Understanding the Stages of Marketing Funnels

In today’s digital world, marketers are constantly trying to keep up. From the latest updates to the search engine algorithms to the shifting nuances of new social media platforms, it’s hard to keep everything straight—and to keep an audience engaged.

But even as the online landscape shifts around us, there’s one tried-and-tested strategy that every effective digital manager uses: marketing funnels.

Marketing funnels help us design a customer journey that turns leads into brand advocates. They let us magically share the content leads need most, right when they need it. And most of all, they make every marketer’s job a little easier!

In this article, we’ll break down the basics of marketing funnels, including the five stages, how to use your funnel to shape your content, and more.

What Is a Marketing Funnel?

Before we get into the basics of marketing funnels, it’s important to understand how they should fit into your overall marketing strategy.

A marketing funnel is a conceptual tool that helps you understand how you convert your leads into customers. It’s a little like a flow chart: it shows the different steps of the conversion process in a recognizable series.

As the name suggests, though, marketing funnels are shaped like funnels. This represents the way your strategies are designed: you start with a huge number of leads at the top of the funnel, and by the time you get to the end, you’ll have a much smaller number of conversions. The most effective marketing funnels, of course, will have more customers reaching that bottom neck!

It’s also worth noting that the specifics of a digital marketing funnel vary from marketer to marketer. Some versions have more stages than others, and the names of each stage may vary. However, the big-picture goal and strategy won’t change overall.

We’re using the most common terms and definitions in this guide, so you’ll be able to understand the basic funnel no matter where you work.

Why Do You Need a Marketing Funnel at All?

Sure, you could follow through on blind efforts to convert leads into customers, and you’d probably see results. But without taking time to understand your audience’s mindset, or to consider the strategic messaging that would help them most, it’ll be much harder to reach your goals.

There are a few key benefits to a marketing funnel:

  • Personalized lead nurturing
  • Lower costs per lead
  • Higher conversion rates
  • Detailed insights about audience behavior
  • Easier automation
  • Better storytelling
  • Better collaboration between marketing and sales teams

The bottom line is this: a marketing funnel can help you optimize your conversion rates, giving you all the tools you need to turn more of those valuable leads into customers.

Ready to get started with yours? Let’s take a look at how a marketing funnel works.

The Five Marketing Funnel Stages

As stated above, some marketing funnels may have slight differences in the names of the stages, or they may have fewer stages than the one below. We’ve included the most common names and the full spectrum of stages to use in your funnel design.


At the top of the marketing funnel are the customers who are just becoming aware that your brand’s products or services exist. They know little to nothing about them, but they aren’t considering a purchase. This is the time to hone in on relevant, valuable content to draw them further into the funnel.

Interest / Discovery

At this stage, leads are learning more about your brand and its products and services. You’ll know they’ve progressed in the funnel by the actions they’ve taken, like signing up for a newsletter or filling out a form.

This marks an opportunity to start a relationship with them, nurturing them with helpful or engaging newsletters, social media posts, online courses, and more.

Consideration / Evaluation

Here, leads have become prospective customers. They’re gauging whether or not they need your products or services by learning more about you, reading both your content and third-party information about you.

Commitment / Conversion

Finally, you’ve reached the end! At this stage, your prospect has decided to follow through on their purchase, converting into a customer. Your sales team closes the deal, and the purchase is done.

Loyalty / Advocacy

This is a bonus stage on many marketing funnels, though not all of them include it. In this stage, your customer brings in valuable referrals, who then start at the top of the funnel to become new leads!

Marketing vs. Sales Funnels

If you’re here about marketing funnels, chances are you’ve heard the term “sales funnel” as well. But what’s the difference?

In truth, both of these terms are often used interchangeably, or you’ll hear the phrase “marketing sales funnel.”

Having a single joint funnel is actually a great way to ensure the integration of a marketing and sales team, with both sides having mutual responsibility for the funnel.

Marketers may help nurture prospects through the initial stages, creating helpful content that works. The sales team, on the other hand, may focus on lead generation or take over during the later stages. This division, of course, may vary from brand to brand.

No matter who “owns” which aspects of the funnel, it’s crucial that everyone involved uses it to consider the overall customer experience.

Your marketing funnel doesn’t exist as a “set it and forget it” tool: it’s something everyone needs to troubleshoot and develop on an ongoing basis. Considering where your funnel fails can help you redesign your content, creating better resources that work for your changing audience.

How Marketing Funnels Shape Your Content

target audience

Now that you understand more about how the marketing funnel can help you split the customer’s journey into sections, what does it actually mean for your strategy?

Knowing where a lead is in the marketing funnel is a great opportunity to share the most relevant content with them, nurturing them in a personalized way.

During the awareness stage, for example, your prospects don’t need to see product specifics or detailed guides about your services. They’re just learning about your brand! Instead, sharing engaging blogs, helpful videos, or insightful social media posts can sell them on the value your brand provides.

At the interest stage, educational content is key. Leads are discovering more about what your brand does, and they’re also (consciously or unconsciously) seeing how your website, social media, and social proof measure up.

When leads begin to evaluate your brand in earnest, it’s time to bring out the big guns. In-depth e-books, whitepapers, case studies, and other long-form guides can show that you have the solutions to their problems. For tech-heavy brands, downloadable software and free demos are great bets as well.

Once leads are ready to convert, you’ll want to share more detailed information about your products and services specifically. From pricing guides to comparison sheets, you’ll want to make it clear that they’re making the right choice. However, customer testimonials and further social proof can help ease any last-minute doubts!

In the end, you’ll earn loyal fans—but only if you earn that loyalty. Following up after a purchase with helpful tutorials, personalized support, and online communities can help keep your customer satisfied, assure them that they made a good decision, and encourage them to advocate your brand to anyone listening!

Limitations of Marketing Funnels

As we’ve mentioned above, marketing funnels offer a lot of helpful benefits, but they’re not always the most accurate way to picture how we attract and retain customers.

This is especially true in today’s digital marketplace, where people can stumble across content and media fit for any stage of the marketing funnel. Some of your customers might get introduced to your brand with content designed for customers in the evaluation or loyalty stage, for example, rather than the information you might have sent someone in the awareness stage.

This modern, non-linear funnel isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s something to consider as you plot out your marketing strategy. However your customers reach your content, they should find it valuable and informative, especially with more and more people doing their own research online long before they encounter a brand-associated sales rep.

Create an Effective Marketing Funnel

As you can tell, considering the ins and outs of your marketing funnel is no easy feat. Designing an effective one requires ongoing time and effort—but it’s also one of the absolute best ways to drive conversions. Ultimately, investing your time into streamlining yours can help you move the needle when it comes to your brand.

When it comes to marketing funnels that work, though, it’s important to make sure every aspect works—and that includes those valuable forms that capture your leads’ information! To get the most out of your marketing funnel, reduce form errors with FormTestr today.

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