What Is a Digital Marketing Funnel? (And How To Create One)

Does your digital marketing feel haphazard and disjointed? You’re trying to keep a lot of plates spinning, but no matter what you do, you’re not seeing the results you want.

It’s possible that you’re missing out on an important component of marketing: a funnel.

Digital marketing allows brands to reach more customers every day. However, you’ll only get a high rate of conversions and sales if you have a well-planned digital marketing funnel.

What Is a Digital Marketing Funnel?

A marketing funnel represents the way a customer is funneled through the customer journey.

It doesn’t show every single stop and touchpoint on the customer journey map. Instead, it’s a higher-level look at the three main stages a customer passes through, from first learning about a brand to becoming a customer.

Here’s an example of a simple marketing funnel:

Visual representation of a digital marketing funnel.

And here’s an example of a customer journey map. While you’ll see the funnel stages represented, the map has more detail to show each time the customer interacts with the brand:

Visual representation of a customer journey map.

Marketing funnels help companies figure out what the customer needs at each stage. Customers can then be guided to the point when they convert and stay loyal to the brand.

Traditional Marketing Funnels vs. Digital Marketing Funnels

The traditional marketing funnel, called AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action), has been around since 1898 , when it was developed by St. Elmo Lewis.

Back then, the only option for buying a product or service was to go into a brick-and-mortar store or office. Direct mailings and magazines made the buyer aware of offerings, and then the customer would go there, find the item (or consult with the service provider) and purchase it. Aside from comparing a product against a competing item in the same store, most people weren’t going to leave the store and go to others to shop around.

The internet changed the marketing funnel by creating more choices for customers, as well as numerous ways to research those choices. Today, it’s easier than ever to find competing products, read reviews, find coupons, etc. This has extended the process of buying, and it’s also created worldwide competition between brands to win a customer’s business.

Today, there’s a less traditional digital marketing funnel that complements the way modern-day consumers shop. Digital marketing funnels put a lot of focus on education, engagement and catering to the customer. It includes more touchpoints than before and meets each touchpoint with authentic, valuable information that will gain the consumer’s trust.

Digital Marketing Funnels for B2B vs. B2C

Business-to-business (B2B) marketing is tricky because instead of selling directly to a consumer, you’re selling to a business. There isn’t always one person making the buying decision, and on top of that, the person you first connect with may not be the person who will decide whether or not to buy. Your B2B marketing funnel content has to account for communication with accountants, managers, the CEO, etc.

On the other hand, the original marketing funnel was created with consumers in mind, so a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing funnel is more straightforward. The point of contact is also the decision-maker, so your content doesn’t have to appeal to several different people.

Click Funnels

In a regular digital marketing funnel, the customer interacts with different pieces of content on their way to making a purchase. With a click funnel, the customer literally clicks through the different touchpoints.

Here’s an example of how a lead may make their way through a click funnel:

  • The consumer sees an ad on a search engine or social media platform. The ad is likely targeted to them, so it shows something that the consumer is already interested in.
  • The consumer clicks the ad, which brings them to a landing page. The landing page has information about the product or service, plus a call-to-action (CTA).
  • The consumer will take the next step as prompted by the CTA, such as making a purchase using a coupon code.

Click funnels don’t have to be separate from digital marketing funnels. It’s common for a digital marketing funnel to include this type of content.

Marketing Funnels vs. Sales Funnels

Once a tool solely for sales teams, funnels have now made their way into the marketing world. The biggest difference between marketing and sales funnels is who is interacting with the customer along the way.

  • In a marketing funnel, the customer interacts with content and other marketing materials.
  • In a sales funnel, the customer interacts with sales reps.

A brand may have both types of funnels, and the two funnels will work together to get a customer from awareness to conversion. The marketing funnel makes promises about what the sales funnel will deliver.

Do I Need a Digital Marketing Funnel?

Yes! You should definitely create a digital marketing funnel for a few big reasons: segmentation, engagement and qualified leads.

Segmentation: When you have a digital marketing funnel, it’s easier to figure out exactly when to share ads, content and other marketing strategies with the consumer. Only relevant information is shown to the consumer based on where they are in the funnel.

Engagement: When consumers get what they’re looking for when they’re looking for it, they’ll be more engaged with your content. Along the way, they’ll grow to trust your brand more, which means they’ll choose you when it’s time to buy.

Qualified Leads: When you guide people through a digital marketing funnel, by the end, only qualified leads will still be present. That’s why we work with a funnel shape — there are more consumers at the beginning stage than at the end because they’re weeded out as you get closer to conversions. This is purposeful. That way, your marketing efforts at the bottom of the funnel are only aimed at those who are likely to make a purchase.

3 Stages of a Digital Marketing Funnel

While you may find that some marketing funnels have four or more stages, we’re going to talk about the main three: awareness, consideration and decision.

For comparison, here’s an example of a marketing funnel with six stages:

Six-stage digital marketing funnel.

It’s not that the three-stage model is missing stages. Instead, stages are bundled together. For example, the interest stage is part of consideration; the desire stage is part of decision.

Sometimes, adding those extra segments to the funnel can make it easier for marketing teams to customize content and promotions for that specific step on the customer journey.

Top of the Funnel: Awareness

Consumers start the customer journey at the awareness stage, which is at the top of the funnel.

  • The consumer knows that they have a problem they need a solution for.
  • They’re searching for information to (a) better understand the problem and (b) find solutions.
  • The consumer is unaware that your brand or product/service exists and that it could solve their problem.

