The Honest Guide to Marketing Funnels

marketing funnelsIf you’re paying attention, you might have noticed that the term “marketing funnels” gets thrown around marketing and business circles quite a lot. 

And in fact, many times this is done in a very hyped-up fashion, where funnels are represented as this magic trick that turns everyone into a millionaire overnight.

The fact is that yes, funnels are an important concept in marketing, but you need to understand when to use them, what role they play, and get the logic behind them. This is what our guide will show you.

The true origin of funnels

A lot of people don’t realize that funnels as a concept are pretty old, and in fact trace back to a core principle in traditional marketing – the idea of the customer journey.

This concept merely captures the idea that your customers go through certain stages before they make their first purchase. The most classic model is the well known AIDA model, where people go through the stages of: awareness, interest, desire and finally action.

If you take a look at the total number of people at each stage, you will notice that you have the most people at the first stage, with less people at each subsequent stage. This is why in textbooks the customer journey is usually drawn in a funnel-like shape. 

It is merely a mental model to help you understand that you’re taking a raw mass of people (those aware of you), and step by step getting to a point where a portion of them become customers.

A more practical way to use funnels

While “the customer journey” is a wonderful concept that is at the core of any marketing strategy, it is very much a theoretical mental model. By this I mean that your business is unlikely to only have one product, or one service or one single conversion point. If you did, you might be able to just apply the customer journey as is.

marketing funnels

However, in the real world you will have multiple conversion points. This is true even if you are a SaaS that sells a single service. If you run a modern marketing strategy, you should have multiple conversion points. And let me show you what I mean by example.

If you create a special landing page that promises people a lead magnet in exchange for their email address, the conversion point is the moment they give you (or confirm) their email address, not when they purchase. 

In that sense, in modern marketing when we talk about funnels, we mean any process that leads to a conversion of any kind, and can be broken down into defined, delineated linear steps.

This, doesn’t take away from the more general customer journey

You wouldn’t be using these more modular funnels instead of tracking the customer journey. Ideally you would be tracking both. So, on the one hand you might have a funnel that only has the goal of converting the person into a subscriber. 

At the same time, you also have a more big picture “customer journey” funnel. So in that sense when they register, they complete the smaller funnel. But at the same time, within the larger “overall customer journey” funnel, they just move to the “subscriber” stage.

I just wanted to make this distinction clear before we move onto talking about “marketing funnels” as they are used and defined in modern marketing. This is because, again, when people talk about marketing funnels, they are referring to these “mini funnels” that describe smaller sub-steps of the overall customer journey.

How to build a funnel

Since funnels are a theoretical framework to help you organize your marketing, there isn’t one correct way to build them. However, I realize you’re looking for a step-by-step recipe, so I will provide you with a nice general step-by-step blueprint that should serve you quite well.

Identify the target audience

In general there are two types of audiences when it comes to funnels. There are front-end funnels that target people who still haven’t become an actual registered lead. 

And then there are back-end funnels that target people who are already a known lead inside of your marketing system.

If you’re dealing with the first type, you will need something closer to general marketing research. That is, you will need to have some idea of what kind of people you will want to target with your ads.

This will determine the ad itself, ad targeting, what you are offering to people in exchange for entering your funnel as well as things like the landing page at the top of the funnel.

marketing funnelsOn the other hand, if you’re building a backend funnel to generate more revenue from your existing list, you will want to learn more about segments and personalization. Fortunately, with a platform like Emercury you get powerful features both in terms of advanced segmentation and automated personalization.

Choose the marketing channels

If it is a front-end funnel, you have a large variety of channels you might utilize, including your existing email list. That is, you might run a campaign to your existing list and ask them to refer or send friends to a landing page or promotion.

On the other hand, when you hear people talking about back-end funnels, they are almost exclusively talking about email. And there is a very good reason for that. Nothing beats email when it comes to your return on investment. 

This is why “backend funnels” are largely synonymous with “email marketing”. To learn more about that, check out our super popular guide on backend funnels.

Determine the conversion point and deliverables

Different marketers can do things differently. For example, one marketer might decide that a person filling in their email and hitting submit is the conversion point. Another might decide that a person verifying their email address should count as the final stage of the funnel.

Personally, I think that such micro funnels with just 2 steps don’t really make much sense. I think it is a lot more useful to have a funnel that at least attempts to accomplish a higher-level conversion of some sort. For example getting them to schedule a demo, or buy a low-ticket item.

