What is a Marketing Funnel? Stages, Goals, and How it Works

The marketing funnel is a visual representation of the steps a customer takes from first finding out about a brand to conversion.

Picture your perfect customer journey: they find your brand, instantly fall in love, and BAM – they buy! That’s the dream, right? The marketing funnel is the roadmap to make it happen (well, as often as possible). Think of it as your guide to turning strangers into superfans.

Some experts argue whether the marketing funnel is outdated or whose job it is (looking at you, sales team). But here’s the deal: understanding how customers think is marketing gold, no matter what you call it.

In this article, we’ll break down the stages of a marketing funnel, why they matter, and how to build one that’ll have customers lining up at your (virtual) door. B2B, B2C, it doesn’t matter – these principles work for everyone.

What Is the Marketing Funnel?

It’s a fancy way of visualizing how people go from “Who’s this brand?” to “Shut up and take my money!” Wide at the top (lots of potential customers) and narrow at the bottom (those who actually buy). In a perfect world, everyone would convert and the funnel would be a cylinder.

That’s not reality, but marketers aim to make that funnel as wide as possible and guide people toward their purchase decisions.

A marketing funnel helps you get the absolute most out of your efforts. Even if you’re a small team, understanding the customer journey lets you target your marketing, personalize the experience, and ultimately boost those sales numbers.

The Marketing Funnel Stages

There are several variations of the marketing funnel. The classic one has four stages:

Illustration of a marketing funnel with stages from Awareness to Action.
A breakdown of the marketing funnel stages guiding a customer from initial brand discovery to taking action.

Awareness

  • Initial State: 
    • The customer doesn’t even know they have a problem, and they’ve never heard of your brand.
    • They’re not interested, busy with their own lives. They wouldn’t read your website or care about what you have to offer.
  • Goals:
    • “Hey, I know this brand!” or “Oops, I have a problem!”
    • Get your name out there: Make people aware of your brand. In the future, this will help you seem familiar (and thus, preferable) later.
    • Show them a problem they might not know they have: get them to stop and notice! Let them know there’s something they could improve, even if it’s not a big deal yet.

Interest

  • Initial State: 
    • They are open to learning more, but still mostly focused on how they feel about the problem.
    • The customer now knows there’s a problem and wants to learn more. They’re looking for info on how bad it is, how to fix it, and what others have done.
    • They are still not reading your messages thoroughly but mostly scanning them.
  • Goals:
    • “Hmm, this could solve my problems…”
    • Show them solutions exist: Let them know there are ways to make things better.
    • Reassure them it’s okay: Share stories of people who overcame the same problem to make them feel hopeful.
    • Get them to your place, your website, or your social media accounts. Lead them to where you have helpful information.
    • Get them to take a small step: Ask them to follow you, like something, or sign up for your emails to stay connected.

Desire

  • Initial State: 
    • The audience is actively searching for the best option. They’re looking at different solutions, comparing features, and figuring out which one works best for them. They finally start thinking and reading!
    • The customer knows there are solutions and wants one for themselves. They’re imagining how their life would be better if the problem was fixed.
  • Goals:
    • “Okay, I REALLY want this.”
    • Position yourself as a top choice in the shortlist: Highlight the unique advantages, emotional and practical, that only your solution provides.
    • Paint a picture of success: first, how it makes them be a better version of themselves, and second, what your product or service does.
    • Get them to learn more about what you offer: Lead them to detailed information about your product or service.

Action

  • Initial State: 
    • Deciding between you and a few other options. They’re comparing the details to see what makes the most sense and resolving their final concerns.
    • The customer likes you and is thinking about choosing you to solve their problem. They know what kind of solution they need, considering things like price, size, time, weight, etc.
  • Goals:
    • “Take my money!”
    • Give them all the info they need: Make it clear what you offer.
    • Answer any questions they might have: Address any concerns they might have about using your product or service. Be transparent about the specifics, leaving no room for doubts.
    • Make it easy to choose you: Remove any friction, making it as easy as possible to say “yes” to you.

How a Marketing Funnel Actually Works

Think about it from the customer’s point of view. This will save you a lot of time and problems.

Illustration of a layered marketing funnel with top, middle, and bottom sections labeled ToFu, MoFu, and BoFu.
Stages of the marketing funnel: Top of Funnel (ToFu), Middle of Funnel (MoFu), and Bottom of Funnel (BoFu).

Now let’s break it down this way: Picture your marketing funnel – wide at the top (Top of Funnel or TOFU) when lots of people enter, getting smaller as they consider options (Middle of Funnel or MOFU), and narrowest at the bottom (BOFU) where serious buyers remain.

Let’s dive into each phase and the best tactics for moving customers along.

1. TOFU (Top of Funnel) – Spark the “Aha!” Moment

  • Strategy: Grab attention and build brand recognition. Think bold, disruptive, and memorable.
  • Channels: High-visibility options work best:
    • Billboards, TV ads
    • Live events with a strong presence
    • Influencer marketing (partnering with figures who connect with your audience)
    • Social media ads (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) with eye-catching visuals
    • Google ads targeting relevant searches
  • Message: 
    • Focus less on your product, and more on the problem it solves. Make it relatable and emotionally resonant.
    • “Tired of [insert problem] slowing you down?” rather than just introducing your product by name.

2. MOFU (Middle of Funnel) – Become the Go-To Expert

  • Strategy: Show authority and establish trust. Potential customers are hungry for information, so give it to them!
    • Offer detailed blog posts, guides, or videos that tackle their problem head-on.
    • Use case studies to demonstrate how your solution has helped similar people.
    • Provide free trials, demos, or samples to give them a taste of what you offer.
  • Channels:
    • Retargeting ads to stay in front of interested prospects.
    • Optimize your features and pricing pages to be clear and compelling.
    • Actively seek out and showcase glowing customer reviews.
  • Message: Emphasize why your solution is the best one. What unique features, benefits, or support do you offer that your competitors don’t?

3. BOFU (Bottom of Funnel) – Seal the Deal

  • Strategy: Make it super clear and impossible to resist. Minimize any hesitation and make the purchase process a breeze.
    • Offer guarantees or free trials to reduce perceived risk.
    • Provide them with transparent pricing schemas.
    • Implement live chat to address any last-minute questions or concerns.
    • Showcase testimonials or reviews right next to the “buy now” button for social proof.
  • Channels:
    • Focus on your website or sales platform to streamline the buying experience.
    • At this stage
  • Message: Clarity, ease, and urgency are key. Offer time-limited discounts. Emphasize how simple the buyer’s experience will be to complete the purchase.

Important Note: Bear in mind that the funnel is rarely linear! Customers might bounce in and out of stages, so be prepared with the right content at each stage to keep them engaged.

The Bottom Line

Building an awesome marketing funnel takes a lot of work, but the payoff is huge. It’s about understanding your customers better than they understand themselves. Get this right, and you won’t just build a business, you’ll build a loyal following.

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