Understanding the Marketing Funnel: 5 Strategies to Improve Your Email Marketing

See how the marketing funnel and 5 email marketing strategies can help you transform prospects into loyal customers who refer you to their friends.

You could spend hours designing and writing a compelling email series that explains the amazing benefits of your product. But if you send your email series to subscribers that aren’t ready to buy your product yet, you’re wasting your time.

You need a start-to-finish plan for connecting with your subscribers.

Thankfully, there’s a tool that can help you do exactly that. It’s called the marketing funnel.

(Want to put your marketing funnel into action? Sign up for your free 30-day trial of AWeber. We have industry-leading deliverability, so that your messages end up in the inbox, and not the spam folder.)

What is the Marketing Funnel?

The marketing funnel is a tool that helps you visualize the buyer journey, or the path a prospect takes as they become familiar with your company, from introduction to conversion (and hopefully beyond).

Your marketing funnel should include the following 5 stages: awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy.

The Old-School Marketing Funnel

You might have seen the old-school cone-shaped marketing funnel. That marketing funnel version required you to continually fill the top of the funnel with as many people as possible since the bottom of funnel only filtered out a small percentage of customers.

marketing funnel

But it’s time to throw that old-school marketing funnel out the window.

The reason: With the cone-shaped funnel method, your marketing efforts end at the point of purchase. After a person becomes a paying customer, your job is done. You focus solely on acquisition and finding more pre-customers.

But that’s not a strategy for growth.

Instead, we recommend you follow a marketing funnel that looks more like a bow tie that’s wide on the left, narrow in the middle, and wide on the right.

marketing funnel

The New Marketing Funnel

Your relationship with your customer shouldn’t end at the bottom of the cone-shaped marketing funnel. Instead, you should open up the funnel after a person purchases and focus on customer retention. What is the journey like after a person buys from you?

bow tie marketing funnel

This is your opportunity to create a deeper relationship between you and your customer. You want to get as much feedback as possible from them. The more intel you get, the more you can apply it across your entire bow tie funnel. Think of feedback as funnel fuel!

Plus, there’s an extraordinary upside to emphasizing customer retention in your marketing funnel: more money in your pocket.

According to the Harvard Business Review, profits rise as a customer’s relationship with a company lengthens. They’re more likely to keep buying from you.

Plus, long-time customers act as free advertising for your product or service. Loyal fans do a lot of talking, which can drum up new business again and again over the years. They’re constantly referring people to you.  

In fact, more than 80 percent of people look for recommendations before purchasing a product, according to research by Business 2 Community. And Nielsen reports that 84% of people trust the recommendations of friends and family over marketing campaigns. That makes personal referrals the highest ranked source for trustworthiness when it comes to making a purchase.  

That’s why advancing your subscribers to the advocacy stage of the funnel is so important: It’s where your monetization efforts really begin to scale.

The best part: Email automation makes it easier than ever before to move people through your funnel toward advocacy.

Automation features allow you to give each subscriber the content, information, or products they need when they need it most. It personalizes their experience at all areas of the funnel. And once it’s set up, you never have to lift a finger! You’ve effectively set up an engine that generates passive income to fuel your passion.

5 Email Marketing Strategies to Take Your Subscribers from Awareness to Advocacy

Now that you understand what the marketing funnel is, I’ll describe the stages of the marketing funnel and give you email marketing strategies for each stage.

1. Awareness

Goal: To show the value of your product or service, provide educational content and build a relationship with your subscriber.
Do: Educate, be helpful.
Don’t: Sell, give specific details of your products/services too much, try to get your subscribers to purchase.

At the top of your marketing funnel is awareness.  During this stage, prospects that are strangers to your brand and company learn who you are. Focus on establishing yourself as a thought leader within your industry. This is your opportunity to start building a trust relationship with your prospects.

Since prospects in this stage of the funnel don’t know the value of your product yet, they won’t be engaged by product specific content or sales materials. Instead, you should demonstrate the value of your product through free educational content.

Not sure what free content to send in your emails? Let’s say you’re a personal trainer who’s trying to acquire more customers with email. Here are some ideas for content you could include in an automated email series to your subscribers:

  • Blog posts about nutrition or fitness
  • A food tracking calendar worksheet
  • An ebook that explains the health benefits of being fit
  • A live 30-minute workout webinar

(Here are 22 Brilliant Lead Magnets That’ll Inspire You to Grow Your Email List Right Now.)

Fitness guru Betty Rocker builds a relationship with her subscribers, shows her expertise and demonstrates the value of her services by giving her subscribers a free 30-day exercise program.

