Digital marketing funnel: The ultimate guide to creating one

New to marketing? Learn how to create a digital marketing funnel (the right way) that brings you paying customers for years to come.

Digital marketing funnel: The ultimate guide to creating one

This will be the last article you read regarding digital marketing funnels. In this article, we’ll go over the types of digital marketing funnels and how to create content for each stage of the funnel.

Digital marketing funnels are no longer just funnels.

In fact, digital marketing funnels come in all sorts of shapes (and sizes–we’ll get into micro-moment funnels later) that are designed to guide potential customers from potentials to customers.

Similar to sales funnels, digital marketing funnels are ways of looking at web traffic and site conversions. They help marketers look at potential customer prospects–progressing through different stages, from traffic, to sign up, to customer.

And this is supremely important when you consider that businesses lose $1.6 trillion per year in customer churn.

Each stage of the marketing funnel works to generate the best results–starting with a potential customer not knowing about your product or service, and ending with them buying it.

If you’re a digital marketer–or any type of marketer–understanding what digital marketing funnels are, why you need them, and how to design them is going to be crucial to your digital marketing campaign success.

What is a digital marketing funnel?

Digital marketing funnels are something you’ll learn about in any great marketing course.

They provide a visual representation of what starts at your website, social media page, or wherever you are capturing leads and ends at some sort of conversion.

They might help you answer questions like:

  • What percentage of people who visit my site will sign up?
  • Or, if I offer a 7-day free trial, how does that change my conversion rate?
  • Or is Twitter or Instagram a better place to get clients?

Good data-driven marketers live and die by funnels.

Traditionally, marketing funnels have three main stages: the top, the middle, and the bottom. Pretty straightforward, right?

The top of the funnel is where you attract potential customers with marketing materials like ads, SEO blog posts, or emails. The middle of the funnel is where you convert those leads into customers by getting them to sign up for a free trial, download a white paper, or make a purchase. The bottom of the funnel is where you keep those customers by providing valuable content and upselling them on additional products or services.

Recently, digital marketing funnels have changed shape. Instead of funnels, they're not referred to as hourglasses, loops, or even micro-moments.

Why digital marketing funnels are important for your marketing strategy

Though traditional digital marketing funnels have been changing, the principle of the funnels–guiding your buyer’s journey is still just as important.

Marketing funnels support digital marketing strategies in a few ways, helping teams:

  • Segment your marketing actions: Great marketing is about providing a solution to your customer right when they need it the most. While you can generalize for some populations, there are alway variables, so being able to segment your customers into different funnel stages–and within the funnel stage–allows you to get that perfect timing.
  • Create more effective content: It wouldn’t make sense to share an upsell landing page to a customer who has never heard of your brand, just like it would be less efficient to offer a free download to someone already on your email list. Customers at different stages want and need different things, and marketing funnels help guide a content marketing strategy that can serve those needs.
  • Improve lead generation: With better segmentation and corresponding content comes better lead generation. Relevant content at the right timing makes consumers feel you’re speaking directly to them, and they’re more likely to progress through the marketing funnel.
  • Meet your marketing and sales process goals: Customization, effective content, better metrics, and more leads are all generally going to lead to better ROI for your marketing campaigns, making digital marketing funnels key to your marketing strategy.

Types of digital marketing funnels, funnel stages, & funnel content  

Digital marketing funnels are a great way to visualize the process of converting leads into customers. There are a few types of digital marketing funnels: linear funnels, hour-glasses, and micro-moments. And if you’re doing it right, each of those funnels can also become loops when customers continue to stay customers — instead of just a one-time conversion.

If you're just starting out, a linear marketing funnel may be the best option. It's simple to understand and easy to implement, and then as your small business grows you can easily add more stages.

If you're looking for a more sophisticated marketing funnel, consider using a micro-moments funnel. These funnels are specifically designed for businesses that are targeting mobile users that make quick decisions based on specific needs. It's more complex than a linear funnel, but it provides a more detailed view of your customers' buying process across several channels at once.

Each funnel has its own stages, and the best content for each stage varies. In a linear funnel, the best content is educational and informative. In a micro-moments funnel, the best content is snackable and interactive. And in an hourglass funnel, you need to provide content for loyal post-action customers, like upsells or referral programs.

No matter which funnel you choose, be sure to continuously test and optimize it to ensure that you're getting the most out of your marketing efforts.

Linear marketing funnels stages & content

A linear marketing funnel follows a traditional top-of-the-funnel, middle-of-the-funnel, bottom-of-the funnel path. Customers have to first hear about the brand, have some interest in it, and then finally make a purchase.

Linear marketing funnel stages

Stage 1: Exposure

This is before your potential customer knows who your brand is or even what your product does. They might already be searching for an answer to a problem–or might not realize they have that problem.

Since exposure is so broad, you’ll need a lot of funnels to capture all your potential customers. The best content here will be educational and interesting, but not sale-sy. These customers aren’t ready to make a purchasing decision yet. So, a blog post or video answering a question related to your product would be great here.

