According to CRM software company Salesforce, 79 percent of leads fail to convert into sales. The business explains missed opportunities for sales occur due to a lack of “lead quality, marketing, and sales alignment, and marketing accountability.” One way that business owners and company leaders can fix this issue is by creating an influential marketing funnel that guides interested visitors through the process of becoming loyal customers. This marketing strategy expands a business’s reach, increases profits, and turns customers into brand ambassadors and advocates.
It’s important to note there are different kinds of sales funnels with varying purposes and objectives. For example, types of funnels include lead generation, limited time offers, and free consultations. Yet, no matter the type of funnel, they all operate on foundational principles and commonalities shared in this article.
Below, find out more information on:
- What is funnel marketing and how does it work
- The different stages of a sales funnel
- Which types of content to use at every stage in the funnel
In addition, this article provides a free downloadable template of a basic digital marketing funnel to get you started with building your own today.
What is a Marketing Funnel?
Digital marketing funnel stages are a series of steps that outline the customer journey. The process begins with attracting interest in your product or service. Once inside the funnel, the objective is to positively influence potential customers toward a decision to purchase.
This is done through four common stages which are:
These can be expanded upon to include loyalty and advocacy. More complex funnels might also introduce upgrades (an upsell) or other products or services (a cross-sell).
Marketers use the term “funnel” because, like a funnel, a wide entry at the top draws in as many potential customers as possible. Because an offering won’t appeal to everyone, the funnel gets smaller as people move through each stage of the sales process. By the final stage, the bottom of the funnel contains a concentrated number of customers ready to purchase.
Understanding AIDA, the Marketing Model Funnels Use
One of the main inspirations for marketing funnels is AIDA, created by advertising pioneer Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898. The acronym signifies the four steps in a customer’s journey: Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. Each stage corresponds with content that moves potential buyers closer to the targeted action marketers are looking for. Learn more below about each of the four phases and what kind of marketing materials to include during each phase of your funnel.
Phase 1: Awareness/Attention
The first stage of the AIDA marketing model is bringing self-awareness and attention to a customer’s problem. It is the job of a marketer to offer solutions to issues customers may not even be aware of. For example, a famous quote attributed to Henry Ford says it all—“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” A successful marketer can help bring a problem to the forefront and guide the buyer toward finding a resolution.
Content ideas for this stage are:
- Emotionally engaging YouTube videos
- Google, Facebook, and Instagram ads
- TikTok video marketing
- Social media ads, posts, and mentions
- Blog posts that answer customers’ top questions about a product or service
- Podcast interviews
- Content that links to landing pages with additional information about your offering
The idea is that content marketing helps potential buyers solve a problem they’re now aware of. Free, helpful information in exchange for a customer’s email address is a great way to develop a list of leads. Once a company receives an email opt-in, it can continue nurturing and positively influencing a person throughout their buying journey.
Phase 2: Interest
During this phase, try creating marketing materials that validate customers’ problems and needs. Make sure you know how to come up with a brand name that will generate interest. Additionally, develop a brand message that describes how they’ll feel once their problem is solved. All content needs to build the belief that your product or service is the best solution. To do this, use free, valuable content to emphasize your trustworthiness, credibility, expertise, and uniqueness.
Ideas for content that captures interest include:
- Free webinars and demonstrations
- SEO-friendly blog posts
- Educational social media posts, articles, videos, and interviews
- Nurture email series sequences
Work Through a StoryBrand BrandScript
Another great way of capturing customers’ interest is by using the StoryBrand BrandScript model for your messaging. A brand script determines the “who,” “what,” “why,” and “how” in terms of communicating with your audience across different brand touchpoints.
To develop your BrandScript:
- Position the customer as a hero going on a journey to solve the problem preventing them from being the best version of themselves.
- Next, introduce the company as a guide who is empathic to the buyer’s problem.
- Offer your knowledge, expertise, and special tools (your product or service) to help the customer solve their problem.
- Then, call the hero to action by asking them to take the next step and make a purchase.
- Finally, remind customers of what’s at stake. What does life look like if the problem isn’t solved? In addition to this, paint a picture of transformation when the problem is solved with the help of your product or service.
