What is a marketing funnel? A marketing funnel is the strategic business model marketers use to guide customers and clients to make a decision to purchase a product or service. A marketing funnel takes buyers from the initial introduction to the company all the way through completing their purchase.
Have you heard of the Rule of Seven? The Rule of Seven states that buyers need to hear a marketer’s message seven times before they will take action and actually make a purchase. Rumor has it this came from a 1930’s movie studio study that showed it took seven advertising impressions to get a movie-goer to see a new film.
There’s no hard evidence that the Rule of Seven applies in today’s agile marketing world. In fact, with ads being so much more prevalent in today’s landscape than in the 1930s, it likely takes many more than seven impressions to compel a buyer to make a purchasing decision. Even our impulse purchases are guided by a lifetime of ad consumption. Why did you choose the Snickers in the grocery store checkout line over the Payday? Could it be because you’ve heard “Hungry? Have a Snickers” so many times?
This process of taking future buyers from becoming aware of your product or service to completing the purchase is the job of a marketing funnel.
A marketing funnel (sometimes called a sales funnel or a conversion funnel) assumes that buying decisions aren’t made on a whim; they’re the result of ongoing exposure to particular brands over time. Buyers first hear about the brand, then they get to know a little more about the brand, they start actively looking for more information about the brand, and then they make the decision to purchase a product or service from the brand.
Let’s look at:
- How a marketing funnel works
- The benefits of marketing funnels
- Examples of marketing funnels
- And how today’s marketing funnels are driven by content marketing
How does a marketing funnel work?
Marketing funnels are divided into three distinct sections. The goal is to guide buyers from the top of the funnel, where a wide range of potential buyers are just getting to know your brand, to the bottom of the funnel, where qualified leads are actually purchasing from you. Marketers refer to the three funnel sections by the most obvious names possible:
A marketing funnel starts wide at the top. It wants to catch as many potential buyers as possible. Every potential lead falls into the top of the funnel. Top-of-the-funnel marketing (ToFu) is all about increasing brand awareness and trust. You’re not trying to sell people on your products at this point. You just want a nice introduction followed by some brand recognition as your top-of-the-funnelers start seeing more of your ads and posts.
The funnel narrows as qualified buyers reach the middle-of-the-funnel (MoFu). The middle of the funnel is about supporting your potential buyers as they research your product or service to see if it meets their needs. This is where buyers might also start researching your competition, looking for alternatives, so you may want to explain to middle-of-the-funnelers why you’re the best option for them.
The funnel narrows further as qualified buyers decide your product is the one for them. At this stage, they just need that last nudge to officially purchase your product. But, more than that, you want your buyers to feel good about the decision to purchase your product. Bottom-of-the-funnel (BoFu) marketing is about validating your buyers’ decision to purchase from you and making them glad they chose you. Happy buyers are more likely to be repeat buyers, and they’re more likely to send other buyers your way.
An effective marketing funnel has targeted marketing campaigns for each phase of the funnel. You need to meet prospective buyers where they are, whether they’re just hearing about your brand for the first time, comparing your products to another provider, or getting their credit card out to make their purchase.
The benefits of marketing funnels
Creating a marketing funnel for your business comes with several important benefits:
- Better brand recognition. ToFu marketing increases brand awareness and recognition, which increases your chances of converting more leads to buyers in the future.
- A better buying experience for your customers and clients. The marketing funnel helps your leads navigate the buying process for a better overall experience with your brand.
- More relevant content for your buyers. Your marketing messages can be tailored to specific buyer groups based on their position in the funnel.
- Increased conversion rates. The tailored-marketing approach afforded by the marketing funnel converts more leads to buyers.
- More repeat buyers and referrals. Slowly guiding your leads along the route to buying builds long-term relationships, which leads to repeat business and referrals.
Examples of marketing funnels
Let’s look at three examples of how marketing funnels work in the real world.
Example #1: retail shopping
Here’s an example every one of us can relate to because we’ve all been in a retail shopping marketing funnel.
- ToFu: You see a 25 percent OFF EVERYTHING sign in a retail shop window. This sign casts a broad net, inviting everyone who walks by into the shop.
- MoFu: Once you’re inside, the store starts providing more information to help you make a buying decision. You’ll see size guides, mannequins modeling the products, and you’re allowed to try on the products to make sure they’re a good fit for you.
- BoFu: You’re at the register, hoping you’ve made the right decision. You see a small 30-day return policy sign. Great! If you decide later that you don’t love your new shoes, you can return them. That makes you feel better about buying them today. Then the cashier comments, “Those shoes are so hot right now.” Now you feel great about your buying decision!
