to make the greatest impact with the least risk? How are they going to work together?

Let’s say you hear about people in a similar business having success with: 1) long sales letters 2) retargeting Facebook video viewers 3) email mini-courses. Would you want to use all of these? Would you try to integrate these tactics or keep them separate? How would you prioritize and allocate your budget?

The right answer is to start with mapping your customer journey first and figuring out which tactics fit into which step second. Don’t expect that if you just grab a “funnel-building tool” it will give you all these answers.

#3> Implementation Tactics: Mindless Copying vs. Agile Adaptation

Countless consultants, agencies and software vendors promoting funnels implicitly (or explicitly) promise that they have your own perfect funnel currently in stock!

Just download and install that magic funnel template, change your company name and logo, and send traffic! No real work needed on your part, no training and no thinking! Then, of course, the reality ensues. Turns out your regions, your customers, or your products are different just enough to make the generic templates fail. What are you going to do then?

If you are steeped in Customer Journey Mastery, the answer is obvious. You don’t start with copying templates, you start with building a customer journey map, customized to specifics of your business. Then and only then you can sort through available templates and figure out what you can use.

By all means, shamelessly copy the successful ideas from the successful marketers. Just be sure to only use them as a starting point for adapting them to your business.

#4> Customer Path: Straight Line vs. Flexible

Funnels typically assume a fixed sequence of steps towards a conversion goal.

See the ad, click here, opt in, get welcome email and then buy the product (or something like that). Launching a funnel like this could make you think that this is how your customers actually buy. In reality, they’ll constantly change their direction, based on how a specific marketing message makes them feel.

Jumping off to do a web search, checking out your company pages, asking for advice on forums, or contacting your customer support. These are just some examples of your customers refusing to follow the steps in your funnel. Which of those would be the most important? You’ll have to do some research, map your customer journey, figure out which steps have the most impact and only then build funnels using that insight.

If you try to force your customers through one rigid funnel, many will rebel and go elsewhere. Plan for a flexible customer journey, that may include any of the steps from this excellent Gartner diagram:

Gartner’s Customer Journey Model

#5> Competitiveness: Vulnerable vs. Future-Proof

The final point is what you need to do to keep your marketing competitive.

This isn’t just about dealing with your direct competition. The overall environment keeps changing. Marketing platforms keep changing. Media costs keep changing. Email deliverability keeps changing. Search ranking factors keep changing. New channels emerge. Customer expectations, habits and technology usage change too.

One trend afoot might be destroying your existing business right now. Another one might be offering a golden opportunity for growth.

If you rely on the same funnel, everyone else is running, how long do you think it is going to perform? Why do so many people give away their “million dollar funnels”? They are not being charitable, they know it is too late and too hard to compete with them directly. They already moved on to the next opportunity. So should you.

Focusing on your own customer journey, instead of just hacking someone’s else funnels, should provide you with everything you need to adapt to any marketing challenges that come your way.


  • Funnels and Customer Journeys are not the same things
  • Design funnels based on Customer Journey Maps, don’t just copy them
  • Understanding your customer experiences is key to staying competitive
  • Best marketers already understand and use these ideas
  • We apply these concepts every day to manage Facebook ads for our clients
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Dmitriy Kruglyak

President at TargetChoice LLC
Data Geek. Process Fanatic. Growth Hacker

Making Advertising Profitable for Businesses

Building Marketing Tech since 1998
Dmitriy Kruglyak
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One Comment

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