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Look beyond the hype of social media, and you'll see that social networks and community dynamics have fundamentally changed many of the most intrinsically understood truths of marketing communications. They have made marketing a much more complex process while creating a more measurable business practice.

This series of five articles will explore those changes (see list at the end of this article for previous and upcoming articles.)

One of those reassuring little white lies we tell ourselves as marketers is this: People make linear decisions. It's simpler to draw straight lines about people's behavior, so to date we have typically pushed people through carefully scripted marketing processes.

But does that really reflect people's actions and the ways they find information? Of course not. We all know it doesn't really happen that way.

But by rejecting that common fallacy we would face some more challenging questions: If we rigidly enforce our own processes, how many people do we leave behind? Can we trigger behavior, and if we can... which behaviors and how? How is the fragmenting media landscape changing the processes by which customers research and make purchases?

Traditional Marketing Approaches Fall Short in the New Customer Landscape

The answers are clear: Marketing has fundamentally changed, and many in the profession are struggling to catch up. The framework by which they understand marketing is not set up for a non-campaign world where they don't control timelines and control only experiences. The so-called sales funnel, if that was ever an accurate metaphor, no longer looks even remotely like a funnel.

Companies tend to view the sales and marketing process as a systematic approach of 7-9 steps that begins with initial contact and pushes the potential customer through sales lead, need identification, prospect qualification, and so on, through to closing the sale and then maintaining the customer relationship.

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Jen Evans is chief strategist at Sequentia Environics, a Toronto-based firm providing strategy and services to help companies generate better business results from their online initiatives.