6 Stages in the Digital Marketing Funnel: Lead Nurturing For ROI

I ran into this colorful infographic depicting the digital marketing funnel the other day and thought I’d share it with you.

marketing analytics
Image courtesy of MarketingProfs

That said, I shared this more because it’s colorful than due to the uniqueness of the content. In fact, the content is very similar to the existing marketing funnel from this resource and many throughout the marketing literature. The article containing this infographic, however, is really GREAT stuff and a must-read for folks doing digital marketing as it describes using metrics involved at each stage of the funnel, as well as extending the funnel beyond initial purchase to encompass a firm’s ultimate goal of building relationships and repurchase intentions not simply stopping at the first sale. Identifying key metrics at each stage in the funnel means you can use Google Analytics to monitor movement down the funnel, offering insights toward improving performance and maximizing your ROI.

Personally, I feel my own infographic on the social media hierarchy of effects reflecting the social nature of digital marketing is a much better conceptualization of the digital marketing funnel — without the over-emphasis on the sales aspect of the funnel.

conversion funnel

Why we care about the digital marketing funnel

Regardless of which funnel you like best, the inevitable fact is that consumers don’t instantly buy your products the first time. Even products we think consumers buy instantly, commonly referred to as impulse buys, we know involve a process. Impulse buys simply involve a different process.

For this reason, a digital marketing company prioritizes mapping the customer’s journey from awareness to purchase. Insights drive campaign adjustments, enhancing competitiveness. The funnel aids strategic budget allocation, maximizing ROI through data-driven decisions. Post-conversion stages, like retention and advocacy, are crucial for long-term customer relationships, prompting strategies for loyalty and positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Consumer decision-making

So, let’s backtrack a little to give some background on the customer journey from awareness to purchase. We know the consumer decision-making process looks like this:

  1. Problem recognition — a consumer recognizes a gap between where they are (hungry, for instance) and where they want to be (full). Marketing, at its most basic level, recognizes consumers buy solutions, not products.
  2. Information search — which may involve memories formed when they viewed commercials, saw others using similar products, prior experiences, etc. We call these internal sources of information. External information search is more purposeful, seeking specific information on products that might solve the problem.
  3. Evaluation — which again might involve a purposeful analysis or a more emotional process involving attitudes toward the options.
  4. Purchase
  5. Evaluation — when the consumer evaluates the performance of their purchase (did it solve their problem) and the decision process, which informs how they approach future decisions. These 2 evaluations kinda work together.

How consumers move through the decision-making process

There’s no set pattern for how consumers move through the decision-making process that applies to every individual in every situation.

We do know that consumers are more purposeful when the decision is viewed as riskier either in terms of financial risk, social risk, or safety risk. We call this involvement, although other factors may come into play beyond risk. Consumers face decisions from an emotional standpoint when purchases are less risky.

In addition, factors might interfere with consumers as they move through the decision-making process. For instance, if a consumer doesn’t have enough money, they can’t implement their decision.

Customer journey

Below we see a dysfunctional customer journey, ending in no purchase.

dysfunctional customer journey
Managing the customer journey toward a successful end requires understanding how consumers with various characteristics approach decisions related to the type of products you sell. Your role is to create content that gently guides consumers toward a decision, overcoming objections and roadblocks that occur along the way.

To manage the customer journey, you must know where individual customers are as they move down the funnel. We often talk about this as lead nurturing in the B2B world where there are fewer customers and more interaction between buyers and sellers. But, in today’s highly digital world, brands do the same thing by monitoring customer movement. For instance, when you use Amazon to search for a particular product, Amazon might send an email offering alternatives or use exit intent to encourage you to purchase the viewed product before you leave their site. Once you make a purchase, Amazon then sends an email containing complementary products that work with your purchase. Upon returning to the Amazon site, you might be prompted to review your purchase.

Hence, the key to optimizing the customer journey and your ROI comes from a combination of analytics, identification (such as login, pixel, or cookies), and content designed for each stage in the digital marketing funnel

6 stages of the digital marketing funnel

Exposure/ awareness

All versions of the marketing funnel start with awareness since you can’t do anything until consumers become aware of your brand. Digital creates another channel for creating awareness and harnesses the power of word-of-mouth, a type of marketing that is much more effective than traditional advertising. Getting users to share your content gives your brand the patina of legitimacy and trust missing from advertising. Search also helps share your content. Hence, your exposure strategy consists of:

  1. SEO (search engine marketing) to get found in organic search (Visit outreach.solutions for different SEO techniques)
  2. Content marketing – to create content worthy of sharing
  3. Building a community – that shares as part of the tit for tat of the community

Add in a little traditional digital advertising through display, social media advertising, and PPC and you’ve got the beginnings of a great funnel. Serial entrepreneur Darshan Somsashekar, who runs Spider Solitaire Challenge, explains the importance of patience when driving awareness. “Brand recognition takes time. You have to constantly put your product out there across marketing channels. The more consumers see it, the more they’ll trust it in the future. For our Spider Solitaire game, it took us months or awareness efforts before we saw click-through and conversion rates go up.” I’ve heard a recommendation of 6 months or more before you can expect to see positive results from your efforts.

Obviously, analyzing your success across these tasks is important for your ultimate success and KPIs (key performance indicators) act as metrics to monitor your programs.

