Explaining Each of the Marketing Funnel Stages

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A marketing funnel is designed to guide prospective customers and audience members through progressive stages of awareness and education about your brand and its products. 

Businesses, marketers and entrepreneurs working on their personal brands use marketing funnels to attract their audiences, and lead them to conversions.

In this post we will explain the marketing funnel stages, and offer tips for creating content that can benefit your brand at each stage. 

What is a Marketing Funnel, and How Does it Work?

Like a physical funnel used to gather liquid or physical objects and guide them to an end destination, a digital marketing funnel gathers leads and has an end destination in the form of a conversion. 

Conversions at the end of a funnel can take various forms such as a product purchase, contact form submission, newsletter signup, or other action depending on your company’s business and your goals. This conversion, or goal, is the core purpose of the funnel, and every marketing strategy you implement to build a lead generation funnel is designed to help move people closer to that desired goal.

Check out Brand Credential's marketing funnel guide to learn more.

What are the Marketing Funnel Stages? 

A digital marketing funnel typically has three main stages: 

  1. Top of Funnel Marketing

This is where general awareness for your brand and its products is created. Top of funnel marketing tactics are designed to get people’s attention in the market and generate interest in your products and the problems they solve.

  1. Mid Funnel Marketing

Mid funnel marketing is all about education. At this stage, a potential customer is already familiar with your brand, and wants to learn more about your products, why they should trust your brand over competitors, and any other information that can inform their purchase decision. Think of this stage as one where consideration takes place, and customers need to be wooed to dive deeper into your offerings. 

  1. Bottom of Funnel Marketing

Bottom of funnel is where purchase decisions heat up, as customers are typically at the point of sale and making final evaluations on a company and its products before pulling the trigger. This is the stage where marketers and businesses make a final push to alleviate any buying concerns or opposition, and guide customers toward a conversion. 

Examples of Digital Marketing Funnels

While these marketing funnel stages are commonly accepted and a good framework for brands to build their strategy around, not all marketing funnels are the same. 

Depending upon the size of the company, type of product, and typical customer journey, the components of a marketing funnel can look very different despite sharing the common high level stages outlined above. 

Simple marketing funnel example for a B2C brand: 

For some brands, a marketing funnel might be very simple, with just a few pieces of content at each stage, or with some of the stages collapsed. An example of this would be a B2C clothing store that sells its products directly on Instagram. 

For this brand, their top of funnel marketing tactics like Instagram posts and ads live on the same platform and are directly connected to their point of sale, which would usually be at the bottom stage of a digital marketing funnel. This company has a super clean funnel setup with only a few steps that lead a customer from awareness (seeing one of their posts or an ad) to a bottom of funnel conversion (making a purchase via their Instagram store).

For this B2C company, their marketing funnel stages look like this:

Top of funnel marketing tactics:

Instagram ads, organic Instagram posts, community engagement activities like posting comments on Instagram posts from other accounts, posting Instagram stories, and building out a branded profile with all of the sections completed. 

Middle of funnel marketing tactics:

With this particular company’s stages for customer awareness, education, and point of sale all taking place on the same platform, you could argue that these tactics get categorized in the previous top of funnel stage, or at the bottom since they are working toward converting customers toward a purchase. These tactics would be responding to direct messages from potential customers, responding to comments, answering email inquiries if they set up an email address on their Instagram business page, and Instagram retargeting ads for customers who viewed products or put products in their cart, but did not complete a sale. 

Bottom of funnel marketing tactics:

The biggest strategy at this stage for this B2C brand is their online store. This is where they host their products, offer key information about them, and accept purchases. This brand should think of their Instagram store as home base, and every marketing strategy they deploy should be aimed at getting customers to this destination and converting purchases.

Complex, multi-stage marketing funnel example for a B2B brand: 

An example of a more complex multistage marketing funnel would be a B2B software company that sells software subscriptions on its website with a long sales cycle. Companies like this typically have large volumes of customer leads throughout their funnel stages at any given time, and deploy multiple strategies to move leads from stage to stage. 