They don’t want to pick a solution yet. They just want to explore their options.

Much of the content you see online is geared toward the awareness stage because there are so many people in this stage at any one time. It can also be the easiest content to create.

We have an article that covers the 10 types of content to create during the awareness stage . Your goals here are to gently introduce your brand to the consumer and cement yourself as an authority in your niche.

Middle of the Funnel: Consideration

By the time the consumer reaches the middle of the funnel, they’ve done enough preliminary research and they’re ready to solve their problem.

  • The consumer wants to find the best solution.
  • They’ll take time to explore the topic deeply.
  • They’re aware that they will likely make a purchase in the future.

Your goal during the consideration stage is to build a relationship with the buyer and earn their trust. You also want to nudge them to move forward with their intent to purchase.

Check out our article about how to create middle-of-funnel content for help planning your strategy.

Bottom of the Funnel: Decision

During the decision stage, the consumer is finished researching the topic and they’re ready to make a purchase.

  • The consumer may not have chosen the vendor yet, so they’ll compare options.
  • The consumer wants to feel confident in the brand they go with.
  • They need to have their reservations appeased in order to take action.

In this stage, your goal is to make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy from you. That includes remedying their worries and making the buying process as short as it can be.

Content created during this stage has to be succinct and sales-focused. Here are 7+ content ideas for the bottom of the funnel.

The Retention Stage

Once the first purchase has been made, you want to retain the customer so they continue to buy from you. You have to regularly communicate with the customer and frame your communication for the stage they’re in.

You don’t need to provide them with top-of-the-funnel content any longer. By now, you know a lot about them and what they want. Create targeted messaging, specifically email campaigns, to appeal to their current needs.

For example, you can create coupons for products that complement the items they’ve already purchased from you. Another idea is to send video walkthroughs with insider tips about getting the most out of the items they purchased.

How To Create a Digital Marketing Funnel

Knowing what a digital marketing funnel is and the different types of content to make for each stage is an excellent start. Here’s a more actionable step-by-step guide so you can put into practice what you’ve just learned.

Set a Goal

Your digital marketing funnel may change over time as your goals, offerings and audience change. That’s why the best way to start building your funnel is to pick a goal. Everything within your funnel can then align to achieve that goal.

For example, at first, you may want to convert visitors to mailing list subscribers. Later on, when you have a big mailing list, your new marketing goal may be to convert those mailing list subscribers to buyers.

Create Your Content and Ads

Since the first stage of a digital marketing funnel is awareness, this can also be where you start creating your content. Design and write your ads and content to target the right audience.

You may need to research where your audience spends their time if you don’t know that already. For example, if you have a B2B business, you’ll want to run LinkedIn ads. If you have a B2C business, though, it’ll be a waste of time to create LinkedIn ads.

Put Together a Lead Magnet

To turn a customer in the awareness stage into a prospect, you’ll want a lead magnet that will capture their information. The offer needs to be enticing, relevant and valuable. Possibly most important of all is that your lead magnet should leave the customer wanting more.

This lead magnet from Shop Disney is great because it (a) captures visitor information and (b) gives them something they can use later when making a purchase.

Lead magnet and signup form from Shop Disney.

This article from HubSpot has 20 lead magnet examples and ideas to spark inspiration for yours.

Design a Landing Page

Sometimes, a lead magnet will pop up on your website and you won’t have to direct the user elsewhere, like in the example above. But if the offer is for something like a download, you’ll need a landing page. When a potential customer clicks on your ad or lead magnet offer, they’ll go to the landing page.

Part of a landing page from Taboola.

The landing page will show your offer and explain why the visitor should choose it. While landing pages don’t have to be long, the information on them should be carefully planned. Generally, a landing page includes the following:

  • Eye-catching visuals
  • Description of your lead magnet
  • Form to collect information
  • Something to build trust, like a testimonial
  • Enticing CTA

Here’s an example of a landing page from Taboola.

Build an Email Sequence

Once the visitor has entered their information for your lead magnet, you can add their email address to your mailing list. Then, you can begin sending them regular emails, starting with an email sequence.

Here’s what a basic email sequence usually entails:

  • Automation that sends the emails for you
  • Series of 4 to 7 emails
  • Lasts about 3 weeks
  • Nurtures prospects
  • Nudges them down the funnel

Your goals with an email sequence are to (1) remind the recipient that your brand exists and (2) continue providing them with helpful info until they want to buy.

Here’s an example of what your email sequence may include:

  • Email #1: Your lead magnet, along with advice on how to use it.
  • Email #2: More information that relates to the lead magnet.
  • Email 3: A case study that shows how someone benefited from purchasing your product.
  • Email 4: An offer to make a purchase.

This article from MailChimp can get you started.

Test Your Digital Marketing Funnel

Go through your digital marketing funnel a few times to make sure it’s working correctly. Enter your contact information on your landing page, ensure you get the lead magnet and keep an eye out for the emails in your sequence.

It’s also smart to ask a friend to test it as well. They may catch something that you overlook.

Wrapping Up

A thoughtful digital marketing funnel puts you in the best position to target the right audience and get traction out of your marketing efforts. And as you analyze the behavior of your audience at each stage of the funnel, you’ll learn more about what they want. From there, you can continue honing your funnel to deliver what potential buyers are looking for.

Want to get more website traffic with your awareness-level content? Check out our article about increasing organic traffic.

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