June 12, 2021

What is a marketing funnel?

What is a marketing funnel?

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Have you ever wondered how marketing teams are able to send you content that speaks to you as though they actually know you? Or how e-commerce sites know to offer you a coupon or code at a crucial moment? What makes these teams so great at “sealing the deal”?

One of the key techniques used by marketers to track and convert leads (and deliver increasingly relevant digital content) is by using marketing funnels, which are also known as sales funnels or conversion funnels

In short, you can think of these marketing funnels as a vehicle by which marketing teams are able to track and engage with their target audiences, drawing their audience closer and closer towards closing the deal.

This article will provide an overview of what a marketing funnel is amd break down the four main stages of the funnel.

Specifically, we’ll walk you through:

  1. Mentalism and marketing
  2. How are marketing funnels used? 
  3. The four stages of the marketing funnel.

So, let’s get started with explaining what a marketing funnel is.

Illustrated diagram of the four stages of funnel marketing.

1. Mentalism and marketing.

If you know anything about mentalism, you will likely appreciate the following analogy.

Marketing and “mentalism” share many of the same traits, and this is especially true of how marketing funnels are employed.

For example, consider the following: 

A mentalist or ‘psychic’ stands in front of an audience of people in Toronto, Canada. To open the show, they say something along the lines of, “I’m getting a feeling, a message.  Does the name “Mary” mean anything to anyone?” 

Now, inevitably, someone will say,  “yes,” someone will have an association with the name “Mary.” Know why? Because Mary is a common name in Toronto. 

Next, the mentalist will zero in on the person who spoke up and start asking vague questions like, “was Mary someone’s daughter? Did she like to watch movies? Was she fond of eating?”  (Okay, maybe the initial questions about Mary won’t be quite that vague, but they’ll be something along those lines!)

The questions the mentalist asks about Mary will begin to provide the mentalist with a clearer picture of who Mary was and what her relationship to a particular audience member is. And remember, the mentalist is asking questions (not making statements) about this  person named Mary. 

So, perhaps, the audience member says Mary did indeed love eating. And, perhaps, the mentalist asks if Mary was fond of dessert (and, odds are, she was).

As time goes on, the mentalist’s questions about Mary will become more and more specific, until, eventually, that person who’d initially raised their hand in the audience will be told something seemingly impossible to know about their great-aunt, Mary. And, because of that, the audience member will be convinced that the mentalist is “psychic.”

Wow.  How did this stranger know so much about Mary? 

They didn’t. The audience member told them. 

As we will see, marketing funnels often work in a very similar way; a marketing team makes a “shotgun statement” or shares similarly broad-striking content near the top of the funnel. Doing this enables them to gather information about their audience, grab their audience’s attention, and fish for directions to wherever their audience wants them to go next.

2. So, how are marketing funnels used?

Picture an actual funnel. A funnel is wide at the top and narrows in as you go down.

So, in the world of digital strategy, a marketing funnel is a means of visualizing, mapping out, and tracking your customers’ journey. 

This model enables digital marketing teams to gear their strategy and content towards their audience from the early stages of first getting their products noticed by the general public, all the way to the moment a particular customer is purchasing their product.

So, for example, one content strategy employed within the context of a marketing funnel is where you start wide with your content, then begin to zero in on your demographic as your strategy progresses, drawing them closer and closer to the desired action. 

An example:

Let’s say you’re an e-commerce site. In this case, you could release a series of SEO-heavy blog posts and broad-striking digital ads intended to appeal to a wide audience. This would get you noticed and help drive traffic to your website. 

Once on your website, your audience would then be greeted with more detailed information and prompts that are intended to generate interest in you and your product. Perhaps, your goal here is to pull them to a specific product page.

Once on the actual product page, your content would be much more specific, detailed, and intended to generate desire for your product — it’s goal is to push your audience to make the purchase. 

