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The Modern Digital Marketing Funnel: Explained
Pretend I’m your marketing director.
You’ve just asked me for my big idea to increase leads and sales, and this is my response:
“I think we should put our entire marketing budget into fax advertising.”
You’d probably think I’d lost my marbles, and I don’t blame you. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a common marketing strategy to send out mass advertisements via fax machine, similar to today’s mass-email marketing campaigns. They worked. They were a viable marketing strategy because everyone had a fax machine, and used it on a daily basis. Now? Millennials are stumped when it comes time to operate one and the majority of Gen-Z doesn’t even know what a fax machine is.
Here’s the million-dollar question: If you wouldn’t depend on an outdated marketing strategy to connect with consumers, why on earth would you trust an outdated marketing funnel to drive your marketing strategy?
Consumer behavior has changed, and by extension, so has the buyer’s journey that consumers follow. It makes sense, then, to ditch the old marketing funnel in favor of something new, something that accurately represents the journey of today’s digital buyer.
Below, I’ll introduce you to the modern online marketing funnel model—the framework that should drive your entire digital marketing strategy. I’ve broken down each stage of the new buyer’s journey and provided marketing strategies and tactics that work best at each phase. You’ll also find real-world examples and expert advice on the “how” of making this work for your business. The goal is for you to walk away with a clear understanding of how the (modern) online buyer’s journey works and how best to market to your target audience at each stage.
Looking for info on the B2B marketing funnel? BREAKING NEWS: The B2B marketing funnel is almost identical to this one. Learn more in this blog on B2B marketing strategy »
The Modern Marketing Funnel: Explained
The Stages in the New Digital Marketing Funnel from Top to Bottom (Or More Accurately, from Start to Re-Start)
The digital marketing funnel definition is pretty loose—it’s a framework to help define, understand, and follow the different stages buyers pass through during the customer life cycle. Traditionally, it was a linear journey—buyers predictably passed through one stage at a time, like the template below:
But the new marketing funnel isn’t a funnel at all. It’s a looping journey full of twists and turns:
The phases are similar to the old framework, and work like this:
- Consideration, along with the research and discovery loop
- Post-purchase experience and the loyalty loop
I’ll break down each stage with three real-world examples—one for need-based services, one for want-based services, and one for e-commerce purchases. Let’s pretend our consumer is Karen, a 35-year-old homeowner with two small children.
EXAMPLE ONE: Karen Needs a New Furnace
- First, Karen realizes it’s cold in her house. She checks the vents, and there’s no heat coming out. This is the second time it’s happened this winter – Awareness
- Then, Karen Googles “furnace keeps breaking” – Consideration
- Karen reads a blog on an HVAC company’s website about old furnaces and when to replace them. Karen wonders how old her furnace is – Awareness
- Karen Google’s “how much is a furnace replacement” and reads a blog on a local HVAC company’s website. She decides it’s worth the splurge since her furnace is 15 years old – Consideration
- Karen heads to Nextdoor to ask her neighbors for recommendations for a furnace replacement company – Awareness
- Karen takes her recommendations and Googles each company’s reviews, services, and hours – Consideration
- Karen narrows down her choices and heads to Facebook to ask for recommendations and input from her friends who have used those top companies – Consideration
- Karen sees an ad at the top of Google for one of the companies her friends and neighbors recommended – Consideration
- Karen clicks the ad and engages with a website chatbox. She books a consultation appointment in under a minute – Purchase
- After her new furnace is installed, Karen raves on social media about how polite, clean, and respectful the installation techs were, and after she’s prompted from an email leaves a review on Google – Loyalty loop
- Karen’s family starts sneezing in the spring. Karen saw a blog on Facebook about how dirty ducts can cause sneezing. When she sees a discount from the company for air duct cleaning in an email newsletter she clicks on the special and follows a shortened loop to get her air ducts cleaned – Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, and Loyalty loop
EXAMPLE TWO: Karen Wants a Kitchen Remodel
- Karen has decided the pots have fallen on her head for the last time – Awareness
- Karen logs on to Pinterest and Instagram to get ideas for kitchen organization by searching for the tag “#organizedkitchendesign” – Awareness
- Karen pins and saves all her favorite ideas on social media, and begins looking for a local remodeler on Google – Consideration
- Karen gets tired of browsing online and goes back to Facebook to ask for kitchen designer recommendations – Awareness
- Karen Googles the reviews and projects of the recommended kitchen designers and sees one whose project she’s already pinned on Pinterest – Consideration
- Karen picks her favorite designer and contacts the company, asking for more information – Consideration
- After meeting with the designers and discussing needs and wants, Karen signs on for a kitchen remodel – Purchase