Stage 2: Discovery/Awareness stage

At this stage, your customer is learning about your product or service and how it can help their needs. This can be a good stage to suggest joining your email list or however you keep track of leads. You might want to offer a more in-depth ebook or white paper in exchange for their email, or a 5-day challenge they can follow along with, or some other free value-add.

Step 3: Interest/Consideration stage

This is when customers understand that your product can solve one of the problems they have, and they’re considering using you as a solution. Helping them through pain points here (perhaps with a product tour or thoughtfully placed FAQs) will keep guiding them down the funnel.

Step 4: Decision/Conversion funnel

You’re at the final stage! The customers who have made it through your funnel have gone from never hearing of your brand to finally being inspired to make a purchase or decision. The number of conversions you get will demonstrate the ROI of your funnel by comparing the number of people who started at the top of your funnel and ended at the bottom.

Best content for linear funnels?

Content that educates and engages customers that haven’t made a purchase with you before. Try white papers, blog posts, and how-to videos that answer common questions of potential customers. Inbound marketing leads from search-engine-optimized content will be a great marketing tactic here.

Great linear funnel content example

Any one-time service or product purchase. Let’s take a washing machine for example. Product journeys might end at the purchasing of the machine, with very little interaction after that. That being said, it’s very tough to find a true linear funnel product that’s a great product.

If you have a successful product, your customers will be quickly swept through the funnel into the hourglass.  

Stages of hourglass marketing funnels

While linear marketing funnels are a great start to get more customers, profit is really going to come from customer retention — or rather, revenue retention. Revenue retention means that even if you churn 15% of your customers per month, as long as your existing customers are spending more money with you, you could still have a growing business.

Hourglass marketing funnels offer a more holistic view of the customer journey as they give customers the momentum to go from:

  • One-time customers to repeat customers
  • Repeat customers to brand-loyal customers
  • Brand-loyal customers to advocates or evangelists

For linear marketing funnels, the penultimate action is the purchase, while for hourglass marketing funnels, that’s just a central point. Any great product or brand will have the opportunity to make their funnel into an hourglass.

There is so much potential for revenue through customers that have already made purchases that it’s necessary to take advantage of the hourglass funnel. When it comes to lead generation, a satisfied customer is one of your best assets.

Of course, this hourglass can always be a loop, and consumers can jump from one part of the loop to the next. For example, sharing an up-sell might bring your customer in retention back to the consideration level.

The first four stages of this funnel will be like the linear funnel, and then it will merge into post-action customer relationship stages. After exposure, discovery/awareness, interest/consideration, and conversion/decision, you then get:

The hourglass marketing funnel

Stage 5: Adoption

The work isn’t done after a conversion. Now you want your current customers to not only purchase your product, but actually adopt it into their lives. This might require a user onboarding process, helpful reminder emails, or app notifications, if you have that available.

If they purchase your meditation app but then never use it, you’ve got a customer stuck in your funnel, and a high chance of churn.

Stage 6: Retention

After adoption comes retention. This is not only the actual consistent usage of a product or service, but enjoying and appreciating the service–and making more purchasing decisions with you. Providing additional educational information, suggestions on how to better use your product, and cross-sells and upsells can all happen at this stage.

Stage 7: Loyalty  

Brand loyalty has a huge impact on revenue. Loyal customers are the ones who will purchase the same brand often regardless of price or convenience. These loyal customers have found a product that meets their needs, so they’re not as interested going through another company’s funnel.

Of course, brand loyalty doesn’t mean you have to only buy Starbucks coffee every single time you get coffee, but it is probably your first choice over most of their competitors.

Rewards programs and other customer benefits can be a great way to move customers from retention to loyalty.

Stage 8: Referral  

The “last” stage of your marketing hourglass! (“Last” because remember the loop concept.)

Referral is when customers aren’t only loyal to you, but they want to make others loyal too! From referral programs to requesting reviews to word of mouth, consumer advocacy and evangelism is one of the best ways to grow your business.

In fact, word of the mouth is one of the most trusted forms of marketing in 2022, with word-of-mouth-marketing (WOMM) bringing in five times more sales than paid marketing, and 88% of consumers trusting online reviews. You can double down on referral with a tool geared at increasing customer referrals too!

Best content for hourglass funnels?

Content that nurtures your current clients and provides opportunities to become brand advocates. Try reward programs and insider-access email marketing deals. Referral marketing and WOMM would be a good option in this funnel.

Great hourglass funnel content example:

Starbucks’ Stars Rewards Program. Who doesn’t make a purchase at Starbucks to make sure their stars don’t expire (which they remind you of via email, in-app notifications, or texts)?

Stages of micro-moments digital marketing funnel

Micro-moments create a complex digital marketing funnel that is less of a funnel and more consumer-driven feelings that don’t follow a particular order. As a modern-day marketer, we’re sure you know how much consumers like instant gratification: they want what they want when they want it. According to Google, micro-moment marketing revolves around these intent-rich moments during which users turn to a device like a smartphone or laptop to act on those wants (or needs).