The other thing you have to consider is what does the person get at the end of the funnel. If this is purchasing a product, then delivering the product is what they get in exchange for their payment. Alternatively, if they give you their email address, you deliver a lead magnet.

The reason that it’s important to get clear on these two things is that it will determine how you set things up in your marketing system. For example whether an email automation should fire to deliver a lead magnet, whether a certain tag should be applied, and so forth.

Define the stages

This is at the core of building a funnel. In fact this is all that funnels are, a defined set of stages or steps. You will want to get clear on what the steps are that lead from first touch to conversion.

Now mind you, there is no rule on how granular you have to get. Two marketers can look at the exact same process and come up with different stages. And especially when it comes to the number of stages.

I have seen marketers who go so granular as to have a separate stage for “opened email 2” and “clicked on email in link 3”. So in essence any action that can be measured becomes a stage.

Some would say that this is taking it too far, but the truth is there is no right and wrong amount of delineation. It is up to you to experiment and learn what works best for you.

Decide on the data to measure and track

Let me start off with the data that we already track for you automatically. We track both open and clickthrough rates, as well as bounce rates and other delivery metrics. The very least that you should do is study the reports from these metrics.

marketing funnelsLet’s say that you are sending an email delivering a lead-magnet. You can look at our reports on how many people are opening that email, and how many are clicking on the link to get the PDF file. And even furthermore, if this funnel leads to a drip sequence, study the open and clickthrough rates on the sequence as well. This way you can determine how successful a funnel is at bringing good quality leads.

Just make sure to use our built-in tagging system to tag people based on their actions. That is, you can use our automation system to assign different tags based on different actions that people take inside the funnel.

Consider that emails can and should be part of a funnel

Even if you’re dealing with a front-end funnel, in most cases it makes sense to define it beyond just delivering a lead magnet. For example, your funnel might include a welcome sequence that onboards people, and ends with a call to action. As I said previously, it might try to sell them on a low-ticket item, nudge them to schedule a demo, or whatever makes sense in your business.

The main reason I nudge people towards this kind of a funnel is because you have complete control once people opt-into your list. This means that you gather exact data on what people are doing.

While there are behaviors which people perform before they give you their email, those are not actions that you can track. You can’t have a tag like “viewed my post on Facebook”. And even if it’s a web property that you own, until they give you an address, they are just an anonymous IP address.

However, once they give you an email, you can automatically tag them based on whether they opened an email, clicked a link, or even, if they visited relevant pages on your website. Once you identify them to Emercury, we can track their actions in both email and your website, and automatically place tags based on those actions.

Leverage the data in future campaigns

There are three reasons that you gather data in a funnel. The first one is to track what stage the person is in a funnel. This allows you to then guide the person further down the funnel using automations and segmentation.

The second reason is that it allows you to analyze how your funnel is performing so that you might optimize and improve it. It also allows you to build better panels in the future. This is very easy to do with Emercury where we have an advanced tag manager which allows you to see how many tags are assigned at a glance.

The third reason is that you can utilize data from one funnel, to drive your automations and define your segments for future funnels, promotions and campaigns. Most people are not even aware of this option, yet in my mind it is one of the most important things you can do to personalize the customer experience.

To learn more about personalization and the relationship between data and personalization, check out Your Guide To Personalized Email for Higher Conversions.

Get A Partner On Your Side

There’s no need to go at this alone. While we do put out a lot of free content to help you, nothing beats a one-on-one conversation. In these articles we try to help clarify things as best as possible. However, every business is different, so we have to generalize.

If you want to understand better how to implement email marketing in your specific business, let’s have a chat. At the moment I am still able to do some free demos, so be sure to book one while I can still do these.

I would love to hear about your specific needs, challenges and any confusion you might have about best practices. And then, help you see how you can use Emercury to improve your bottom-line.

Alternatively, or in addition to booking a free demo, you can also grab a username for our forever-free-plan while we still have it. It’s probably the most generous email marketing automation plan on the planet. We include almost every feature in this plan, with very few restrictions.

Remember, you get to keep this plan for life, for free… Provided that you grab a username while registrations are still open. Be warned, we might decide to pull this way-too-generous offering at any point. So click that link to check if we still allow registrations.


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