Phase 3: Desire
This stage in the customer journey is about inciting a want for your product or service. For example, there’s a reason people stand in huge lines for Apple’s new releases. The company excels at generating hype and stimulating consumer desire in unique ways. Their launch for the iPhone 12 included a series of beautifully shot videos made with the product. The camera proved capable of shooting music videos, short films, and more. These ads highlighted one of their customers’ greatest needs: an amazing camera. By showcasing the phone’s abilities, the business created interested buyers.
Create desire by making the choice easy for customers seeking alternative solutions. Show them why choosing your company is a decision they won’t regret. Include marketing materials like blogs or emails that highlight your best features, rewards programs, and perks that no other company offers. Make sure there are plenty of testimonials in your brand touchpoints that support any claims made. As described in the following section on how buying decisions are made, testimonials are a vital part of influencing customers toward a purchase.
Corresponding marketing materials include:
- Demonstrating best benefits and features
- White papers and case studies that show how the product or service worked for others
- 30-day free trials
Phase 4: Action
When desire builds, customers move toward the decision to purchase. Yet, while they want what you’re offering, they might still be indecisive. This is the time to remind customers what they’ll miss out on if they choose to go in a different direction. Create a sales sequence with case studies that show how your offering transformed customers’ lives.
Additionally, limited-time special offers and discount codes can make a difference in a purchasing decision. Communicating scarcity is another way to let customers know that access to this offer won’t last forever. If they want the best solution to their problem, they’ll need to act now.
Once a customer makes a purchase, the AIDA model is complete. Nevertheless, welcome buyers to your brand with resourceful content such as tutorials, guides, instructions, best practices, and information on the next steps. Additionally, inform them on how to share their experiences on social media.
Turn Abandoned Carts into Conversions
Finally, don’t just accept abandoned carts: turn them into sales! One strategy is to develop an outreach campaign. Fill these emails with testimonials and case studies on how your product served other customers. Also, remind them of what they’ll miss out on. Also, personal connection is always a great strategy with potential buyers. Reach out and find out what’s holding them back. Above all, affirm you’re there to support them and provide them with a solution that will benefit their life.
Marketing Funnels and the Buying Decision Process
Another heavy influence on funnel marketing theory is educator and philosopher John Dewey’s buying decision process developed in 1910. While sharing a few stages with AIDA, Dewey’s process also provides a more extensive look into the mentality of buyers when making a purchase. Like AIDA, these individual phases should be matched with content that attracts attention and converts leads into sales.
Find out more above the different stages of the buying decision process below.
1. Problem or Need Recognition: Top of the Funnel (TOFU)
Customers won’t enter your top marketing funnel stage if they don’t see a reason to. This is why it’s important to first define what problem or need your product or service solves. To do this, ask yourself why your offering matters. Let this lead your brand message—how your company communicates with customers.
Additionally, develop a unique sales proposition that attracts customers. For instance, think about the unique ways you serve your customers. A great example of this is Amazon Prime’s shipping service. Customers want convenient, fast delivery of products, so two-day shipping makes their company stand out in a sea of e-commerce competitors.
2. Information Search: Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)
Once a lead recognizes they have a problem that needs solving, the information search phase begins. One way to emerge on top during this stage is to provide real value before purchase to gain customers’ trust and boost credibility. Writing articles, creating guides, and providing free eBooks is an effective way to do this.
Ancient Nutrition is a perfect example of a company with a high emphasis on nurturing potential and current customers through helpful content. The business’s website content includes blogs and recipes to teach buyers about their products and how to make the most of their purchases. Playing the role of a guide is an excellent way to nurture leads and prove your offering is the best choice.
Buyers also want reassurance that they’re making the right decision. Including multiple testimonials at various touchpoints such as your website, social media accounts, ads, and email copy boosts buyer confidence. This is highly important because most ineffective funnels leave out testimonials that validate buyers’ decisions.
3. Evaluation of Alternatives: Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)
As people determine whether a product or service is right for them, they’re also likely to be investigating other options. Content is king in the middle of the marketing funnel. Developing searchable content positions your product or service as the reigning solution. Tools like SEMrush and Google Ads effectively determine which keywords and phrases to use. Another tool, the WordPress plug-in, Yoast, shows marketers whether their content is SEO-friendly. Free trials with resourceful content is another solid strategy for influencing a buyer. Additionally, blogs reviewing or comparing competitors’ products and services are helpful in the evaluation stage.