For 30 days straight, subscribers receive a motivational email with a video workout and a written description of the workout. Talk about providing free, valuable content.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 11.35.46 PM

2. Consideration

Goal: To build a deeper relationship with your subscriber, introduce them to your product/service and nurture them with contextual or targeted content.
Do: Provide educational content tailored to your subscriber, deliver content that is product specific, be helpful.
Don’t: Be too salesy, send content that isn’t applicable to your subscriber.

Once a subscriber graduates from the awareness stage of the marketing funnel, they enter the consideration stage. In the consideration stage, a subscriber is willing to consider your company and products. They are interested in learning more about you.

Related: Not sure if your email open rates are good? Download AWeber’s Email Marketing Statistics Report to learn average open rates and more.

Since you know more about your subscriber in this stage than you did during the awareness stage, you can send them more targeted content that addresses their specific pain points. By doing this, you’re demonstrating that you provide the solution to your subscriber’s problems.

Want to know what kind of content to send your subscribers during the consideration stage? Let’s imagine that you are an online fitness instructor trying to get more leads to consider purchasing your 90-day workout program. Here are a few examples of content you could include in your emails:

  • A case study showing how fit a customer is after using your program
  • A live yoga webinar
  • A blog post called “How to Get Muscular Arms in 60 Days or Less”
  • A 15-day core workout email course

In this email, Nerd Fitness includes a case study from a customer who saw amazing fitness results by completing the Nerd Fitness Academy. The case study is appropriate during the consideration stage, because it relates to subscribers’ interests (fitness) and introduces subscribers to the product (Nerd Fitness Academy) while showing the value of that product.

email marketing funnel

3. Conversion

Goal: To convince your subscriber to purchase.
Do: Talk about the benefits of your product/service, show off your product/service, offer discounts and promotions to convince subscribers to purchase, create a sense of urgency to compel subscribers to purchase right away.
Don’t: Overwhelm subscribers with sales assets and sales calls.

It has finally arrived: decision time. Once your subscriber knows the value of your product and you have educated them on the product itself through the use of case studies, webinars, blog posts and other educational content, they are ready to decide whether or not to purchase.

At this point in your marketing funnel, you can start talking about why your product and service is better than your competitors’ and why it’s perfect for your prospect. Focus on the benefits of your product/service rather than just explaining features.

Here are a few tactics you can use to convince your subscribers to purchase:

  • Invite subscribers to a sales webinar where you show them your product/service and tell them the benefits.
  • Create an automated email series with emails that each describe a different benefit of your product/service.
  • Offer a free trial or give away samples so that prospects can see the benefits for themselves.
  • Send subscribers a one-time broadcast email that offers a sale or discount for purchasing within a certain timeframe.

(Join our FREE What to Write course and learn how to write the perfect emails for your funnel.)

By offering discounts and deals via email, Out of Print creates a sense of urgency for their subscribers. If subscribers are interested in purchasing but hadn’t made the final step yet, this email convinces them that now is the perfect time to take action.

marketing funnel for email

4. Loyalty

Goal: To retain your customers and instill loyalty by delighting subscribers with helpful content and awesome service.
Do: Give helpful information, send educational content relevant to your customers.
Don’t: Stop interacting with your customers or adding value.

Once a prospect becomes a customer, you may be tempted to pat yourself on the back and move on to the next prospect. However, forgetting about your customers is a bad idea.

Unless you have a plan for developing customer loyalty, you’ll probably lose many of your customers, wasting a lot of your prior marketing efforts during the earlier stages of your funnel.

Repeat customers and longtime customers are too valuable to ignore. So what kind of email content increases loyalty and retention?

Let’s say you have an online coffee store. You sell subscriptions to your coffee-of-the-month club, and you don’t want your coffee-of-the-month members to lose interest and cancel their subscription. Here are a few ideas for valuable content you could include in your emails to increase retention:

  • A monthly 15-minute webinar that describes the coffee-of-the-month and gives coffee brewing best practices.
  • A survey that asks customers how happy they are with the coffees they are receiving and what other kinds of coffee they’d like to get.
  • An ebook about the history of coffee.
  • A 20 percent discount to customers that purchase a yearly subscription of your coffee-of-the-month club.

To retain their customers and encourage loyalty, Canva sends educational emails to teach their customers how to use Canva.

welcome email

 5. Advocacy

Goal: To turn your customers into fans who talk about your company and refer you to their friends.
Do: Connect with your loyal customers, keep delighting your customers with awesome content and service, collect feedback.
Don’t: Forget about your customers.

Advocacy happens when your customers become something more than customers: they become fans. Not only have they purchased from you before, but they’ve probably purchased again or continue to pay for your services. And now they love you. They tell their friends about you and brag about you on social media.

