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How to set up an effective marketing funnel

Marketing Funnel
Marketing funnel vs. sales funnel: What’s the difference?
Top, middle and bottom of the funnel: how a marketing funnel is structured
6 steps to a successful online marketing funnel
Final thoughts: Well-planned funnels are essential in online marketing

Every business uses at least one marketing funnel – without it, attracting customers is nearly impossible – so it’s important to consider how you use funnels for your marketing activities and how well they’re optimized. This article shows you how to build a digital marketing funnel that consistently brings new prospects, leads and customers.

What is a marketing funnel?

When we define “what is a marketing funnel”, we describe the customer journey from initial brand awareness to purchase decision and, ultimately, brand advocacy.

Businesses use it to provide targeted content and advice along the customer journey to increase sales.

Marketing funnel vs. sales funnel: What’s the difference?

Marketing Funnel

The terms marketing funnel, conversion funnel and sales funnel are often used interchangeably in online marketing, primarily differing in thematic focus. The marketing funnel prioritizes creating brand awareness through content marketing and fostering interest, trust and an emotional connection with potential customers.

Lead generation is also an essential part of the marketing funnel. The final stage of the marketing funnel is usually a purchase or conversion, but some marketing funnels include customer marketing activities, like upselling and cross-selling.

Depending on a business’s revenue team’s structure, the sales funnel often overlaps the marketing funnel’s final stages, helping to ensure that the intent to buy translates into actual purchase. This involves advising prospects, creating offers and following up as needed. Ideally, the SaaS marketing funnel transitions smoothly into the sales funnel.

Top, middle and bottom of the funnel: how a marketing funnel is structured

As the name suggests, a digital marketing funnel is shaped like a funnel, starting broad at the top and narrowing down. It generally follows the AIDA model:

  • At the start of the funnel, the goal is to generate attention

  • In the middle of the funnel, the potential customer’s interest is piqued and they begin to desire the product

  • The end of the funnel results in action, the purchase, where the marketing funnel transitions into the sales funnel.

AIDA Funnel

Marketing funnels are divided into three phases based on this basic principle, often referred to as marketing funnel stages:

  • Top of funnel (TOFU)

  • Middle of funnel (MOFU)

  • Bottom of funnel (BOFU)

Funnel Tofu Mofu Bofu

Top of the funnel: raise awareness

At the top of the funnel or awareness stage, it’s all about capturing the attention of prospective customers. This phase is their first contact with a company.

Typically, you make them aware of particular challenges and needs and help them understand why your topics and products are relevant.

A social media ad promoting a free webinar could be the top-of-funnel element, attracting attention. This could lead to a nurture sequence with helpful emails, culminating in a product demo and a sales offer – a classic marketing funnel example.

Possible content formats for TOFU include:

  • SEO-optimized blog articles on introductory topics

  • Social media posts

  • Podcasts

  • Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn ads

  • Newsletters

  • Outdoor advertising

  • Webinars

Middle of the funnel: inform and convince

In the middle of the funnel, you spur interest in your offerings and build customer trust. You can create content that provides helpful solutions to their challenges and introduce suitable products.

Possible content formats for MOFU include:

  • SEO blog articles, for example, in a guide format

  • Lead magnets such as ebooks, whitepapers and checklists

  • Email marketing

  • Webinars

  • Landing pages

  • Case studies

Bottom of the funnel: sell

At the bottom of the funnel, you answer questions about your products, address possible concerns and finally invite a purchase. Possible content formats for BOFU include:

  • Product trials

  • Tutorials and walkthroughs of the product

  • Product fact sheets

  • Sales events

  • Testimonials

6 steps to a successful online marketing funnel

For marketing funnels to convert well, a lot of planning is necessary. You can follow these six steps:

1. Define the goal

Without a clear goal, your marketing funnel will falter. Define what success looks like for you and how you’ll measure it. For example, “We want to generate 500 new qualified leads and achieve 100 sales monthly.”

2. Identify the target audience

Consider your target audience. It’s worthwhile to conduct a target audience analysis and define buyer personas.

3. Map the customer journey

Map the customer journey as it determines how the marketing funnel should be structured.

4. Sketch the marketing funnel

Based on the customer journey, conceptualize your content marketing funnel. Consider what content could best support your loyal customers at each touchpoint and how to prompt them to act. Plan content for all three phases of the funnel.

5. Create content

Once the outline of the marketing funnel is set, start producing content that addresses pain points. This includes consistently publishing new blog articles, newsletters, ebooks and social media posts and tapping into search engine optimization.

6. Analyze and optimize the funnel

Marketing funnels usually aren’t perfect from the start. Regularly review your metrics and identify what’s working and where there is room for improvement.

Try to gradually enhance the funnel’s conversion rate, adjusting one element at a time to track which changes effectively boost performance.

Final thoughts: Well-planned funnels are essential in online marketing

Whether consciously or not, every company inevitably uses at least one marketing funnel. When used deliberately, funnels help marketers understand and manage what happens throughout the purchasing process. They map the different stages of the customer decision process and show how customers can be effectively guided through them.

Additionally, analyzing the funnel helps identify problem areas in your campaigns, find ways to improve conversion rates and boost revenue. In online marketing, carefully planned funnels and marketing funnel tactics are indispensable to marketing campaigns.

The multitude of websites and platforms means customers are exposed to vast amounts of content and can choose from dozens of solutions for any problem. The online customer journey is less clearly defined and more challenging to track than traditional offline marketing. Only with a well-constructed funnel can you ensure that your business remains competitive and continues to attract new customers.

This approach underscores the importance of a deliberate, structured marketing strategy that leverages the funnel model to anticipate and meet customer needs at every stage of their journey, maximizing the effectiveness of marketing efforts and investment.

Driving business growth