In order to do this, companies have to understand where your customer is consuming content–which is most likely where they are more likely to be inspired to purchase. Just like marketing has impacted society, society has impacted marketing, and the increased use of mobile devices has led to more of these micro-moment decisions.

Instead of learning about a product, considering the product, having brand awareness, and then making a purchase, some consumers are seeing an ad on social media and making an instant purchasing decision. Understanding the micro-moment “funnel” and figuring out how they work for your product will allow you to better anticipate your customer–leading to an increase in conversions and engagement.

The “I want to know…” moment

Just like it sounds, an “I want to know” moment is when a consumer has a question they want answered that could have nothing to do with making a purchase. Every time you type into Google or say to Siri “What is…” you’re having one of these micro-moments.

Now in some cases, this might lead to a purchase. Someone might search “What are resistance bands?” end up at your blog post all about them, and then end up buying a set from your company. But, they just as easily might have put down their phone as soon as they understood what resistance bands were. And that’s okay–they’ll still be somewhere in your marketing funnel because you helped answer a need.

In these “I want to know” moments, search engine optimization is going to be key to help searchers find the content you’re providing that answers their questions.  

The “I want to do…” moment

For “I want to do” you have customers that are ready to take action. So instead of searching for what resistance bands are, they might want to know how to use them. Providing guiding content like step-by-step blog posts, how-to videos, or infographics will be helpful here.

The “I want to go…” moment

If a customer is saying “I want to go,” then they’re most likely already on the move or about to be on the move. In this case they might want listicles, maps, addresses, store inventories, and other information that will tell them if their need will be met when they go to a specific place.

The “I want to buy…” moment

An “I want to buy” moment is a company’s dream. People are ready to make a purchase–they just want it to be easy, have all the information, and maybe even take advantage of a sale or free shipping.

Identifying your consumers “I want to buy” moments will call for some market research. Then, make sure the path to purchasing–whether it be on a phone, laptop, desktop, or in person–is as straightforward and easy as possible.

Best micro-moment content?

Cross-platform and multi-channel content that can be accessed and interacted with on the go. Make a Google My Business profile, focus on blog content that answers high-intent questions, and try ads on whichever platform your customers spend their time on. SEO and ads would be good marketing strategies here.  

Great micro-moment content example:

Any business taking advantage of local SEO so that they pop up first when you type “best wings in Buffalo.” And with that keyword, that’s not easy!  

How to create a digital marketing funnel for your business

Here are four stages to creating your digital marketing funnel:

  1. Choose your funnel type
  2. Have a marketing or sales goal
  3. Develop your marketing campaign for each part of the funnel
  4. Implement across multiple marketing channels
  5. Do A/B testing

Digital marketing funnels are a great way to increase leads and sales for your business. However, not all funnels are created equal. You need to make sure that you create a funnel–and content within it–that’s relevant to your target audience and that engages them.

The best digital marketing funnel for your business will depend on a number of factors, including your target market, business goals, and budget. However, some of the key components of a successful digital marketing funnel include creating a strong brand presence and recall value, using A/B testing to improve your conversions, and using effective lead capture and lead nurturing techniques.

There is no one-size-fits-all funnel, so you'll need to tailor your content to match your unique business and marketing needs.

1. Choose your funnel type

Maybe you want to start with linear and move to hourglass when you get more confident with your marketing strategy. Or maybe you want to create an hourglass funnel–and also take advantage of micro-moments. Whatever it is, make that decision before you start creating content so you can be as efficient as possible.

2. Have a marketing or sales goal

While funnels are great, you need to make some actionable goals you want to reach first. Instead of just “more leads,” or “more sales,” determine specific actions you want your customer to take.

3. Develop your content and advertising campaigns for each part of your funnel

Once you have the funnel type and goals, you’ll know what content you’ll need to complete it. For example, using social media marketing to engage with your audience can be great for micro-moments, while paid ads and PPC can help you reach a broader audience at the top of your linear and hourglass funnels.

Customized landing pages will also be important here. If someone clicks on your ad, they should go to a landing page that takes them further down the funnel, or keeps them in the moment they’re in.

Related reads: Top 10 best marketing planning software and tools in 2022

4. Implement across multiple channels

Time to get your funnels going–but not just on social media or TV or Google. You’re going to want to be everywhere, or at least everywhere your potential customers are. This allows your company to interact with consumers, drive brand awareness, and provide a great customer experience. This is going to be especially important for micro-moment marketing opportunities.

5. Do A/B testing

Testing is the cornerstone of marketing. A/B testing means trying different versions of the same content or ad and seeing which resonates better with your audience. Marketing testing and analytics is important to every marketing strategy, so take advantage!

Conclusion: The best digital marketing funnel for your business

No matter what type of business you have, using a digital marketing funnel is a great way to reach new customers and increase sales. By understanding the different stages of the funnel and creating content that is relevant to each stage, you can create a marketing strategy that is tailored to your specific business and goals.

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