Forget the funnel. Take that outmoded sales model and hide it in the back of the drawer. These days, marketing to consumers is a fundamentally different process. A recent webinar, Marketing Performance Accountability – evolving from campaign to customer-centric perspectives, sheds light on a new paradigm that forward thinking marketers are adopting.

Customers have changed, and are now far more in control. “It’s very chaotic,” said Cory Munchbach, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Consumers have so much control over the information they consume. It’s an intentional chaos.”

The path from prospect to buyer has morphed into a nonlinear process. Customers are outrunning traditional marketing campaigns, according to Munchbach. “Their needs arise without being prompted by traditional campaigns.”

We’ve entered a 20 year business cycle known as the age of the consumer. To illustrate this disruption, Munchbach provides the example of Michael Porter, whose theory of five forces of competitive advantage. While marketers once considered Porter a business guru whose work formed the basis for their running scripts, Porter’s company The Monitor Group recently declared bankruptcy.

What’s the new model? You might think it’s customer centered communications, but it’s even deeper than that. Aim instead for customer obsession. With so much information out there available to everyone, including your competition, your only advantage is the relationship you build and nurture.

Catherine Frye, Solutions Manager for CMO and Marketing Agenda at IBM Business Analytics, said IBM began talking about the empowered consumer in 2012. “There’s a truly significant shift in better understanding your customer across relevant touchpoints and serve their needs precisely,” said Frye. The trend will only accelerate with the first generation of digital natives, which she dubs The We generation, whose information is delivered on their own terms.

The old way of marketing using the funnel preached starting big and driving awareness, through stages of consideration, preference and purchase. Loyalty was an afterthought.

A movement is underway to redefine marketing efforts to speak to the entire customer lifecycle with the buyer right in the center of four phases: discover, explore, engage and buy. A circular model helps to show how your potential clients could be at any place in the process, bouncing back and forth from one stage to another.

It’s a journey that wraps around these phases. In this framework, the campaign is no longer center stage. Rather, it’s up to marketers to engage, but know that customers own the process. A successful effort centers around the customer relationship with a brand, and marketers will be effective only when they can engage in an ongoing conversation that breeds loyalty.