- Karen documents her experience on Instagram – Loyalty loop
- Karen raves about her new kitchen to friends on Facebook – Loyalty loop
- Two years later, Karen’s master bedroom is destroyed from a roof leak. Karen skips the awareness and consideration phases and calls the remodeler directly for a quote – Loyalty loop, Purchase
EXAMPLE THREE: Karen Buys Some Beauty Boxes
- While browsing on Facebook, Karen sees an ad for a beauty subscription box. She stops, thinks about her own beauty habits, and keeps scrolling – Awareness
- The next day Karen sees a similar ad on another social platform for the same subscription box, except this ad has customer reviews. Karen thinks again about her own beauty regimen and clicks on the ad to see what the hubbub is about – Consideration
- Karen Googles other beauty subscription boxes to see if she can get a better deal on the same products and services – Awareness, Consideration
- The next day, while Karen browses the web, she keeps seeing ads for a 30-day trial for the subscription box – Consideration
- Karen subscribes to the 30-day trial – Purchase
- Karen keeps her subscription and follows the company on social media – Loyalty loop, Purchase
- Karen sees ads from the same company about a new beauty product – Awareness
- Karen skips the consideration stage and purchases the new product based on her satisfaction with the previous one and her trust in the company – Loyalty loop, Purchase
The Absolute Best Digital Marketing Funnel Model and Framework
Understanding that when we say “digital marketing funnel” we’re talking about the new looping buyer’s journey, there’s one specific framework that I absolutely swear by (and you should, too):
Avinash Kaushik’s See-Think-Do-Care model.
I’ve written this model into many of my blogs because it’s so damn accurate.
The See-Think-Do-Care model is based on consumer intent and divides each stage into audience clusters.
- See: Largest addressable qualified audience with no commercial intent
- Think: Largest addressable qualified audience with some commercial intent
- Do: Largest addressable qualified audience with loads of commercial intent
- Care: Current customers with two or more commercial transactions
We can easily build this framework into our model with the modern buyer loops:
Within this framework certain digital marketing platforms are better than others, depending on the intent:
Strategies for Top of the Funnel Digital Marketing: The “See” Audience
At the top of the funnel are people in the “see” category—they’re your largest qualified audience, and either don’t need your product yet or don’t know they need your product. The key to connecting with buyers at this stage of the funnel is simple: Make them aware of your product and the benefits it offers.
Your ultimate goal with top of the funnel marketing is to encourage users down the funnel to the “think” stage, where the first signs of purchase intent surface. Two main digital marketing strategies work better than the others—social media and display ads.
Social media channels—specifically Facebook, Nextdoor, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube—are prime real estate for your company to generate awareness because that’s where your audience goes to “see” and discover things. Take a gander at these social media statistics:
- 88% of adults age 18 – 29 are on Facebook, alongside 84% of adults age 30 – 49
- 59% of adults age18 – 29 are on Instagram, alongside 33% of adults age 30 – 49
- 81% of millennials use YouTube, alongside 58% of Gen-X
- Facebook accounts for one in every six minutes spent online and one in every five minutes spent on mobile
- On average, a typical YouTube session is 40 minutes
The best part is that marketing yourself on social media is inexpensive, and you can have a lot of fun with it. This is your chance to show off your brand, show off your products and services, and develop a cohesive brand message.
I’d recommend you start by defining who your target audience is, and then matching that with the right social media platform. That’s incredibly important—choosing the wrong social media platform is the quickest way to become as irrelevant as last year’s culture fads.
The other powerful top of the funnel marketing strategy is display ads. According to Google, the display network reaches over 90% of global internet users expanding across 2 million sites. The power of display ads can be summed up with the cell phone theory:
The cell phone theory comes from Duke University research on the human attention span. Basically, we subliminally take in what’s around us even when we’re distracted with something else. Later, those subliminal surroundings appear to already be familiar. What this means is that people can remember your company simply by subliminally taking in the message from a display ad while they’re doing something else.
The culmination of these efforts should result in brand recognition. While brand recognition and ad recall are easier to measure with social media than PPC, you should still see interest growing by engagement with your ads and visits to your website.
Strategies for Middle of the Funnel Digital Marketing
Once your target audience is aware of their needs and your company they move into the “think” stage. This is where it gets tricky—the majority of consumer research happens in this stage, and the research and discovery loop takes them back and forth through different mediums. During this stage, it’s crucial to build your authority and get your target audience onto your website.