Bringing subscribers to this stage of the marketing funnel is extremely valuable. Why? Because the most effective marketing is referral marketing. When your friend tells you a certain product is awesome, you are much more likely to purchase that product because you trust your friend.

What are some ways to use email to turn your customers into raving fans?

  • Identify customers that love you and send them an email asking them to refer you to their friends.
  • Include a survey in an email to learn how you could improve your product/service.
  • Start an affiliate or loyalty program where customers get incentives for referring you.

You also want to collect feedback during this stage. Feedback = Funnel Fuel! The more you listen to your customers, the more you learn. You can constantly improve your content so it’s in line with their challenges, needs, and wants.

There are many ways to collect intel. You can create surveys to follow up with paying customers. Two tools we like: SurveyMonkey and SurveyGizmoInside AWeber’s platform, you can find survey templates, too. All you have to do is add your own content into the templates and send it to your customers.

Or, you can take it a step further and email or call your first 25 to 100 customers. Ask them for honest criticism. They can provide views of your product or service that’s unavailable to you on the inside. 

You should also heavily interact with your advocates. Share their posts on social media. Reply personally to their messages and emails. Respond to them with words of appreciation. Offer incentives for writing reviews, providing testimonials, or making personal referrals. 

To make their subscribers feel special, Godiva offers discounts to their exclusive rewards members.

The value of Godiva’s email below is twofold. First, Godiva delights their valued customers with special deals. Second, by offering a one-day deal, they create a sense of urgency that compels their subscribers to purchase right away.

discount email

What Now?

Develop your email strategy with the marketing funnel in mind. Doing so, you’ll convert more prospects into customers and more customers into fans, which means more money for your business. Yay!

Start implementing these email marketing tips today with AWeber Free — our 100% free pricing option.


  1. Ravi

    2/22/2016 11:52 pm

    your post is very informatic, it is very useful for me thanking you..

  2. Veysel Turhan

    2/23/2016 7:40 am

    introductory article due to be updated.
    You have stated very well.
    The tutorial you wrote.
    Thank you.

  3. aditarani

    2/24/2016 12:54 am

    Hello guys,I read your article this is good. Your post is very informatic, it is very useful for me thanking you.

  4. ozgur dag

    2/25/2016 6:44 am

    Learn to very difficult.
    Thank you for that information.
    We wish you continued efficient post.

  5. ed

    2/25/2016 8:25 pm

    Thank you for this awesome content! I will definitely implement this in my email marketing.

  6. Lise from Maine

    2/26/2016 5:57 am

    I just watched a video regarding tips to add to the Eweber page. There was too much information that I prefer to read it, too, in order to retain the material. I keep debating in my head as to whether I want to subscribe. My second book is coming out soon. I am afraid that I may get in over my head with adding this and adding that and so forth. Thank you!

  7. Stephen P. Means

    2/26/2016 9:23 am

    Yesterday I was in the Northridge Mall while my tires were being rotated at Firestone outside. When I walked in there a man was promoting Occulus, the 3D experience. . . for $5 a journey. I didn’t have any bucks so I declined. I was wondering why he didn’t use the email model of a free gift to get a subscriber; I mean a free trip using the mind altering adventure. Then I got to thinking about video and 3D in email, and it dawned on me the cycle of a company’s promotion is a like a trip into virtual reality–at least it could be a mind-altering experience for the recipient, especially for someone who’s tired of getting ads, ads, ads.

  8. Dana Wilsin

    2/26/2016 11:59 am

    Best explanation of a marketing funnel I’ve ever heard. Now I need to redo my autoresponder emails! Thank you!

  9. Dana

    2/26/2016 2:58 pm

    That was an interesting article. I was looking on your page of scheduled webinars, and what about offering a webinar on segmenting your list? It seems that to use the marketing funnel idea you need to segment subscribers, so you’re not sending new subscribers something that should go to your “Advocates”. I’d love to see a webinar that really goes over how to use the funnel & segmenting together. Thanks.

  10. Liz Willits

    3/1/2016 5:31 pm

    Hi Dana,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the blog post and thanks for your feedback! I think having a webinar on segmenting email lists is a great idea. I will talk to our team about adding that to our webinar schedule.

  11. kabita

    3/9/2016 3:36 am

    grate post very informatic thanking you, and try to improve the conversation level…


    3/12/2016 8:26 am

    Ya tengo los utiles para hacer mi primera campaña, dos mensajes con mi informacion y las gracias, que voy a montar esta tarde, para que me deis el visto bueno para la campaña de un mes 50 personas, y ver que resultados da

  13. Liz Willits

    2/28/2018 11:10 am

    We just updated this post to include the NEW marketing funnel! Check out the updated marketing funnel graphic and new content to learn our latest funnel strategies.