Lead nurturing is also introduced for a company with a longer marketing funnel, as potential customers may stay in the middle of the funnel for weeks or even months for example before moving on and making a purchase decision. Because of this, this company might segment its funnel stages even further, with gradual stages of mid funnel educational content, for example, that they deliver to leads based on their specific level of product interest, knowledge, and purchase intent. 

This is typically done through marketing qualified lead (MQL) and sales qualified lead (SQL) scoring, which is a system that measures a lead’s interest in a product based on the marketing content they’ve consumed, and actions they’ve taken like filling out website forms, or downloading a whitepaper. The more positive actions a lead has demonstrated, the higher their lead score, and the further they move down the marketing funnel.

For this B2B company, their marketing funnel stages look like this:

Top of funnel marketing tactics:

To drive top of funnel awareness, a B2B company would likely deploy strategies like social media marketing, blogging, content marketing, email newsletters, PR, and social media and search engine ads. These strategies are all designed to drive general awareness for the software company and its products, and to tell the story of the problem they solve for their target customers.

Mid funnel marketing tactics:

Once a lead discovers the software company through its top of funnel channels, mid funnel tactics kick in like whitepapers to further educate customers on the company and its products, in depth blog posts, website landing pages designed to capture email addresses and enter leads into marketing automation software or a CRM, email drip campaigns that deliver a series of automated emails. This is the funnel stage where they could get detailed in their lead scoring, giving leads who have visited certain web pages, or downloaded a particular white paper a higher MQL score, and entering them into an email drip campaign that is designed to sequentially drive them toward a bottom of funnel stage purchase. 

Bottom of funnel marketing tactics:

Bottom of funnel for a B2B brand will be designed to convert customers who are on the verge of a purchase. Materials that are helpful at this stage are product overview decks, customer case studies, product FAQs, and testimonials. These materials should deliver key information and dispel any buying opposition. Given that this brand’s point of sale is on their website (similar to how the B2C brand had theirs on Instagram), this company will need marketing tools in place to enable customers to buy their software once those materials above have done their job. An ecommerce platform where customers can purchase a software subscription directly on the company website, or a contact form where they can get in touch with a sales team member to make the sale are options here (more on funnel tools below)

Marketing funnel for a blog / content company 

Content creators and bloggers build marketing funnels, too. While their bottom of funnel conversion goals are different, they typically have strong top of funnel and mid funnel strategies due to their content creation expertise. 

For example, a blog about marketing tips that makes its revenue from ads on its website pages and its newsletter would treat those elements as products. With their website pages and newsletter serving as the bottom of their funnel where conversions take place, the rest of their strategy would be designed to lead people to those destinations.

For this blog, their funnel stages look like this:

Top of funnel marketing tactics:

To drive top of funnel awareness, this blog utilizes social media channels and digital advertising to lead people toward their blog posts and landing pages where they can sign up for their newsletter. Their focus is on Twitter and LinkedIn where their B2B audience of brands and marketers can discover them. Their publishing strategy focuses on sharing thought leadership content about marketing trends and tips to provide their audience with value, while mixing in links to blog posts and landing pages to drive people toward their mid funnel content.

Middle of funnel marketing tactics:

For this marketing blog, their mid funnel and bottom of funnel stages have a lot of overlap, because their content that would typically serve a mid funnel purpose for another brand is where they are actually making revenue (i.e. blog posts, landing pages, email newsletters, etc.). With this in mind, they can designate certain blog posts and key landing pages as their main ad products, while using other blogs, whitepapers, videos, and infographics to drive people toward those pages that contain the most ads. They can also repurpose those content marketing assets to add more value to their main ad pages. By viewing specific landing pages as their bottom of funnel, or pillar content, they can create supplemental content designed to drive traffic toward it, like a cluster of shorter blog posts that all link back to a more robust long form blog or landing page.

