The Digital Marketing Funnel: An Inside Look At the “Customer Life Cycle”

Oct 19, 2018 -- Posted by : admin

Photo depicting the digital marketing funnel

When you think of the words, “online marketing,” what sort of things come to mind? Most people immediately focus on two different aspects: increasing traffic towards the company’s services and securing a sale. In really simplistic terms, that’s true. But like many things in life, there’s a lot more to dig your teeth into when you look below the surface. Understanding these nuances is what separates the marketing amateur from the pros.

There are a number of steps along the way that take the customer from their initial exposure to the company, to conversion, to retaining a positive relationship far into the future. This is what’s known as a digital marketing funnel. Let’s talk about the funnel and how you can use it to your advantage to understand your customers and keep your business moving in the right direction.

Breaking Down the Digital Marketing Funnel

We’re going to touch on each part of the funnel to give you all the information you need to better understand the conversion process. But let’s start by discussing the question that’s likely on your mind: “What is a marketing funnel?”

Picture a physical funnel. There’s a wide opening at the top that narrows down to a smaller opening, and this is a great way to look at online brand promotion as well. Think of your customer as a liquid moving through the funnel. At the top end, they don’t have any sort of direction or inclination to buy your product - in fact, they might not be even aware that it exists! The digital marketing funnel breaks down the various stages that the customer goes through, getting closer and closer to a potential sale.

The sale is the end point of the funnel, and you’ve secured that specific customer, but the work doesn’t end there! Catering to your existing customer base is a great way to build a continuous base of repeat buyers to round out those visitors that don’t make it all the way through to the end.

From the initial exposure to ongoing customer relations, we’ll touch on each part of the process to help you understand the psychology behind securing a sale. Keep in mind that the exact terms or steps might vary depending on who you ask, but the idea behind the funnel stays the same: breaking the customer’s thought process down in order to better understand their decisions.


How are customers going to buy your products if they don’t even know you exist? Exposure is the first of the marketing funnel stages, and refers to the initial process of raising awareness of the brand and getting those initial views. Having visitors to the website is just the first part of the process, but it’s a challenging task that many companies continue to struggle with.

From social media campaigns, to digital ads, to SEO and more, there are so many different ways to promote a company, and each business needs to approach it in a way that is personalized to suit their needs.

Essentially, this part of the advertising funnel is what most people think of when they talk about online marketing.

Photo showing discovery of the content funnel to help with conversion rate


Moving a little further down the funnel, we run into the Discovery stage. At this point, the potential customer has arrived at the site and is getting a sense of what the brand is about and what it has to offer.

It’s at this point that we first start to see factors like conversion rate optimization come into play. While they aren’t quite to the point of debating a purchase, they are trying to understand how the company will provide value. Optimizing a website to be informative and engaging will help keep the customer’s attention long enough to move into the next part of the content funnel.


At this point, the potential buyer has taken a look at what the company has to offer and is weighing the benefits and drawbacks of a decision. Is this product worth the buy? Does it provide enough value to justify the cost?

Outside of the initial Exposure step, this is probably one of the most crucial parts of the digital marketing funnel. Every customer that comes to your site has to make a decision, and it’s up to you to make that decision as appealing as possible.

Price competitively, offer superior customer service, and optimize site design in a way that paints your products in the best possible light. While you’ve piqued the customer’s interest by this point, this is also the step where you can lose a lot of buyers with suboptimal content.


You did it! If the consideration step has a positive outcome, you’ve made the sale.

One thing we want to mention, too, is that this sort of funnel doesn’t always have to apply to an exchange of money for products or services. You can apply the same logic to signing up for an email list, or even something as simple as getting a like on a facebook page. For any process that prompts the customer to interact with the business in a way that they might not have done on their own, these same principles apply.

Customer Relationship

Your customers have moved through the funnel and your efforts have led to a conversion, but you’re not out of the water yet! It’s important to keep a positive relationship with buyers in hopes that they’ll spread the word and perhaps even buy again. This is where a bit of public relations comes into play, as keeping the company engaged with its customer base and addressing criticisms quickly and effectively can improve the allure and clout of the brand as a whole.

Marketing funnel stages help to understand the customer life cycle


The last of the marketing funnel stages is Retention.

Driving new customers through the funnel is certainly important, but as your brand starts to grow it is equally important to retain your existing user base. This is done through a combination of the customer relationship tactics discussed above, as well as ongoing outreach such as email campaigns that offer existing customers an incentive to buy again.

While some parts of this funnel may have a larger impact on the conversion process than the others, they are all important to keep in mind if you want to optimize your online marketing. It probably doesn’t seem so scary now that we’ve broken it down into pieces, and chances are you were already handling a lot of these steps on your own. But having a solid understanding of the psychology behind making a sale will go a long way toward keeping you marketing like a pro.


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