Consider these statistics:
- 71% of consumers begin their shopping research phase with a search engine
- 97% of consumers go online to find and research local companies, products, and services
- 93% of all online experiences start with a search engine
- 92% of shoppers read online reviews before purchasing a product
- 4x times as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it
- On average, 41% of clicks go to the top 3 paid ads on the search results page
Today’s online consumer is much better educated than the consumers of yesteryear. While they enjoy learning about new products and services from brands, they hate being sold to. They digital buyer’s journey has many different touchpoints, and different people follow different patterns. That’s why you need to invest in more than one middle of the funnel marketing strategy.
The best digital marketing strategies for middle of the funnel consumers are:
- Video marketing
- Paid search ads
- Email marketing
SEO for Middle of the Funnel Marketing
SEO (search engine optimization) is your number one source of organic web traffic and leads, and arguably serves most stages of the buyer’s journey. It’s by using SEO that your website will show up on page one of search results—and 93% of online experiences start with a search engine.
Nobody goes to page two, or on page three. If your website isn’t ranking on page one, you may as well be obsolete. What I recommend to target this audience is that you answer absolutely every question a potential customer might ask in the form of blogs, research papers, and features on your website. Make sure you optimize each piece of content for mobile SEO.
Reviews are the second golden ticket for middle of the funnel digital marketing—92% of online consumers read them, and 88% of them trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Here’s one probable explanation why: Consumers don’t trust advertising and marketing anymore, if they ever really did. Now, it’s no longer shut-your-eyes-and-hope-for-a-good-refund-policy—people can effectively shop based on others’ experiences (which is one reason customer service is so important).
This ties into SEO because you can mark up reviews on your website for search engines. The better—and more—reviews you have, the more likely you are to rank higher. Simple as that.
For great guides on optimizing your website for SEO, check out these resources:
- What to Expect When You’re Expecting SEO Results
- What Is SEO?
- What Is Local SEO and Why Does It Matter?
- How to Get Your Business On the First Page of Google
- How to Choose a Reliable SEO Company
Video Marketing for the Middle of the Funnel Marketing
Why is video marketing good for middle of the funnel buyers? Because four times as many customers would rather watch a video about a product than read about it, and almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store.
The success of video and the role it plays in middle of the funnel consumer research depends entirely on three statistics:
- The human attention span is eight seconds
- Eight seconds of video is roughly equal to 30,000 words
- U.S. adults now spend nearly six hours a day watching video
Seeing as the average blog post hovers around 1,000 words, that means one eight-second video is worth about 30 blog posts. Since people watch, on average, about six hours of video a day—you do the math.
If you ask me, that seems like a more efficient, better use of your time. I recommend you create short (read: under 30 seconds) videos about your company, as well as how-tos and videos that answer consumer questions. Promote them on YouTube as well as social media sites, and don’t forget to put them on correlating landing pages and blogs on your site.
To learn more about video marketing, check out these resources:
- The Ultimate Video Marketing Guide
- Social Video: The Marketing Trend Worth Investing In
- 7 Types of Videos that Are Effective for Marketing
- How Much Does It Cost to Advertise on YouTube?
PPC Ads and paid search ads for Middle of the Funnel Digital Marketing
What do people do when they want to know more about something?
They Google it.
Paid search ads are the ads that show up at the top of the search results when someone Googles something (or searches in Bing or Yahoo, but let’s be real, here).
And get this: On average, 41% of clicks go to the top 3 paid ads on the search results page. Another reason to use search ads for middle of the funnel marketing?
We know that the middle of the funnel is where the “think” stage happens, and that the research and discovery loop takes consumers back and forth—meaning you have to invest in both brand awareness and consideration.
Guess what? PPC advertising can increase brand awareness by 80%. Not only that, but 75% of people who click on ads also say online search ads are helpful in finding what they need.
For more info on PPC ads, check out these resources:
- Everything You Need to Know about Google Local Services Ads
- Do People Click on Paid Ads?
- What Are PPC Ad Extensions?
- PPC Statistics You Should Know
- How Paid Ad Billing Works
Email Marketing Strategies for Middle of the Funnel Digital Marketing
Three other statistics offer insight into why email marketing is so good at tipping the thinkers into the doers:
- 57% of email subscribers spend 10-60 minutes browsing marketing emails during the week
- 7 in 10 people say they made use of a coupon or discount from a marketing email in the prior week
- When it comes to purchases made as a result of receiving a marketing message, email has the highest conversion rate (66%), when compared to social, direct mail, and more
Email is the easiest way to wave at someone right there in their inbox. Because they opted-in, they actually expect to see valuable information from you, so give the people what they want!
