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The Importance of the Marketing Funnel
Every business must figure out how to attract customers. But that’s just the start. How do you get them through the buying process? After they make a purchase, what steps do you take to generate repeat business? How can you leverage loyal customers to become advocates for your company? The marketing funnel answers these questions. It’s a popular business framework designed to help organizations develop a successful content marketing strategy.
The marketing funnel identifies the key milestones in a consumer’s journey to becoming a loyal client. By breaking down the customer’s buying process into these key stages, a business can tailor marketing and sales strategies to each stage, increasing the ability to drive customers from one stage to the next. The concept is referred to as a funnel because the idea is that you cast a wide marketing net at the top of the funnel to reach as many people as possible. As your marketing efforts zero in on the consumers most likely to buy, this pool of people grows smaller. The image of a funnel captures this idea with a broad audience at the top, narrowing down to a smaller group at the bottom, who will become your customers.
Traditional marketing and sales funnels conclude at the conversion point, where a purchase is made. That’s why marketing funnels are sometimes referred to as purchase funnels. Modern marketing funnels are more comprehensive. They go further and encompass retention factors related to customer loyalty and advocacy. With these levels added beyond the purchase stage, your funnel can more accurately reflect the customer journey, and strengthen your sales growth.
You can measure the effectiveness of the tactics used in each marketing funnel stage by tracking various metrics. These metrics will differ based on the funnel stage and tactics used. Performance tracking allows you to try different marketing strategies and assess which are most effective. Manually collecting and analyzing marketing data is time-consuming, so use software designed to handle this. It can be a tool such as customer relationship management (CRM) software, marketing automation software, or a website analytics platform such as Google Analytics.
The Stages of the Marketing Funnel
Since consumers at each stage of the marketing funnel are at different points along the path to purchase, they must be targeted with different marketing strategies. Let’s look at what’s involved at each stage.
At this stage, you’re marketing to a wide universe of potential customers to raise their awareness of your business and its products or services. Before you execute any marketing tactics, identify your target audience. What criteria should consumers meet to be a fit for your offerings? Is it a certain income level, or an interest in particular hobbies? If you sell running shoes, you target people interested in related activities so your efforts are more likely to capture their attention.
Once you know your target audience, you can take two general marketing approaches to reach this audience: inbound marketing and outbound marketing. Inbound marketing attracts customers to you. Outbound marketing pushes your message out to consumers, generally through advertising. You can mix the two, or focus on one that makes the most sense for your business and budget. Content is easy to find on the internet today, so inbound marketing is considered more effective, and generally less expensive, than outbound. A few of the digital marketing tactics involved in inbound marketing include:
- SEO optimization of website content
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
With outbound marketing, you’re primarily using ads, like a billboard or digital platforms such as Google’s advertising network. Other outbound approaches include distributing flyers in your neighborhood or attending trade shows. Inbound and outbound marketing share the same goal: get as many of your target audience to your website or place of business as possible. The objective then is to convert visitors into leads to drive them towards the next phase of the funnel.
Success at the awareness stage is measured by the number of people exposed to your business, such as a count of the people who saw your ad or visited your website.
At the consideration stage, consumers interested in your business and its offerings are considering whether or not to buy. They may express interest by signing up for your email list or requesting a white paper. These consumers are classified as leads. If you use sales staff, the leads pass to them at this point, so the sales rep can follow up and close the sale. If you don’t have sales reps, the marketing team would begin outreach activities to drive leads further down the marketing funnel.
Strategies in this phase focus on educating consumers on why your offerings best meet their needs. Tactics to achieve this goal include:
- Providing detailed product information
- Sharing customer testimonials
- Offering free trials
- Hosting webinars or demos
Metrics to track here might measure how many email sign ups you achieved, how much time consumers spent on your site, and how many people clicked on your retargeting campaign ads.
This is where people buy. Your goal is to get as many people as possible from the first two stages of your marketing funnel to this purchase point. Tipping consumers towards conversion can be challenging. Here are some tactics to help:
- Offer limited-time promotions or discounts
- Provide a seamless checkout experience
- Establish trust through a secure website and user reviews
- Offer a money-back guarantee
Conversion rate is an important metric to track at this stage because it measures how many consumers ultimately end up buying. You can track conversion rate back to specific marketing tactics and double down on those.
Marketing to existing customers is key to keeping them engaged in your business. That’s why a robust marketing funnel includes the loyalty stage, which is all about customer retention. We extend the marketing funnel beyond the purchase phase because it’s far cheaper to retain existing customers than hunt for new ones. Plus, existing customers are more likely to make repeat purchases since they previously experienced your product or service, and know what to expect. You bypass the whole consideration/conversion dynamic. Apple is a company with strong loyalty. Customers line up at Apple stores to buy the latest iPhone.
