What is a Marketing Funnel?

Marketing funnels are one of the best ways to help generate leads while you are off doing other things – working with your customers, playing with your family, vacationing, sleeping – whatever. Funnels help you to connect with your audience without having to send every email individually.

Exploring the funnel

Basically, the idea of a marketing funnel is to visualize the path that your customers go on.

Awareness – this is where you are working to help your target audience become aware you what you offer and how it can solve their problem

Interest – in this stage, you’re working on helping your target audience learn more about how you can help them and generating enough interest for them to want to take the next step

Desire – this stage is all about making your target audience want the solution you provide, about making them realize how great they’ll feel after they solved their problem with your solution

Action – this is the big one, the one where your target audience takes action and signs up for your list or buys your product or makes an appointment – it depends on what your call to action is and what you’re telling them the next step is that they should take

Sometimes, there’s another step to the funnel – retention.

Retention – this is where you share with them the other solutions that you offer, products and services that might help them with other problems they have.

(For more information on the AIDA marketing model, check out this article from Smart Insights.

Parts of a marketing funnel

Theoretically, your “funnel” is your entire customer journey. But, marketers often refer to individual components of the customer journey as having their own funnel. For instance, let’s say you offer a freebie lead magnet on your site to entice your visitors to give you their email address. Once they sign up, they get the lead magnet and then they also receive a series of emails further nurturing the relationship you are forming with them. Then, after the email series is over, maybe you send them an email offering another solution you have that they might be interested in. After that, whether or not you send an offer email, they are on your regular email marketing list and will receive your regular newsletters and other campaigns.

Some people have multiple lead magnets, each leading their audience through a different funnel toward a different goal. But, whether you have one funnel or a dozen, each funnel has the same components.

  • Landing Page – This is where your audience finds out more about your lead magnet and opts in to your list. Even if you have a sidebar widget or CTA row on your site, each lead magnet should also have its own landing page.
  • Optin Form – This is part of the landing page or the widget or the CTA row, but it gets its own spot on the list because it’s super important – without it, your funnel will flop. The form is what connects the page/widget/row to your email marketing account. (If you don’t have an email marketing account, you should sign up for one before you start building your funnel.)
  • Thank You/Confirmation Page (optional but recommended) – This is where you will send your subscribers after they fill out the opt-in form. While not strictly required – most forms are able to just change to a confirmation message – I’ve always preferred confirmation pages as a website user. They help me to confirm (see? see?) that the form has been submitted without error and let me know what to expect next. This page can be super simple and just say “Thank you!” or it can be more involved, with steps to guide them to clicking on the double opt-in confirmation link or an invitation to join your Facebook group or connect with you on social media, or maybe even suggest some blog posts they might be interested in related to the topic of your lead magnet. So much potential here!
  • Double opt-in confirmation email (optional but recommended) – if you’re using double opt-in for your email marketing list (which I highly recommend you do) then this email is probably pretty boiler-plate and automatically created for you from your email marketing platform. Usually though it can be customized with your branding and images, and adding some content in your “voice” to guide the subscriber. For new subscribers, this is literally the first communication they’ll receive from you (other than your website, of course) so it sets the tone for what’s to come. Don’t leave this being the boring and blah default message your email marketing service provides.
  • Final Confirmation Page – after your subscriber clicks on the confirmation link in the email, they will be redirected somewhere. Most email marketing services provide a (boring, blah) default page for this, there’s also usually the option to use a custom page on your site instead – please do this. Like the Thank You page, this page is another opportunity to deepen the connection with your new subscriber. If you’re not using a double opt-in list, then your subscribers should be sent here right after they fill out the form, instead of to the Thank You Page.
  • Welcome Email – this is the first “official” email they’ll get from you (not counting the confirmation email of course) and also where you’ll tell them how to get their freebie you promised them. This is a good change to give a mini-intro to yourself – maybe a little longer than the bio you might have included on your Landing Page, but not biography length. Welcome them, help them get to know you, and to feel more comfortable about their decision to give you their email address.
  • Nurture Emails (optional but recommended) – this is a series of 3-5 emails you sent using automation that serve to further introduce yourself to your subscribers and get them more familiar with the content in your Lead Magnet. These are not for selling – they just got there, don’t sell to them right away.

Component creation order

That was a lot of steps. And if you try to do them in the order they’re listed, you’ll probably find yourself with too many tabs open on your website and a fuzzy head and possibly end up hating your website. (I make funnels all the time, and sometimes they can make me crazy, so its definitely not just you.) So, this is my recommend order of operations for building your funnel.

  • Create all the pages you need on your site. You don’t have to even put anything on them at this point, but at least get them created and published because you’ll need the URLs to enter at other points in the process.
  • Create all the content for your pages. You’ll probably be able to reuse some of the content from these pages for the emails – maybe not verbatim, but certainly with some paraphrasing. Having the content for all of the pages will make is SO much easier to build the pages when you have the content, or at least outline, bullet points, etc. For now, it’s totally fine to keep the Thank You and Final Confirmation pages simple so you can get them up, and you can always add to them later (especially if you’re still working getting your social media pages and such setup.)
  • Create all the content for your emails. If the thought of writing the nurture emails sounds too daunting right now, just write your Welcome Email. The rest will come later.
  • Add all of the content to your email marketing system. I like to get everything done in my email marketing account at once – less bouncing back and forth between tabs and less chaos in my brain. During this process, you’ll be setting up the list in your email marketing system, and you’ll need the URLs of the pages you created previously in their appropriate places here.
  • Build the pages
  • connect form to email marketing service

Another way to look at the funnel is that it helps narrow down your audience from those with a mild interest in your products/solutions (top/widest part of the funnel) down to those ready to buy your big items (bottom/narrowest part of the funnel). Sometimes this kind of concept is explained with a dating vs. marriage analogy. Marriage usually means a larger commitment, as does your product/service with the bigger price tag and financial commitment, where as dating is all about trying to get to know the person before you make a commitment, which is similar to when your customers buy a lower-price product or service to get to know your style and experience level before they commit to the higher-price product/service.

Once you get your marketing funnel down to a comfortable science, you can basically daisy-chain (am I dating myself with that reference?) the funnels to help move your customers from free content like your lead magnet to lower price options that help them feel more comfortable with you and then on to higher price product/service options. But, each funnel should only focus on one thing at a time, and not try to push your customer through too quickly.

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