The marketing funnel concept has been around for over 100 years, and its purpose is to easily categorize major milestones along the shopping journey, from awareness to consideration, to decision, then loyalty. Sometimes called the conversion funnel, it relates to the customer’s journey—but today’s path to purchase is far more complex, and very few customer journeys will mirror the funnel exactly. Effective marketing campaigns use a more comprehensive approach, such as full-funnel marketing, designed to reach shoppers at every stage in the process.
The marketing funnel shape corresponds with the idea that in the early stages of a shopping journey, marketers cast a wide net to engage as many leads as possible before nurturing those leads through each stage of the funnel. The audience narrows as you move down the funnel, and when you get to the bottom, you have shoppers who are most likely to convert, and ideally, become loyal customers.
Though the customer journey may not be as linear as the simplified one expressed in the marketing funnel, the concept is still important. The digital path to purchase is anything but linear, and the digital marketing funnel accounts for the fact that consumers enter and exit and move around the funnel, and their shopping isn’t limited to a single store or geographic area.
With customers’ ability to shop anywhere at any time, brands should think about how they can reach them at all stages of the customer journey. The consideration phase in the digital marketing funnel alone can involve extensive research and comparison online by consumers, and is no longer limited to comparing products in store. Many brands have adjusted to this new way of shopping, and embraced this less-linear path to purchase by connecting with customers in authentic and valuable ways across the funnel.
Marketing funnels are also important for both lead generation and lead nurturing. In the awareness and consideration phases, brands use campaigns to attract new leads. In the decision and loyalty phases, brands use campaigns to nurture current leads and, eventually, help grow customers into brand advocates. Digital marketing and the marketing funnel are critical to connecting the dots between what channels, tactics, and content is driving the most attention, conversations, and, ultimately, sales for their brand.
Caption: There are four stages of the marketing funnel: 1) awareness, 2) consideration, 3) conversion, and 4) loyalty. A brand’s goal in each stage is to 1) attract, 2) inform, 3) convert, and 4) engage customers.
Some people use the terms “marketing funnel” and “sales funnel” interchangeably; in fact, some combine them into one term: the marketing sales funnel. In reality, they’re two parts of a whole. The marketing and sales functions of a company or organization have their own goals, and their respective funnels support those goals. The marketing function is tasked with creating and managing a brand, generating awareness, and driving sales-qualified leads, whereas the sales function is focused on increasing products or services sold, both initially and repeatedly. Using one to inform the other can help teams stay in sync and create an optimal customer experience.
The marketing funnel is a helpful framework for engaging audiences. At the same time, customer journeys and funnels aren’t interchangeable concepts. Today, customer journeys rarely move directly from awareness to consideration to purchase. Shoppers can enter the funnel at any stage, or seemingly skip stages altogether. In other words, while the funnel is a helpful framework for ensuring you’re reaching customers across potential paths to purchase, few customer journeys will completely mirror the funnel.
You may not be able to predict the steps shoppers take before buying your product, but a full-funnel marketing approach takes into consideration the various ways potential customers can interact with your brand. This can help you recognize opportunities for engagement and reach customers wherever they are.