Bottom of funnel marketing tactics:

The marketing blog’s bottom of funnel will be focused on capturing newsletter signups and ad platforms to integrate ads into their blogs and web pages. For newsletter signups, they can embed HubSpot or MailChimp email signup forms at the bottom of landing pages, in their website footer, and throughout their blogs and website pages. For the ad revenue side of their business, Google Adsense will allow them to set up an ad account and embed ads from Google into their webpages. They can control which pages 

Marketing Funnel Tactics Overview

The examples above demonstrate how different types of businesses can build unique funnels to serve their goals. Companies of all sizes and business models are pulling from the same repertoire of strategies at each funnel stage to create their own lead generating machine. Below we will go into detail about the top strategies you can deploy at each funnel stage to serve your brand’s purposes.

Top of Funnel Marketing Tactics

Top of funnel marketing graphic.
Top of funnel marketing focuses on driving brand awareness and audience building.

Out of the marketing funnel stages we just covered, this is the stage where you want to standout and gain attention. Top of funnel serves to build brand and product awareness, and to start “funneling” people toward your more substantial and engaging mid funnel content. 

Think of top of funnel content as the edges of a web, designed to catch leads and drive them toward the center. Below are some of the most common and powerful top of funnel marketing channels that you have at your disposal.

Social Media Marketing 

Social media marketing is one of the most popular top of funnel marketing tactics, and for good reason. Social media enables you to engage with people directly, raise brand awareness, and share content that drives leads. Platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be leveraged as top of funnel marketing channels to create initial awareness for a brand or personal brand, and then drive leads toward a website or another channel where a lead can make a purchase or convert toward another goal.

Social media also represents a channel for you to share mid funnel content, making social media marketing beneficial both for finding new leads, as well as growing the audience you have to share later stage content with.

Digital Advertising 

In addition to your organic top of funnel lead generation strategies, digital advertising in search engines and on social media can be used to target your specific audience. Creating Google Adwords campaigns is one option, and it is driven by keywords. Campaigns setup using Google Adwords can be used to link to specific website landing pages and drive leads toward your products, whitepapers, and blog content by showing them in search results for keywords that you define. 

Social media advertising on platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook can be used to deliver sponsored posts to a specific audience demographic that you determine. For example, you can create retargeting campaigns that deliver ads to people who have visited your website, or you can create lookalike audiences that match characteristics of your current customers and followers (for example, people who have indicated particular interests based on the other accounts they follow). 

Digital advertising is great for augmenting your organic efforts because it allows you to invest money in audience segments and content that is already delivering value. For example, if a particular social media post performs well organically, that post is a good candidate for one to sponsor or create posts similar to it as paid ads.

Public Relations and Communications 

PR and communications help with general brand awareness and lead generation. Developing relationships with blogs, influencers, and media publications in your niche can help you reach your target audience, and attract new customer leads that you otherwise might not have discovered. 

Try inviting bloggers, journalists and influencers in your industry to try your products, send them your company news like product announcements, or offer them an interview with you or one of your colleagues. For smaller brands, your best bet is starting out with smaller publications like blogs in your niche or local media, whereas for bigger brands with a more mature following and broader brand awareness, investing resources in targeting mid and top tier media is a viable strategy.

Blogging 

Blogging can be used as a top of funnel marketing tactic.
Blogging is one of the most popular and impactful top of funnel marketing strategies for lead generation.

Blogging’s versatility makes it a great top of funnel marketing strategy. Developing a blog content calendar full of educational how-to style content (like this blog), industry news, event recaps, product overviews, interviews, etc. will get people in the habit of coming to you as a trusted source of information.

Blogging lays the groundwork for more substantial mid funnel content like long form blog posts and white papers. It also drives traffic to your website, guiding leads toward landing pages, e-commerce online stores, contact forms, and other mid and bottom funnel content and tools designed to convert leads. 

