We know the marketing funnel by now: awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, purchase, loyalty.

Or is it awareness, interest, desire, action, retention?

Or maybe awareness, consideration, preference, purchase, loyalty, advocacy?

Whatever, the terminology, the funnel maps a clear path to purchase, and it’s pretty much bollocks.

Thanks to the mix of online/offline channels, the customer journey is far more complex than pouring people in the top and expecting customers to shoot out the end, loving you and your brand.

It’s a flawed device. But it’s the best we’ve got to illustrate the need for different marketing messages for different purchase mindsets.

And there’s one constant in every version of the funnel: awareness. In every diagram, the first step of marketing comms is getting people to notice you.

After George Lucas’ debut movie THX-1138 flopped at the box office, fellow director Francis Ford Coppola told him that the problem was a lack of emotion on the part of Lucas’ audience. Lucas replied: “Emotionally involving the audience is easy. Anybody can do it blindfolded; get a little kitten and have some guy wring its neck.”

In the same way, it’s pretty easy to get attention for your brand by exploiting emotion. Ask United Airlines or Adidas following the Boston Marathon.

The adage that any news is good news doesn’t hold much weight for brands, however, particularly in the B2B world.

Sadly, brand protection leads too many businesses to head to the opposite end of the spectrum where they’d rather not make a fuss – particularly in B2B, where companies are afraid to rock the boat. It’s a question of risk, and too few are willing to take the necessary risks to stand out.

The safe way is rarely the best way to create awareness. That doesn’t mean posting expletive-ridden copy or a big ‘fuck you’ ad to your competitors in the local paper (although that can work). But it does mean thinking laterally about how to get the right people to look at you.

Legendary adman Dave Trott recently shared a memo he wrote to a colleague 30 years ago, bemoaning the fact that his creative team was focused on doing the same things but better, not doing things differently. Dave begged them to think unconventionally.

Consumers want to be delighted, surprised, excited, even titillated.

Does your content do that? Does it create the right kind of awareness for your brand? Do people care?

If not, get back to the drawing board and think with freedom in mind, not safety.

Now, go make some noise.