Be sure to also include third-party endorsements during this phase. These statements should speak directly to a potential customer’s objections. Remember, the purpose of testimonials is to quell fears and anxieties around purchasing. For example, an effective testimonial might read, “I wasn’t sure if it was worth the money, but it 100% was! I would never make a different choice!”
4. Purchase Decision: Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)
Once leads reach the bottom of the funnel, they’ll need to make a purchasing decision. More affirmation is necessary at this stage. This is because buyers will abandon their decision to purchase a product or service if they’re not certain it’s a good choice. When closing a sale, ramp up content that provides additional testimonials, case studies explaining a positive transformation, and five-star reviews.
On the other hand, unhappy customers are also a huge influence on a buyer’s decision. Negative feedback, ratings, and reviews greatly amplify potential buyers’ fears that they will be dissatisfied with the product or service. Implementing the flywheel model into your marketing funnel is a great solution for this. With a focus on delighting customers, this strategy improves your customer experience and therefore maximizes buyer satisfaction. When this occurs, customers are much more likely to share your company with others and boost your business’s credibility and sales in the process.
5. Post-Purchase Behavior: Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)
One of the best ways to increase customer excitement and grow your business at the same time is to invest in your post-purchase experience. This strategy maintains repeat customers, builds brand awareness, and drives profits. Yet, it’s not the focus of most companies. As explained by Amit Sharma for Harvard Business Review, “Surprisingly, only 16% of companies are focused on customer retention, even though it costs at least five times more to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one.”
Optimize the post-purchase experience by:
- Providing helpful introductory materials before a buyer receives their product. These can discuss proper product care, guides on how to use the product or service, and demonstrations from others on how they’re making the most of their purchase.
- Sending out post-purchase email marketing that creates hype around the product or service that’s on its way.
- Making the unboxing experience fun and exciting. Who doesn’t love beautiful packaging, a hand-written thank you note, or an unexpected gift?
- Letting customers know how to easily contact your customer service team.
- Ensuring your customer service representatives are friendly, knowledgeable, and well-equipped to handle customers’ problems.
- Having a fair, kind, and understanding attitude toward returns.
- Developing a loyalty or rewards program for repeat buyers.
- Sending out reminders when it’s time for replenishment.
- Suggesting other offerings that are complementary to their purchase.
Make the Referral Process Simple and Easy
Another great strategy for building customer loyalty and increasing sales is to create an irresistible referral program for recent buyers. Research by Nielsen found that referrals from personal friends influence purchasing decisions by four times—proof that organic marketing is the most effective type of marketing.
To grow a group of word-of-mouth marketers, develop a system for sharing your product or service with others. A survey conducted by Texas Tech University found that “83% of consumers are willing to refer after a positive experience, but only 29% actually do.” As shown before, most businesses don’t focus on the post-purchase customer experience. When buyers don’t have the resources or incentive to make a referral, they won’t.
For instance, Elon Musk’s company Tesla is an example of a company that makes referrals a key piece of their marketing. The business provides each customer with a referral code that they can share with their friends. As stated on their website, those participating in the referral program can “earn 1,000 miles of free Supercharging with the purchase of a new Tesla car . . . Each car referral also gives you a chance to win a Model Y monthly or Roadster supercar quarterly.” This is all tracked through Tesla’s app, making the experience both easy and rewarding—two keys to developing a referral system that works.
Upgrading Your Marketing Funnel with a Flywheel
Successful funnel marketing has the power to elevate your company’s sales. Yet, many marketers believe traditional funnels don’t offer an exciting customer experience. Customer experience is important because word-of-mouth marketing works. In fact, a study conducted by Ogilvy found 74 percent of consumers say word-of-mouth is a key factor in influencing their purchasing decisions. Also, a positive customer experience significantly affects the retention of repeat customers.
So, if a marketing funnel doesn’t cut it, what does?
One solution is to implement a marketing flywheel. Essentially, this model incorporates everything you just learned but changes the shape from a funnel to cyclical. Unlike a funnel, customers fit into the center of the model. In a flywheel, the point is to delight buyers so much, they can’t help but share their remarkable experience and brand loyalty. While flywheels can take longer to gain momentum, once they begin turning, they can boost a company into greatness. For example, Amazon operates using the flywheel model.
Find out more about Amazon leadership principles to launch your business into a new era of success.