Understanding the impact your brand has on your target audience is key. You may have the best product or service in your industry, or the best messaging to capture your customers’ attention. However, if there’s a breakdown in your strategy at any point, you won’t know where the leak is without a marketing funnel.

But what exactly is a marketing funnel?

And why do you need it?

Marketing Funnel 101

The marketing funnel is, simply put, the process your customers go through to complete a purchase and remain a customer.

Marketing funnels can look different from business to business. That’s part of their beauty: they can be customized for maximum effectiveness.

So here’s a basic marketing funnel to get you started…

Awareness

This is how your customers become aware your business is out there, waiting to help them solve their problems. Customer behavior dictates they won’t immediately purchase anything you have to offer, so you have to build trust with them.

They need to believe your business can help them.

In this stage of the marketing funnel, you can see how they become aware of you, through advertising, social media, word of mouth, quizzes, etc. This is done through stat analysis of your branding strategy in various online platforms, like social media. Lots of likes, shares, and click-throughs to your website will tell you if your messaging is making people aware of your existence.

Most businesses spend considerable time in the awareness stage. It’s the most front-facing, and the most versatile for your messaging. One goal of your efforts here could be to get people to sign up for your newsletter. Once you have that commitment from them, you control when, how often, and what they see of your brand, and you can begin testing which messaging techniques are most effective.

Interest

So you’ve gotten some of your target audience to your website and they’ve signed up for your newsletter. What now? You keep their interest by answering the question, “Can this product or service improve my life?” Of course, the answer is yes, but how do you demonstrate that? By offering value through free downloadables that prove the worth of product or service, by showing demo videos so they can see it in action, by highlighting user generated content so they see others who’ve trusted and been rewarded with a great product or service, or pushing existing customer testimonials. The more avenues you use to show them you’ve got something worthwhile, the more you’ll pique their interest.

Consideration

At this stage of the marketing funnel, your potential customer is aware and interested in your offerings. They’ve crossed the line from, “Huh, that looks intriguing,” to, “I wonder if that would look good in my apartment,” or, “I bet that would fix this thing that’s been bugging me for a while.” Maybe it’s something simpler, like, “I’ve got a free weekend, and this looks entertaining.”

What, then, do you do to move them toward conversion?

Well, at this point, you’ve done quite a lot. You’ve shown them happy existing customers through testimonials and reviews. You’ve proven your product or service works well through downloadables and comparison papers to competing products or services. Those demo videos have gotten a lot of hits. But still, no conversions.

This could be the time to consider offering a deal.

For some, that’s a free-trial or a discount. For others, it’s a bundle of related products. It’s really up to you, but the more enticing you can make that first purchase, the more likely they are to click the Add to Cart button.

Decision to Purchase

You see their shopping cart with your product firmly in place. You’re so close! This is where analytics can tell you the most. If you get here but your customers move the product back to the shelf, there’s a reason. Are you charging too much for shipping & handling? Is the shipping time too long? Have they discovered a competitor offering a discount you haven’t considered?

At this point in your marketing funnel, you have options, but some things are out of your hands.

The customer was shopping on their lunch break, which ended before they could buy.

They got distracted by something else and will come back later, so your product is languishing in their cart.

The reasons vary, but sometimes, gentle automated reminders can help get them over the hump. Automated emails can be useful at this stage, with offers of free shipping on first-time orders, or links to FAQs in case they’re hesitating on the product itself and need more information. Maybe the thing they’re looking to buy isn’t quite right, and a related product recommendation will help them find just the thing. However, be wary of pestering. If you annoy the customer too soon or too frequently that they’ve not clicked to close the sale, they could walk away entirely.

Retention and Advocacy

Success! You’ve got a new customer on the books.

The last stages of the funnel are some of the most rewarding.

But while a one-time sale is great, you want them back. Sending out a quick 3-question survey could help you learn how the experience was for them without taking too much of their time. A polite request for a review can give more detail than the survey because it’s in their own words. There are also ways to engage the customer without directly contacting them. If you’re selling computers or software, the use of forums would give knowledgeable customers a place to talk about your products with those less familiar. If you’re a restaurant owner, you could participate in community engagement at the local level, reminding your past patrons you’re hosting a charity night where a portion of proceeds will benefit an organization they might care about. For businesses that do business entirely online, you might hold online events, such as Ask-Me-Anything sessions on social media, or opportunities for customers to interact that result in little giveaways as incentive.

When customers are fully through the marketing funnel, are pleased with their purchases from your business, and believe they can help others, they become ambassadors.

If they generate their own content touting your business, or spread the word about you, your marketing funnel has worked in every way in which it’s designed to work. But your work isn’t done. Keeping them interested by providing recommendations for related products based on their purchase history is one way to keep them coming back.

Recap

The best part of the marketing funnel is there are ways to automate this process at every stage, from the building trust exercises performed during the interest, consideration, and decision stages to the rewards during the retention and advocacy stages. This way, you can organize all your marketing processes into a targeted, logical approach for the most success of your entire marketing plan. Basing your marketing techniques on customer behavior at each stage helps you remain attentive and relevant without overwhelming or pressuring your would-be customers before they’re ready to commit, and keeps them coming back time and again.

The marketing funnel only has to be as complicated as you make it.

If you want to concentrate on the conversion process from start to finish, that’s great.

But you can set up little funnels on your website as well, to study customer behavior as they move through your site.

For example, if you sell a health and wellness program, where your site offers a wealth of information for free, but there are upgraded packages customers can purchase, you can see how each landing page performs toward that end goal converting users to purchasers. You can compare common behaviors of those there to answer one question to those there for more hands-on guidance. Perhaps then you can convert more readers into customers by offering stepped-down levels of subscriptions from your main package deal. Your site visitors can choose their level of engagement and you learn more about how they interact with all your product or service offerings.

The possibilities are as endless as the variations of the marketing funnel itself.