Discovery/ liking

Once prospects find your site, the trick is to keep them there and keep them coming back. Recommendation agents are particularly good at helping visitors discover suitable products after an initial visit. Amazon is probably the granddaddy of this with its simple recommendation agent that recommends other books and products related to those viewed by folks who bought the book or products you’re viewing. Netflix has a more sophisticated recommendation agent that finds movies based on your rating of movies you’ve already watched.

On your website, you should include links to other content you wrote related to the topic (that’s just good SEO practice), while many websites include recommendations for further reading at the end of their post (see the bottom of this post to see my recommendations for future reads). If you don’t include such links in your content, you should consider adding that as a feature on your next website redesign.

You can use the SEO Checker by Sitechecker tool to analyze your website’s internal linking structure.

Enticing visitors to sign up for your email newsletter provides additional opportunities to reach them once they’ve left your site.


Salesforce.com estimates that consumers are 75% of the way to making their decision to buy your brand BEFORE they ever visit your store or see a sales rep. Thus, crafting content and sharing that content across social platforms goes a long way toward helping to make a sale.

For instance, if you look at the dysfunctional customer journey above, you might craft content to address the common questions that arise along the process when buying a new dishwasher. When other users share your content, it builds trust because consumers trust other consumers more than the brand. To combat “fake reviews” instituting strict standards (for instance, Amazon highlights reviewers who made a verified purchase and removes reviews from anyone related to the brand or its retailers) and allowing users to “vote” on the helpfulness of reviews helps winnow out reviews that aren’t accurate.

Information is the best content for help at the consideration stage. Think about what information consumers need to make a decision. Is it size? Compatibility with existing products, such as the light bulbs you need for a particular lamp (some light bulbs will run you more than the fixture itself). How much does it cost to maintain the product? Include installation and use videos to help consumers understand what’s involved in owning your brands.

Because, as pointed out by Salesforce, the purchase decision is mostly made before visiting your website, you need your content to show on social, backlinks to your brand, and ads. The single most common piece of information consumers want when they visit your site is the price, so don’t hide that behind required personal information.


Make the sale. Take as many clicks out of the selling process as possible and only ask for information critical for completing the transaction. Remember, this is a close, so, once someone is ready to buy — consummate the deal. You can get more information if you’d like AFTER they’ve closed.

And, like any good salesperson, don’t leave without getting referrals. Ask that they share their purchase with their social networks to gain tacit endorsements among members of their social graph. For instance, Groupon offers to refund your purchase if you get 3 friends to buy it. That’s a great incentive to share.

Many factors interfere with a consumer’s desire to purchase your product. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do to help them overcome the problem, such as not having the money or credit to afford your brand (although, in the long run, you might develop less expensive versions to appeal to these buyers). In other cases, you can help. For instance, offering delivery options to meet consumers’ needs including picking up in the store (or curbside), a secure locker, your trunk (a surprisingly large number of buyers don’t have a secure location for dropoff), or even your garage (new openers allow you to share a code with delivery folks who can leave products inside your garage.

Customer relationship

I was involved in marketing in the old days when we didn’t talk about building a relationship with customers to keep them coming back. Now, relationships are seen as the goal of all transactions. But some customers don’t really want a relationship with you. This was brought to my attention in some work I was doing in graduate school — sometimes you just want your waiter to bring your food and leave you alone. You don’t want them to be your best friend and keep stopping by the table to ask if you need anything. Just fill my water glass and disappear.

Relationships rely on each party receiving value. If your customer isn’t getting value from an interaction, then it isn’t a relationship they want. So, while I might not want the invasiveness of the waiter interrupting my dinner conversation (or studying), I’ll really appreciate that they clear the table when I’m done and don’t bring my check until I’m ready to leave. Think about what you can do to provide value versus being an annoyance to your customers.


You obviously want to retain existing customers since it’s 5X more expensive to replace a customer who leaves your (digital) marketing funnel.  Again, provide value and customers will likely stay. Annoy them with constant irrelevant emails and spam their newsfeeds and they’ll leave.

And, customer retention isn’t just providing customer loyalty cards. That worked in the days before everyone and his brother wasn’t using them. In today’s world, everyone has a loyalty card so there’s less incentive to repurchase from you when they’re only losing 1 punch in their card.

Customer satisfaction is the key to retention. Build products that meet or exceed customer expectations, offer them at a reasonable price, and make them readily available and you’re most of the way toward retaining your customers. Think about little extras to exceed expectations (for instance, I got some stickers with my purchase of Bob’s shoes from Sketchers) and ensure you can meet your promises. Customers are ecstatic if you deliver early and unforgiving if you’re late, for instance, so give yourself a little cushion in estimating delivery.

Contingency plans help avoid failure. If something goes wrong (ie. an ice storm) have a contingency for how to deal with the problem to create the least negative impact on consumers. By planning ahead, you reduce the time it takes to find and implement a solution. Communicate your solution to customers never try to hide the problem as the outcome will be worse when your failure is ultimately discovered … and they always are.


Optimizing your digital marketing funnel means assessing your success in pouring more people into your funnel, driving more folks down the funnel, and making sure folks stay in your funnel. So monitor metrics related to your digital marketing funnel that highlight problems.

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