The idea of a marketing funnel is hardly new. It’s been around since at least 1924 and has roots dating back to the 19th century. So why—considering how much has changed in the past hundred years—are people still using it?
The simple answer: Because it works.
What is a marketing funnel?
The marketing funnel (or its sibling, the sales funnel) is a way of visualizing your marketing (and/or sales) process. You’ll generally see it represented something like this:
At the very top of the funnel is everyone who may or may not be your potential customer. At the very bottom are people who’ve handed you money. In between, are the people who’ve expressed varying degrees of interest in your product or service.
You can divide a marketing funnel into any number of segments—customizing those segments to suit your individual needs—but I like to keep it simple:
At the top of the funnel, you have the awareness stage. This where people first learn you exist.
The middle of the funnel is the consideration stage, where potential customers weigh their options.
And at the bottom of the funnel comes the decision stage. This is where you convert prospects into customers.
Why use a marketing funnel?
A marketing funnel helps you nurture leads from cold, to warm, to hot, to bought.
By outlining the purchase process from start to finish, the funnel provides a framework for developing marketing content that builds upon itself. Rather than creating separate, unrelated pieces of marketing collateral, you plan full-lifecycle campaigns that give your marketing greater cohesion.
And by segmenting your audience based on their readiness to buy, the marketing funnel lets you plan your content around the changing needs of the customer. This helps you build relationships over time and fills your sales pipeline.
In short, you can use a marketing funnel to map out more complete and effective marketing campaigns.
How to use a marketing funnel?
You can use a marketing funnel to map out your overall marketing strategy or plan out a single campaign.
Either way, you’ll need to create content at each stage of the funnel that supports your goals.
Keep in mind that the content you create should always be focused on the customer—what they find important or interesting. Therefore, your first step will always be to identify your target audience. These are the people most likely to make it all the way to the bottom of your funnel.
Some things you’ll want to know about your target audience include:
- What problems do they face that you can solve?
- What do they value in a product/service like yours?
- What questions do they have that you can answer?
- What resources do they use to research a product like yours?
- How do they spend their time and attention?
- What websites do they visit?
- What social media do they use?
- Where do they get their news?
- What conferences do they attend?
- What blogs do they read?
Based on this information, you’ll be able to identify what kind of content you should publish and where you should publish it to.
The Awareness stage
At the top of the funnel, prospects don’t know you and aren’t looking for you, so your primary goal is to get your brand “out there” where potential customers will see it. You might:
- Send press releases to the newspapers your audience reads
- Write an op-ed in a magazine your audience subscribes to
- Run TV or radio ads in the markets you serve
- Grow your social media following and regularly post content for your audience
- Improve your website’s SEO so people can find you in using search engines
- Set up a booth at an event or convention that your customers are likely to attend
Because people don’t know you, they’ll be skeptical of any overt sales pitches. Your challenge is to associate your brand name with the solutions you offer and the values you hold without coming across as spammy. You can do this by creating entertaining, educational and/or inspiring content your audience will enjoy.
"Your top of funnel content must be intellectually divorced from your product by emotionally wed to it." - Joe Chernov
The Consideration Stage
In this stage, potential customers are considering their options and will be more open to branded content. Ultimately, they will take one of three courses: doing business with you, doing business with your competitor, or doing nothing at all. At this level, your job is to demonstrate your ability to solve their problems and deliver value. You might do this by:
- Publishing educational materials to your blog or newsletter
- Producing training or how-to videos
- Offering free guides, hacks, or toolkits
- Sharing testimonials/reviews
- Producing a webinar or live seminar
- Writing a book (traditional or digital)
You’ll definitely want to stay in touch with prospects at this stage, so be sure to collect their contact information whenever possible.
The Decision Stage
The people who make it to the decision stage are your hottest leads. They are on the cusp of buying so your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to say, “yes.” You might do this by:
- Optimizing your booking process and writing product descriptions that sell
- Writing persuasive proposals/estimates
- Providing comparison tools or calculators
- Reducing the initial commitment with an introductory offer
- Running limited time sales that encourage people to act now
In larger organizations, the bottom of the funnel is likely handled by the sales team, but ideally, marketing and sales will work together to create a seamless experience throughout the funnel.
Putting it all together
From the moment you start working on your top-of-funnel content, you should already have your end goal in sight.
As you build your campaign, you’ll invite people to progress from one stage to the next with carefully crafted calls to action.
For example, let’s say you want people to buy a honeymoon travel package. You know the people who are interested in buying this package are couples who are planning their wedding. Your sales funnel may look like this:
- At the top of your funnel, you publish gorgeous images of weddings on Pinterest.
- From Pinterest, you link to a blog post about the top 5 things to do on your honeymoon.
- Embedded within your blog is an invitation to download a free guide to the 10 most romantic things to do after your wedding.
- Inside the guide, each of the romantic suggestions are part of your honeymoon package!
- Finally, you make sure to email a coupon code for your honeymoon package to everyone who downloaded the guide. This code is only valid for 14 days so interested lovers need to act fast!
The shortcomings of a marketing funnel
Of course, people are hardly so predictable. One customer might skip straight from awareness to decision with an impulse buy while another may take a journey that looks more like this:
This inability to account for complex human behavior is one of the shortcomings of a marketing funnel. But that doesn’t make it any less useful. It just means your branding needs to be consistent across all your various marketing activities. That way your customer will receive a coherent message regardless of what path they take.