Then, once your audience has the product in their shopping cart, perhaps you have a pop-up appear if they try to leave the site without completing the purchase. Perhaps, this pop-up says something like, “having second-thoughts? Enjoy a worry-free purchase with our 60-day no-questions-asked FREE return policy” or “our gift to you: act now and get 25% off your order with discount code: SAVEME25.” 

And, of course, at every step of the funnel’s lifecycle, you’re tracking your audience — you’re paying attention to how they’re getting to your site, what they’re looking at, how long they’re staying, how many people are completing the purchase process, etc.

So, this is what your marketing funnel does: it enables you to visual, map out, execute, and monitor your digital marketing strategy from start to finish and in a way that focuses on your customer’s journey through the sales lifecycle.

3. The four stages of the marketing funnel.

So, a marketing funnel is a marketing strategy or approach that follows the shape of a funnel, starting wide and becoming more and more narrow and focused as the strategy progresses. 

The marketing funnel (again, also known as a “sales funnel” or “conversion funnel”) can be thought of as containing four primary stages: 

  1. Attention.
  2. Interest. 
  3. Desire.
  4. Action

Let’s consider each stage in more detail.


One reason to start wide at the top of the funnel is because, at the top of your strategy, you don’t necessarily know who your demographic is. Or, perhaps you have some idea, but you don’t quite know who will actually respond to you.Another could be because your product has a wide strike-zone — it appeals to people across demographics. 

However, even when you know who your target demographic is, you won’t usually want to jump straight to the “hard sell” — most of the time, you won’t want to look your audience in the face and say “buy this.” 

For you to successfully sell your product or service, you will need to show your audience that your product is worth it — you will need to demonstrate to them that your product has something they need or solves some problem they are facing. You will want to ease your audience into the sale.  

So, perhaps, you craft a digital ad with a brand appropriate “shotgun statement” to put out there. Perhaps, your ad features your logo and product and says something along the lines of “Tired of doing dishes?” or “Who likes to have a clean home?”

Guess what? 

Just about everyone dislikes doing dishes and likes having a clean home.

So, if you start with something vague like this, chances are you’ll catch someone’s eye and be able to lure them into the next step of the funnel. The purpose of this part of the funnel — where you catch your audience’s eye — is to get your audience’s attention.

For example, let’s say you own a brick-and-mortar accessory store. Perhaps, you have put a lot of money and effort into crafting visually engaging, branded signs and window displays to catch the eye of passersby. Well, at the attention stage, someone who’s walking by your store would take note of the signage and window display, slow down and take a lookand


Then, you’ll continue to move your strategy towards the tip of the funnel. 

And, as our funnel starts to thin out or come to a point, you will begin changing your copy.  You will gradually become more direct, more focused. 

After that initial “shotgun” pitch or otherwise catching your audience’s attention, you will start to see who’s interested — what types of people your product is appealing to. Because you’re monitoring interaction with your digital content, you’ll also be able to see which people aren’t becoming interested, where they’re losing interest, and so on. 

During this stage in the funnel, you’ll typically begin to do two things. 

First, you will start to zero in on a demographic — if you weren’t already super clear on who your niche is, you’ll start to figure that out. You’ll be able to see who’s engaging with your content or your product, how they’re engaging with the content, and so on.

Second, you’ll now have an opportunity to market your product directly to your niche.

No longer are you appealing to ‘everyone’ but, rather, to a type of person — to the people who are showing interest in your product. You are discovering and connecting with your demographic, and this means your marketing will need to appeal to them specifically.

This allows you to gauge and generate interest in your product; your audience will go from merely looking your way to actually taking a step closer, looking more closely at what you have to offer 

So, let’s stick with our previous example of a person walking down the street, taking note of your brick-and-mortar store, and apply that example to the interest generating stage of the funnel. We could say that, at the interest generating stage, you’ve succeeded in getting that person to stop in front of your shop, take a closer look inside, then open the door to step inside. Now, they’re interested in what you have to offer — they’re inside and taking a look around.