Content Marketing 

Content marketing like graphics, infographics, and video engage people and establish visual recognition for your brand. Investing in creating quality content assets is beneficial because they can stand alone as social posts, and also be included in other pieces of content throughout your marketing funnel like blogs, email newsletters, landing pages, etc. 

Content marketing is also a thought leadership opportunity, as you can use video, imagery, and written content to educate your audience and weigh in on industry news and trends. 

Use content marketing as a top of funnel strategy to raise brand awareness and drive traffic to other parts of your funnel. 

Top of Funnel Marketing Tools:

  • Sprout Social - use Sprout Social to publish social media content, manage your content calendar, and track social media analytics 
  • Webflow - use Webflow to host your website and blog 
  • HubSpot - at the top of funnel stage, use HubSpot to publish blog posts, publish social media content, and even host your website 
  • Canva - Use Canva to design graphics and visual content to include in your content marketing strategy 

For more tips on this marketing funnel stage, check out our blog post on top of funnel marketing tactics

Mid Funnel Marketing Tactics

Out of the marketing funnel stages, mid funnel is where brands educate their audiences.
Out of the marketing funnel stages, mid funnel is where brands educate their audiences.

Mid funnel marketing should focus on customer education, and tools that enable leads to seamlessly discover your brand’s point of sale (bottom of funnel). This can be accomplished through a combination of solid content marketing, and building an infrastructure of marketing tools that make it easy for potential customers to opt into deeper stages of your digital marketing funnel like ecommerce stores or sales CRMs. 

Website Landing Pages

Landing pages are one of the most critical mid funnel marketing tactis.
Website landing pages are a pillar in mid funnel marketing strategies.

Website landing pages are a key mid funnel strategy because of their ability to educate leads, and to feature a call to action that guides them toward a conversion. Good landing pages should use concise copy to make website visitors understand the problem your product solves and the benefits and features it uses to solve that problem, and to point them toward a CTA where they can indicate interest in the product. 

Landing page CTAs can be created using buttons that drive visitors toward an ecommerce store, or embedded contact forms that enter a lead into a sales CRM.

Email Marketing 

Email marketing plays a key role within a marketing funnel.
Email marketing plays a key role in tying together other pieces of content and guiding leads within a marketing funnel.

Email marketing is a valuable mid funnel marketing tactic because it enables you to strategically reach out to leads that have already discovered your brand and indicated interest in it. You know this because the lead has already filled out a form on your website, downloaded a piece of content, funneled to your website from social media, etc.

Once a lead is a member of your email list through one of these channels, you can enter them into your regular newsletter or opt them into email drip campaigns that deliver a series of email content designed to drive them toward a particular product. These emails can contain links to additional mid funnel content like long form blog posts, videos, and whitepapers, as well as links to product centric bottom of funnel content.

Follow these tips for building an email list to scale your email marketing strategy.

Whitepapers 

At the mid funnel stage whitepapers can educate leads.
Whitepapers can be used to educate mid funnel leads.

Whitepapers educate readers about industry trends, insights, news and new solutions to industry problems. Whitepapers can also be written to be specific to your company and its solutions, explaining how they align with trends or solve problems that people in your target audience commonly have. 

View whitepapers as a more in depth and educational version of a blog post. They are meant to teach customer leads something valuable while they are in the midst of learning about your brand and the solutions it offers. The more value you can provide, the more likely they are to trust your brand and move further along in their purchase consideration.

Host whitepapers on your website as a landing page so they can easily be discovered and shared, gate them behind an email signup to fuel lead generation, or create them as PDFs that can be included in mid funnel email marketing campaigns.

FAQs and Resources

Creating a resources and FAQs page on your website will provide mid funnel leads with content that takes them another level deeper in their knowledge of your products. Provide video, image, and written content that answers common questions about your products, how-to content and guides, and data about your products and industry. 