For more info on email marketing, check out these resources:
- The Best Email Marketing Strategy Guide for Any Business
- How to Generate and Close Leads with Email Marketing
- Increase Your Email Open Rate With the Right Subject Line
- How to Nurture Customer Relationships Through Email
Strategies for Bottom of the Funnel Digital Marketing
And now we get to the final stages of our conversion funnel, the “Do” stage—followed by the care stage, and its revenue-building loyalty loop. At the bottom of the funnel (or really, the middle), is where the buyer actually converts from a prospect into a customer. Your biggest hurdle will be to produce content that triggers a user into action.
A few of the more successful “do,” or bottom of the funnel marketing strategies, include:
Let’s use the example of buying a car.
Pretend you’ve just spent the afternoon with two car salesmen test-driving cars. For the past hour, you’ve been talking to the salesmen about the features of each car you drove and now you’re back in the dealership. You’re ready to take the next step.
The first salesman says, “Let’s talk about prices and see what packages best suit your family.”
The second says, “Let me tell you about all the features in the cars you just drove.”
Which would you be most likely talk with at this stage in your buyer’s journey?
Just like car salespeople, you need to be able to provide a potential customer with the information they need most at that moment in their journey. At this stage, you should be optimizing your content and PPC ads for the following search terms:
- Purchase-related keywords, e.g., “buy,” “RFP,” “packages” or “quote”
- Branded and competitor terms
- Contact keywords like “contact,” “call,” or “request”
- Comparison, cost, and pricing terms like “how much,” or “cost of”
- Location-specific keyword modifiers like city, state, or zip code
Tactics to Tip a Consumer from the “Think” Stage to the “Do” Stage
There are a few tactics that work extremely well within the three strategies above to convince prospects to pull the trigger and shell out the big bucks:
- Install a website chat service so customers can instantly get their questions answered and book appointments/purchase products
- Create personalized content (78% of U.S. Internet users said personally relevant content from brands increases their purchase intent)
- Advertise case studies
- Advertise testimonials
- Advertise free trials of your product or service
- Advertise white papers or other marketing collateral that shows off the effectiveness (or awesomeness) of your product or service
- Customize presentations based on the consumer
- Advertise live demos and Q&As
If you work these tactics into your email, PPC, and search strategies for bottom of the funnel marketing strategy, you’ll see an increase in leads and sales.
The Final Stage in the Online Buyer’s Journey: Care
Congratulations! You now have a loyal customer!
How are you going to keep them?
That’s the main question you want to ask yourself in the final stage of the new digital marketing funnel—because there really isn’t a “final” stage in the buyer’s journey. Any business owner knows that it’s easier to keep an existing customer than it is to generate brand-new ones, so invest in keeping your current customers. Hopefully, after your new customer made a purchase, they start their journey all over again with another one of your products. Or, even better, they become a brand advocate and start selling your product or service for you in the form of recommendations.
We saw above that reviews matter—a lot. So, how are you going to get this new customer to review you? Or share their story about you on social media? How are you going to get them to recommend you to their friends?
You can do this all by caring. Reach out and ask for reviews. Engage with them on social media. Offer them an insider-only discount. Give them something for free on their birthday. Give them advice for free. There are literally hundreds of customer retention tactics out there—find the ones that best suit your products and business. One simple—and cost-effective—way to care is with personalization.
Modern consumers LOVE personalization—63% of them now expect brands to use their purchase history to provide personalized experiences, and 79% of them say they are only likely to engage with an offer if it has been personalized to reflect previous interactions the consumer has had with the brand.