Example #2: ClearVoice
You can find a complete example of a marketing funnel right here on Clearvoice.com:
- ToFu marketing from ClearVoice:
- Our user-friendly website
- The features page
- Broad-topic blog posts, optimized for search engines
- Social media marketing posts that spread awareness and boost engagement
- Press releases
- Useful infographics
- Videos that explain and educate
- MoFu marketing from ClearVoice:
- Email campaigns to nurture existing leads
- Customer stories and case studies
- Deep-dive blog posts
- Educational ebooks
- BoFu marketing from ClearVoice:
- A free, no-obligation consultation
Notice how many ToFu methods are used compared to BoFu methods. At the top of the funnel, we’re casting a wider net to capture more potential leads. MoFu marketing methods are narrowed to the resources that would only be helpful to serious, qualified leads. And there is a simple BoFu method for clients who have decided ClearVoice is the right fit for them but need to validate their decision with a free consultation.
Example #3: Airtable’s Blog, For the Record
Airtable’s blog, For the Record, uses content to strategically hit each section of the marketing funnel.
- ToFu: A Tips and Tricks blog category introduces newbies to Airtable with beginner-level topics.
- MoFu: A Stories blog category allows serious leads to see how Airtable is helping real users.
- BoFu: A Product Updates category provides detailed information about products for leads who are ready to buy and simply need to confirm the product specs to validate their purchase decision.
How content marketing drives today’s marketing funnels
Content is king in the 2020s. As younger generations actively avoid advertisements through ad blockers and ad-free subscription services, traditional advertising has become less effective.
But these same generations are actively seeking content online. Creating content-rich blog posts, social media posts, ebooks, guides, graphics, white papers, product descriptions, interviews, and videos adds so much value to your marketing funnel:
- Content boosts your website’s search engine rank, which helps buyers find you online.
- Consistently publishing new content gives you more chances to get in front of more potential buyers.
- Knowledgeable content establishes you as the expert in your field.
- Objective content helps you build trust with your prospective buyers over time.
- Technical content shows your buyers why you are a better match for their needs than your competitors are.
- Ongoing content provides continued value even after the initial purchase
- Ongoing content also keeps your brand top-of-mind to increase your repeat and referral business.
Let’s take a quick look at how content marketing drives today’s marketing funnels at each level of the funnel.
Content is a great vehicle for getting your brand in front of a wide audience. The more people who see your content, the more leads you generate at the top of your marketing funnel.
Here are several options for ToFu content marketing:
- Broad blog posts
- Website copy
- General social media posts
- Landing pages
- Motion graphics
- Press releases
- Overview of products and services
Middle-of-the-funnel lead nurturing
MoFu buyers are ready for more specific information. They are aware of your company, and they are digging deeper to see if you are a good fit for them. Show them that you are through your content.
Here are several options for MoFu content marketing:
- Customer stories
- Case studies
- Email campaigns
- Detailed product and service descriptions
- Targeted social media posts
- Targeted ad campaigns
Your content can nudge buyers in the right direction as they get ready to make their purchase official. Your BoFu content is meant to close the deal and make your buyers feel good about their decision to do business with you.
Here are a few options for BoFu content marketing:
- Sales scripts
- Sales page copy
- Order confirmation email
- Follow-up communication after the sale
Marketing funnel FAQs:
Is it necessary to market to every level of the marketing funnel?
Yes. You won’t always know where a given buyer is in their buying process. You want to capture leads that are ready to buy today of course. But you also want to capture leads who will buy a few months down the road. And you want to start nurturing future leads so you’ll consistently have new buyers coming to your business.
What are the biggest marketing funnel mistakes?
The biggest marketing funnel mistakes are:
- Pushing for a sale too soon, leaving the buyer feeling more like a transaction than a person.
- Failing to explain the benefits afforded by your features.
- Failing to nurture leads. Once a lead is in your funnel, keep them there until they buy!
Should there be more than three levels to a marketing funnel?
Some marketers further divide the three sections into sub-sections. ToFu could be divided into First impression, Recognition, and Engagement, for example. But the three-level model is the most universal.
Which marketing funnel metrics should be tracked?
- Marketing funnel conversion rate: the percentage of customers who enter the funnel and eventually make a purchase. This calculation shows how effective your funnel is at converting leads to sales.
- Entry sources: where the leads in your marketing funnel come from (ads, social media, search engine traffic, etc.). Knowing where your leads come from will help you allocate your marketing budget effectively.
- Time spent in each stage: the average time a lead takes to move from one phase of the marketing funnel to the next. This is useful for accurately predicting future sales patterns.
- Exit points: where leads leave the funnel. If leads are exiting the funnel in MoFu, for example, perhaps you need more resources for serious buyers.