Long Form Blog Posts 

Long form blog posts can be used to create lists of resources, in depth how-to content, and guides that will further establish your brand as a thought leader. The value of long form blog content is that it maximizes the value it delivers to the reader, and it outperforms shorter blog content in search engines. This gives long form blog content dual value as a top of funnel strategy for driving website traffic. 

Create a long form blog post content calendar full of topics designed to teach your audience about your industry and products. For example, create a comprehensive guide for using one of your products that includes video content, or a lost of 20 tips for solving a challenge your potential customers face. 

Mid Funnel Marketing Tools:

  • MailChimp - MailChimp can be used to segment email lists based on people’s interest in a particular product, and to deliver them content designed to take them further down your funnel
  • HubSpot - At the mid funnel stage, HubSpot can be used to create email drip campaigns to deliver messaging and content catered to leads that are already familiar with your brand and its products
  • Webflow - Use Webflow to make creating landing pages, blog posts and digital whitepapers simple

For more tips for this marketing funnel stage, check out our blog post on mid funnel marketing tactics.

Bottom of Funnel Marketing Tactics 

The bottom of a marketing funnel is where customers make purchase decisions.
The bottom of a marketing funnel represents a point of sale, and where customers make purchase decisions.

The bottom of a digital marketing funnel is where purchase decisions are made. This makes the content you create for this funnel stage critical, as it can be the difference between a successful conversion and losing a lead.

Sales CRM

For B2B brands, a sales CRM can serve as the platform for collecting, storing, and organizing leads that come in through the top mid funnel stages of your marketing funnel. Sales CRMs like HubSpot, Pipedrive and Salesforce have tools for integrating with website landing pages, social channels, email marketing, blogs and other marketing functions in order to collect leads from that content. 

Once leads are sent from a piece of marketing content to your CRM, you can categorize them into sub funnel stages that indicate their level of interest in purchasing one of your products. An example of this would be having your mid funnel broken up into sub stages for educating and evaluating and receiving a product demo. 

These stages can be as broad as the three funnel stages explained in this blog post, or more complex with several sub stages within each top level funnel stage depending on the brand’s sales cycle. 

E-commerce Store 

For e-commerce businesses, an online store that enables you to sell directly on your website can serve as the foundation for your marketing funnel, and your most powerful bottom of funnel strategy. 

An e-commerce store with solid product landing pages and customer service tools will enable customers to learn about your products at the point of sale, and give you channels to speak with them and respond to any final questions or points of resistance to a purchase.

E-commerce platforms like Shopify also have built-in marketing tools to integrate seamlessly with other funnel stages, like social media ad publishing, blog and website hosting, and analytics. 

Product Decks, Brochures and Landing Pages

Delivering detailed product information is one of the key components of bottom of funnel marketing as potential customers in this stage are evaluating your solution, and likely evaluating competitor solutions at the same time. 

Bottom of funnel leads are already educated on your industry through top and mid funnel content, are aware of your brand and its solutions, and are ready to make a decision about whether or not to purchase something

Product sales decks, brochures and landing pages that include key benefits, features and customer testimonials present the value of your products close to your point of sale. Investing in making these resources top quality will pay dividends, because they are the materials that can give a customer a final push to a conversion, or cause them to second guess their interest and go with a competitor or move backward in the funnel.

Case Studies

Case studies can also stand alone as a piece of marketing content that helps leads feel safe about adopting your brand’s products, and seeing themselves in the success other customers have had with them. Include case studies on your blog, link to them from landing pages and ecommerce product pages, and email them to customers within your sales lead cycle. 

To help sales leads see themselves in the shoes of the customer highlighted in the case study, follow a format that explains the problem the customer had, the ways in which your product solved those problems, and the tangible ROI the customer experienced with your product (ex. Success metrics and quotes).