Tying It All Together: How to Start Planning Content for Your Digital Marketing Buyer’s Funnel
Let’s return to Karen’s buyer’s journey, but this time, I’m going to add in the digital marketing tactics that could be used at each stage:
EXAMPLE ONE: Karen Needs Furnace Repairs
- First, Karen realizes it’s cold in her house. She checks the vents, and there’s no heat coming out. This is the second time it’s happened this winter
- Then, Karen Googles “furnace keeps breaking” – SEO, PPC, content marketing, video
- Karen reads a blog on an HVAC company’s website about old furnaces and when to replace them. Karen wonders how old her furnace is – SEO, content marketing
- Karen Google’s “how much is a furnace replacement” and reads a blog on a local HVAC company’s website. She decides it’s worth the splurge since her furnace is 15 years old – SEO, content marketing, PPC, video
- Karen heads to Nextdoor to ask her neighbors for recommendations for a furnace replacement company – Nextdoor advertising
- Karen takes her recommendations and Googles each company’s reviews, services, and hours – Local SEO
- Karen narrows down her choices and heads to Facebook to ask for recommendations and input from her friends who have used those top companies – Facebook advertising, remarketing
- Karen sees an ad at the top of Google for one of the companies her friends and neighbors recommended – Google Local Services ads
- Karen clicks the ad and lands on their website, where engages with a website chatbox. She books a consultation appointment in under a minute – Web design, website chat services
- After her new furnace is installed, Karen raves on social media about how polite, clean, and respectful the installation techs were, and after she’s prompted from an email leaves a review on Google – Social media, email marketing
- Karen’s family starts sneezing in the spring. Karen saw a blog on Facebook about how dirty ducts can cause sneezing. When she sees a discount from the company for air duct cleaning in an email newsletter she clicks on the special and follows a shortened loop to get her air ducts cleaned – Facebook marketing, email marketing
EXAMPLE TWO: Karen Wants a Kitchen Remodel
- Karen has finally had it with her kitchen and has decided the pots have fallen on her head for the last time
- Karen logs on to Pinterest and Instagram to get ideas for kitchen organization by searching for the tag “#organizedkitchendesign” – Pinterest and Instagram advertising
- Karen pins and saves all her favorite ideas on social media, and begins looking for a local remodeler on Google – SEO, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook advertising
- Karen gets tired of browsing online and goes to Nextdoor and Facebook to ask for kitchen designer recommendations – Nextdoor advertising, Facebook remarketing and advertising
- Karen Googles the reviews and projects of the recommended kitchen designers and sees one whose project she’s already pinned on Pinterest – SEO, PPC remarketing
- Karen makes a shortlist of designers and sets up an appointment with each – PPC, SEO
- Karen picks her favorite designer and signs on for a kitchen remodel – Email
- Karen documents her experience on Instagram – Instagram advertising
- Karen raves about her new kitchen to friends on Facebook – Facebook advertising
- Two years later, Karen’s master bedroom is destroyed from a roof leak. Karen skips the awareness and consideration phases and calls the remodeler directly for a quote – Email marketing, PPC, social media marketing
EXAMPLE THREE: Karen Buys Some Beauty Boxes
- While browsing on Facebook, Karen sees an ad for a beauty subscription box. She stops, thinks about her own beauty habits, and keeps scrolling – Facebook advertising
- The next day, Karen sees a similar ad on another social platform for the same subscription box, except this ad has customer reviews. Karen thinks again about her own beauty regimen, and clicks on the ad to see what the hubbub is about – PPC remarketing, Facebook remarketing
- Karen Googles other beauty subscription boxes to see if she can get a better deal on the same products and services – SEO, PPC
- The next day, while Karen browses the web, she keeps seeing ads for the subscription box. Karen asks for recommendations on Facebook to see if any friends have used the subscription service – PPC remarketing, Facebook ads
- Karen subscribes to the 30-day trial – SEO, PPC, Email
- Karen keeps her subscription and follows the company on social media – Email, Social media marketing
- Karen sees video ads on YouTube from the same company about a new beauty product – PPC, YouTube ads, and Social media remarketing
- Karen skips the consideration stage and purchases the new product based on her satisfaction with the previous one and her trust in the company – Email, Social media marketing, SEO
Final Step: Executing Your Digital Marketing Funnel Strategies
How to Create and Execute a Content Distribution Plan for Each Stage of Your Buyer’s Journey
Now that you know the stages and strategies for the new digital marketing funnel, it’s time to put it all into action with a content distribution plan. To start, create an asset list in Microsoft Excel (I’ve included a downloadable template for you below). In your asset list, you should include all of your online marketing assets, including your landing pages (an easy way to do this is to run a crawl of your website with a tool like ScreamingFrog), ad creatives, blog posts, case studies, white papers—anything that’s come out of your marketing department.
Put them in an excel sheet, and next to each asset, put the stage in the buyer’s journey each asset best targets. If it can serve more than one stage include both of them. This will give you a good overview of where you lack content and resources. Here’s an example of what our asset list looks like for our blogs:
Once you have each asset labeled with a stage in the buyer’s journey, start adding platforms and strategies for which that asset would be good a good fit. For example, blogs and infographics work great on social media, while case studies should be left to email marketing and PPC ads. From there, you can create your actual content distribution calendar:
After you’ve made your asset list and distribution/editorial calendar you should start planning your execution. Using the tactics and advice above, you can create a cohesive plan that hits all the crucial points of the buyer’s journey and guides a user through to the purchase and loyalty stages.
I get that this is a lot to take in and a lot to wrap your head around. However, if you master your conversion funnel, you’ll eliminate strategies that didn’t work and grow your bottom line. If you need some help with your particular funnel, contact us—we live for this stuff.
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