In this next stage of the funnel, your goal is to successfully create desire for your product. 

The content used at this stage of the funnel typically presents as though it has been specifically written for a niche demographic of people — the tone you use, the language you choose, the features and benefits you highlight will all be geared towards a particular group and will speak to them. 

So, for example, if you run an online children’s clothing store and if your top-of-the-funnel content was geared at parents more broadly, your content may now present as a campaign geared specifically towards stay-at-home parents or parents who are homeschooling their children. 

Using the information you’ve gained about your stay-at-home parent demographic (which you will have obtained earlier in your marketing strategy, via newsletter sign ups, social media clicks, and anything else that gives you a profile), you will be able to address that stay-at-home parent more effectively; you will be able to leverage their interests, goals, and pain points to craft content that resonates with them. 

Your goal is to be able to successfully leverage your knowledge of your demographic’s unique points to generate desire for your product. This desire that’s building will help ensure that, when you finally call your audience to action, they will be ready and willing to answer.

Sticking with our example of a shopper walking down the street and noticing your brick-and-mortar store, we could say the desire stage is where the shopper has actually entered your store and noticed a particular product they want. Your user friendly layout, upbeat, motivational music, and professional graphic materials have made the shopper feel welcome and allowed them to focus on your products; they’re able to navigate the store with ease and pick out just what they’re looking for, and, more importantly, you’ve made them feel like this is their kind of store — like they belong here

Now, that person feels that you have something they want, and they want to want it from you.  They’ve zeroed in on a product that’s perfect for them, and they pick it up. They put the product in their shopping basket.


Once you’ve successfully generated desire for your product, you will now be in a position to prompt your audience to take action. Here, all your patience, profiling, and the meticulous execution of your digital strategy will (hopefully) pay off.  

Remember: as the funnel thins, you have been becoming more and more direct with your audience. Everything you’ve been doing has been to drive your audience to this final “moment of truth.” 

This person, whose attention you’ve grabbed and held and built up, will be put in a position to make a choice — to purchase the product or not. 

If you’ve done your job well, you will be able to see this person through to the final step of action — they will make the purchase or commit to whatever other action you’ve prompted them to take. 

On the other hand, if you find that you’re losing too many leads earlier on in the funnel or are having a difficult time converting leads at the final stage, you will need to reassess your digital strategy (and/or your execution of the strategy). 

Your careful monitoring of your digital strategy should help enable you to identify where your funnel might be “leaking” — where are you losing people and why? Once you have a better understanding of what’s going on, you can work on improving your strategy and tightening the funnel. 

In our in-person shopper example, this might be the point in their journey where they’re walking around your shop with a product in their basket and take note of your perfectly-placed, brand-appropriate signs indicating “today only — BOGO 50%”  

This — this is final nudge they needed to feel good about their desire to purchase your product. The shopper now fully intends to buy your product, and they take it up to the cashier. 

At this point, your exceptional customer service allows the customer to experience a seamless, pleasurable purchase. Now, not only have they taken action, but they’ll want to take action again in the future. 

Now, you’ve successfully seen your customer through the marketing funnel, driving them to take the desired action.


So, we have seen that the marketing funnel is a customer-centric marketing model that focuses on visualizing, planning, executing, and monitoring the customer’s sales journey. 

The marketing funnel has four primary stages: attention, interest, desire, action. 

Utilizing this concept of a marketing funnel enables you to attract new leads, then gradually and effectively convert those leads into customers. It also allows you to carefully monitor and track those leads and the various ways in which your audience interacts with your content. This can then allow you to refine and improve your strategies over time.

For more information about marketing tips for small businesses and other resources and guides, please check out our blog here.

Or, for a free, no obligation quote for our digital strategy and digital marketing services for small businesses, you can get in touch with us here.

Steve Chambers

Steve Chambers

Steve is a copywriter and content developer with a passion for creating effective, engaging written content.

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