Bottom of Funnel Marketing Tools:

  • Shopify - Shopify can serve as a foundation and point of sale for an ecommerce brand, and the destination that brand’s marketing funnel is designed to drive leads toward.
  • Pipedrive - A sales CRM like Pipedrive can serve as the bottom of funnel destination for leads for a B2B brand
  • HubSpot CRM - HubSpot’s CRM has both mid funnel and bottom of funnel tools for driving leads toward a sale 

For more marketing tools, check out our Marketing Resources page

Steps for Designing Your Own Marketing Funnel Stages:

  1. Create Customer Personas

Customer personas will inform what your funnel stages are, and the best channels to reach your target audience. Understanding who your audience is, what they care about, where they spend their time online, and what type of content resonates with them is critical for designing a funnel that converts.

  1. Map Your Customer Journey 

Once you have customer personas defined and know more about your audience, the next step is mapping the steps they would need to take to discover your brand, and end up converting into a customer. In the B2C Instagram store example above, the customer journey for that brand involved a few steps that led potential customers from their brand’s Instagram content, to their Instagram store, and into a purchase conversion. 

Think about what steps someone would need to take to become a customer for your company, and then you’re ready to create content for them to find at each stage of that discovery journey.

  1. Create Content and Put Tools in Place to Help Customers at Each Funnel Stage 

 With your ideal customer journey mapped, you can now create content for each funnel stage that aligns with that journey. For example, if your plan is to have top of funnel discovery take place on social media, mid funnel education take place on your blog, and bottom of funnel conversions take place on your ecommerce store, you need to create compelling content for each of those funnel stages that convinces customers to move to the next stage.

Using the three stage examples above, this would mean putting together a social media content publishing strategy to achieve top of funnel awareness, a short form and long form blog post strategy to educate customers who visit your website from social media, and then value proposition driven product content on your ecommerce store that will convert them into customers.

  1. Put in Place Analytics, Reporting and Conversion Tracking

For each of your funnel stages you are going to want to put analytics and reporting tools in place so you can measure the success of your content for each stage and optimize it. Tools mentioned above like HubSpot, Sprout Social, CRMs, and ecommerce stores all have analytics that will tell you how often people are engaging with your content and what marketing funnel stages are weakest. 

For example, if your social media is sending tons of traffic to your website, but no one is buying anything on your ecommerce store, you should invest time into creating better educational blog content and better product landing pages to improve your mid funnel and bottom funnel. Analytics will inform these decisions and allow you to monitor engagement for content at every stage.

  1. Setup MQL Scoring (optional / not applicable to all businesses)

For B2B businesses that do not use an ecommerce store, you need a way to track inbound leads from your funnel and to prioritize them. Using a CRM like HubSpot, Pipedrive, or Salesforce will allow you to collect leads in one place, and set up scoring to measure their likelihood of converting into a sale. 

Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) scoring will help you determine whether an inbound lead is worth investing time in talking to based on their level of engagement with your content (ex. Number of web pages viewed, blog posts read, whitepapers downloaded, etc.). Most CRM platforms feature the ability to set up multiple sub stages for each funnel stage and MQL scoring based on lead activity.

  1. Measure What Content and Channels are Performing Best, and Focus on Them

Analytics are not only valuable for identifying weak funnel stages and qualifying leads. They can also help to prove what marketing strategies are working best at each funnel stage and bringing in the most lead. 

For example, if you find LinkedIn social media marketing is driving the most traffic to your website and filling your funnel with great leads, you can double down on LinkedIn as a channel. 

The key is optimizing your efforts and investing time and money on the tactics that drive the most impact vs. spreading your resources thinly across a bunch of different channels with lower ROI.

  1. Continue to Iterate 

Constantly measuring and iterating on your marketing funnel design is key, as it will not stay stagnant. Social media channels will evolve, content marketing styles will change, customer problems and interests will shift, and you need to be iterate consistently to stay ahead and keep your funnel driving leads toward your business goals.

Understanding the different marketing funnel stages, their goals, and the content that works best at each is critical to building one for your own brand. 

Follow these tips to design your own digital marketing funnel to convert leads and build brand awareness.

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