Challenging the Notion of TOFU, MOFU, BOFU – What Does Today’s Buyer’s Journey Really Look Like?

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First there was AIDA, then the notion of a sales “funnel” emerged and the concept of a buyer’s journey that began at the top of the funnel (TOFU), moved to the middle of the funnel (MOFU) and ultimately ended with a sale at the bottom of the funnel (BOFU). But is this concept too simplistic—and too linear—to truly represent today’s buyer’s journey? Was this model ever relevant in a business-to-business environment? Are content marketers wasting their time attempting to create copy that focuses, discreetly, on TOFU, MOFU, BOFU?

Like the model itself, the answer to these questions is anything but straightforward.

Too Simplistic for Today’s Buyer’s Journey?

Joshua Feinberg is a certified content marketing strategist and revenue growth consultant for small business CEOs and co-founder of SP Home Run. Feinberg has been building and implementing full-funnel content marketing programs since 1997. “Even before the pandemic, the way people research and make purchase decisions changed more in the past decade than it had in generations,” Feinberg says. The COVID-19 lockdown, he says, “brought another decade of digital transformation in a matter of months.”

Things have been changing for some time in the marketing space—and especially in the digital marketing space.

“The traditional marketing funnel is dead,” says Matt Bertram, EO and SEO Strategist at EWR Digital. “Today’s buyer’s journey is no longer predictable or linear.”

Buyers today have a wide range of sources of information to turn to when researching about and purchasing products and services. Some of these sources are created and owned by those marketing the goods and services—others are not.

“In an omnichannel world, buyers are free to choose their own path and their own means of engagement,” Bertram says.

Some, Though, Believe the Model Has Merit

Not all, though, are ready to toss the marketing funnel out entirely. Elizabeth Harr, a partner with Hinge Marketing, and the author of several marketing books, including Inside the Buyer’s Brain, is one example.

While Harr says she isn’t a fan of “marketing speak,” she believes there is some merit to the various stage of the funnel. Simply talking about top/middle/bottom, though, she says is too simplistic. “It’s what happens between the lines—or layers—that makes these stages an accurate, and therefore important, representation of the buyer’s journey,” she says.

She explains:

  • They’ve never heard of you. “If you think of it that way, you understand the type of marketing that is most effective,” Harr says. “Someone who has never heard of you before and sees your website for the first time is not likely going to respond to a call to action that requires providing an email or giving you a call. Nor will they spend an inordinate amount of time digesting your content or even paying attention to any of your marketing until you’ve earned their trust.” Consequently, activities taking place at this stage need to be open access and require little time to digest and little risk—things like blogs, articles, video blogs, social media posts, etc.
  • You’re on their radar. At this stage, says Harr, marketers need to work on keeping themselves on the radar. Tactics that work: calls to action to sign up for a newsletter, downloadable content that requires an email, and email campaigns that put relevant content in front of your buyers. “These are all excellent because they reflect the mindset of the buyer at that point in time,” she says.
  • The deal is closed. “If in the middle of the funnel you’ve sufficiently nurtured and earned their trust, the buyer will be more receptive to a demo, a pitch, or a consultation that requires time and investment,” Harr says.

It really isn’t about the stages themselves, Harr says, but what happens at each stage that makes the funnel a good model for marketing dialogue and planning. “Omnichannel just means that there are multiple ways and multiple channels to reach your audience in sequential actions that reflect their mindset—but the funnel—which is really a representation of the mindset of the buyer at a given point in time, must be considered,” she says.

Added Complexity for B2B Marketers

Of course, while theoretically the concepts behind the funnel model may make sense, the path is anything but a linear one—especially in the business-to-business (B2B) environment. “It’s never been possible to distill all B4B [business for business] marketing down into TOFU-MOFU-BOFU funnel stages,” says Matt Caspell, founder of digital marketing agency Lumo Digital. “This journey is only applicable to specific products and services where there’s a single decision-maker involved end-to-end,” he says.

That’s just not how marketing decisions are made in a B2B environment. The primary difference between the B2C and B2B purchase decision process, says Caspell, “is that decisions about buying products and services are usually made by a group, rather than an individual.”

In B2B, Caspell says, while the first engagement with an individual will likely be top- or middle-of-funnel, once they’re engaged not only do marketers need to convince that person, they need to position them as an advocate, he says. “They’re your trojan horse.”

How to help them serve in that trojan horse role? “Give them rich, multi-format content that’s easy for them to share, and easy for their counterparts to digest,” Caspell suggests. “Your first user may be at the middle-bottom of the funnel, but their colleagues are still at the top. You need to create content that compels on all funnel stages at the same time.”

Even in the B2C world, though, the buyer’s journey has become much more convoluted than it may have been in the past, requiring a different way of thinking about the consumer decision making process.

A Different Way of Approaching the Buyer’s Journey

“What’s most important—rather than thinking of BOFU/MOFU/TOFU,” says Feinberg, “is to think about how you’re going to get found by the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context.” In addition, he says, it’s important to “uncover revenue growth opportunities” that they may be currently missing. His five building blocks are:

  • Differentiation
  • Thought leadership
  • Competitive position
  • Sales cycle acceleration
  • Scalable, predictable revenue growth

Beyond the content conundrum related to the sales funnel, marketers have other important strategic issues to address to ensure their success. Chief among them—ensuring the right linkages and support between the marketing and sales functions.

As Feinberg says: “The bigger problem, especially in smaller companies, is building a modern sales team that can effectively and appropriately engage with leads that come in through various content campaigns. This, he says, often requires a mindset shift for sales professionals who need to think of themselves less as salespeople, and more as consultants and subject matter experts. “Otherwise, the tone-deaf sales professional that refuses to contextualize based on stage just completely repulses prospects,” he says.

What approach are you taking to TOFU, MOFU, BOFU? Do you use it at all? How do you balance the consumer journey across off- and online channels?


About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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