Reversing the Funnel

Long before I was working on Light the Music with Steve and long before I got my MBA, I had my first experience with a creative use of the word “funnel.” It wasn’t in reference to marketing or business, but in reference to a situation that was, well, suboptimal. This was in the 90s when we were on the road with the band everything. We had worked hard for four or five years and had finally stepped up to the level where we could afford to rent a tour bus. It was definitely a real tour bus (Prevost!), but alas, we were at the lower rung of this new realm so could only afford a Provost and driver with a few less than five stars. Our bus driver at this time hated to get the bus into places where the only way out was to back up, and he called this a “funnel.” In fact, he would often refer to something as “a funnel” if it just simply sucked on some level. If our load-in schedule was not correct, the directions were wrong, or the bus parking wasn’t sufficient, our driver would just grunt “it’s a funnel”. At the time I always envisioned the funnel of water that happens when you flush the toilet. Needless to say, “it’s a funnel” became one of the many memes that we carried with us in our traveling micro-culture.

As we approach the release of our app, Steve and I–talking on smart phones from different states instead of across the aisle of our Provost–have had long discussions about what we are trying to achieve in creating value for our users and our company. We now hear and think about the word  “funnel”as the mechanism that gets users into an app on their way to in-app purchases. Using this term is useful and has helped many people build businesses and conceptualize value, but in line with our playful spirit here, we want to have a bit of fun with it.

Seth Godin in 2006 used the term “Flipping the Funnel” to title a book he released. He put this quote early in the book:

Turn strangers into friends

Turn friends into customers.

And then… do the most important job:

Turn your customers into salespeople.

(Godin, 2006)

I have used the term “reversing the funnel” a few times when describing our app, as a metaphor for creating an environment that encourages the expansion of the mind through an abstract musical experience For us, this experience is the most important thing, not necessarily trying to lead a customer down a linear path towards a purchase. In modern times, we spend so much time hunched over screens–typing, texting, editing, scrolling, reading and socializing. At Light the Music have set out to try and create something that opens a person up rather than closes them down. Our ideas have come from hours of testing with a variety of audiences. During that process, we have often seen the joy in parents’ faces when they see their children using our app to make music and abstract visual art rather than something more linear or limiting. Their joy comes from relief that their kids are not in a funnel.

We hope to keep it that way.

Some related reading:

  1. South Park Episode “Freemium Isn’t Free”: I loved this episode as it deals with the dangers of “freemium”. Hilarious as usual.
  2. Rolling Stone Article: This a fantastic article about why Flappy Bird creator, Dong Nguyen took his app off the market for some time.
  3. Digital Marketing Magazine (UK) Article: This article came up in my research on the phrase “reversing the funnel”. It is an interesting read.
  4. Seth Godin,”Flipping The Funnel”: As mentioned, great for perspective.

Craig, COO and Abstract Music Maker

lightthemusic.com