Boost your customer loyalty with marketing tactics such as:
- Exclusive offers for repeat customers
- Personalized email marketing campaigns
- Loyalty programs with rewards and incentives
Once you have a solid customer retention program in place, take it to the next level. The advocacy phase at the bottom of the funnel is about encouraging your customers to recommend your business to others, thereby generating new customers. Let’s say you’re a dental practice. Rather than increasing your marketing spend on the awareness phase of the funnel to generate new clients, it’s more effective if your existing customers recommend your practice to others. Recommendations increase the likelihood of consumers trying your products or services, and they tend to lead to faster conversions. Tactics used to drive advocacy include:
- Referral programs that offer incentives to customers who refer new clients
- Encouraging customers to leave reviews on platforms like Google and Yelp
- Sharing user-generated content on social media platforms
Track your advocacy efforts by measuring the percentage of customers who come through your referral program. Also gauge sentiment by what customers are saying on social media. Small businesses that don’t have the time or resources to devote to social media can use software tools, such as social media management platforms, to streamline the monitoring and management of various social media outlets.
The Benefits of a Marketing Funnel
A marketing funnel gives you more than just a framework for building your content marketing strategy, it also assists the success of your business in other ways. A structured marketing plan coupled with metrics analysis aligned to the various stages of the funnel allows you to fine tune your marketing strategy and grow sales. Let’s say not many customers go beyond awareness to the consideration stage. You can dig into the website pages where visitors are spending time before leaving, called exit pages. Perhaps these pages are light on content that explains the benefits of your products or services. Or maybe it’s difficult to find where to sign up for your email list. Make changes, then monitor again to verify you’re seeing improvement. This iterative approach refines each stage of your marketing funnel to maximize results.
Analyzing customer behavior as they move through the marketing funnel delivers valuable client insights. You acquire a deeper understanding of your customers and what draws them to your business, the factors that improve conversions, and what can strengthen customer retention. For example, if you include case studies on your website but conversions only improve after posting educational videos, you can conclude clients prefer watching videos to learn about your business. So create more of them and back off on case studies.
In the first stage of the marketing funnel, you’re casting a broad net. As you see which consumers choose to make a purchase, you’re able to refine your picture of the ideal target audience. You then zero in on the kinds of consumers with the highest likelihood to convert. The marketing funnel is not always a linear process. Some consumers, upon discovering your business, go straight to the purchase phase, and some spend extended time in the consideration stage. To reflect this, various marketing funnel concepts add layers between the awareness and conversion stages, and others aren’t diagrammed as a funnel at all.
The AIDA Marketing Funnel
The traditional AIDA marketing funnel provides a view of the customer journey that ends at the conversion stage. AIDA stands for awareness, interest, desire, and action. These align to the marketing funnel stages discussed previously, except that AIDA includes a desire phase to represent the process of building up consumer excitement for your offerings. AIDA excludes the important post-purchase phases of a business, which is why most modern businesses add loyalty and advocacy to their funnels. I worked at a company that executed AIDA well, but still struggled to grow revenue because the business could not retain customers.
The Circular Marketing Funnel
Other marketing funnels employ a circular diagram, like a flywheel, to better represent that customer acquisition and retention are both equally critical to business success. This model incorporates the loyalty and advocacy stages mentioned above. In this way, the buying funnel becomes more of a customer funnel, where customer needs are at the center.
B2B vs. B2C Marketing Funnels
Whether you’re a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) company will make a difference in how you apply the marketing funnel. With B2B companies, the marketing and sales teams focus on different parts of the marketing sales funnel, working together to deliver a cohesive strategy. The marketing team tackles the awareness stage, generating leads which the sales team then works to convert into purchases. Once the sales team gets customers past the conversion phase, both sales and marketing work together on the loyalty and advocacy stages to retain customers. Another key difference is that B2B offerings are usually more complex or expensive, leading customers to evaluate a product or service over several weeks or months before making a purchase. Once a decision to buy is reached, the purchase process usually requires the involvement of a salesperson or other company representative to execute the buy.
In a B2C environment, a sales team often doesn’t exist, so marketing drives the entire funnel process. Consumers typically complete purchases without the need to interact with a company representative, and those purchase decisions tend to occur in a shorter timeframe than in a B2B setting.
The Marketing Funnel and the Customer Journey
Note that the marketing funnel is different from the customer journey. They are two sides of the same coin, but the former is about your company’s efforts to drive customers to conversion, and ultimately, advocacy. The latter documents the customer’s steps and struggles to engage with your business from their perspective. Before creating a marketing funnel strategy, obtain insights into the customer journey by creating a customer journey map. This allows you to better understand how to strengthen and streamline the purchase process for your clients, eliminating friction and increasing the effectiveness of your marketing activities. Use the marketing funnel to tailor your actions to appropriately address customer needs at each stage. You will serve the needs of your customers better, and that grows your business.
A well-structured marketing funnel is crucial for any business looking to attract and retain customers. By understanding the key stages of the marketing funnel and implementing the right strategies at each stage, you can increase your chances of success. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, the marketing funnel can be adapted to fit your needs. By analyzing customer behavior and continuously refining your marketing funnel, you can optimize your marketing efforts and drive sales growth. Remember, the key is to focus on the customer journey and align your actions to meet their needs. With a strong marketing funnel in place, you’ll be well-positioned to achieve your business goals.