digital marketing

Understanding and Implementing the Digital Marketing Funnel

While marketing has existed for centuries, the way that marketers interact with customers has changed significantly in the last few decades. The advent of the internet and the rise of social media have led to major shifts in marketing strategy.

Digital marketing funnel vs. traditional marketing funnel

The idea of a marketing funnel has existed since 1898, but the concept has evolved over the years. The traditional marketing funnel worked well for a long time, but modern technology has affected it dramatically.

Traditional marketing funnel

The traditional marketing funnel revolved around awareness, interest and desire. Customers had to be aware that a kind of product existed and had to be interested in obtaining the product. They also needed desire to actually make the purchase.

Comparison shopping was a reality during this era of marketing, but it was primarily limited by geography. If customers went to a store to buy a product, they might compare the different options on the shelf, but they were unlikely to go beyond that store to find another option entirely.

Digital marketing funnel

The internet changed everything. Comparison shopping was no longer limited to a single store or geographic region; customers could access literally hundreds of competing products from dozens of different countries without leaving their homes. This gave rise to savvier customers who demanded more of the brands they interacted with.

Brands, in turn, evolved. They started engaging directly with customers, creating a dialogue that didn’t exist before. With so many options available, brands had to start competing for customer attention in new ways. This gave rise to the digital marketing funnel, a method that focused on brand engagement, education and embracing the non-linear way in which internet-based customers experienced the act of shopping.

Major differences

There are two major differences between the traditional marketing funnel and the digital marketing funnel. The first is that customers experience the funnel in a different way than they used to. Before the internet, customers tended to experience the marketing funnel in the same order. Now, customers can experience stages of the funnel out of order, or even skip phases entirely.

Consumers now demand a more customized experience, and the marketing funnel has adapted to that need.

The second major difference is an increased focus on the brand/customer relationship. Customers have become more aware of marketing and being “sold to,” so brands have to work harder to ensure that their interactions with customers are positive, authentic and valuable.

Related: How to Buy a Startup Business

Creating your own digital marketing funnel

When designing your own digital marketing plan, it’s important to understand the digital marketing funnel stages from the customer’s perspective. While customers can encounter stages of the digital marketing funnel in different orders and may even skip stages entirely, marketers should spend time understanding each stage and its role in the digital marketing sales funnel.

The stages below are listed in the most common order. Six of these stages (engagement, education, research, evaluation, justification and purchase) take place before and up to the point of sale. The last four stages (adoption, retention, expansion and advocacy) occur after the point of sale.

These stages are just as important as the pre-sale stages; a digital marketer’s job isn’t done once the customer has bought the product or service.


Before customers even encounter your product, they may have an opportunity to encounter your brand. This stage of the digital marketing funnel is concerned with ensuring that customers’ interactions with your brand are positive and that they’re open to future interactions.

Many brands use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to engage with potential customers. The nature of these sites allows brands to reach a large number of people and, while not all of those people will become customers, they can help generate positive buzz about your brand.


One of the purposes of content marketing is education: specifically, helping potential customers realize that they have a problem that you can solve for them. This stage doesn’t typically focus on specific products, but rather on identifying and explaining the problem and talking about different potential solutions. A construction manager, for example, might not even know that automation, drones and robotics could increase efficiency on a job site; the education stage is about identifying that pain point.


Once a customer is aware of a problem, the next step is typically looking not only for solutions, but for ways that solving the problem can benefit the customer. At this point, marketing still isn’t focused on selling a product, but rather on helping customers identify how they can benefit from solving the problem.

To continue the construction manager example, teaching the customer about the cost savings involved in using drones and robots or about the increase in job site safety can help that construction manager come to the conclusion that it’s a problem worth solving.


At this point, it’s time to present a specific solution to the problem: the product. Customers may be looking at multiple competing solutions to their problem, so your focus should be on showing customers why your product is their best solution. Introduce value propositions, explain the benefits of your product, compare its cost with your competitors, and help the customer become comfortable with your product as a good solution.


Not all potential customers become actual customers. In many cases, you’ll succeed at convincing a potential customer that your solution is the best one available, but you still won’t make the sale. The justification stage is about finding ways to overcome objections, obstacles or inertia. Perhaps the customer isn’t the one with the ability to make buying decisions. Maybe the customer is simply fine with the status quo, and solving the problem isn’t a high priority. Provide customers with reasons why it is a priority or with information they can use to convince those with buying power.


The purchase stage is all about the sale. Make sure customers are comfortable with the purchase, that you’ve answered all their questions, and that they’re confident in the value your product will provide for them.


Adoption — the first post-purchase stage of the digital marketing funnel — focuses on making good on your promises. During the purchase stage, you made customers comfortable that they were making a good decision. Now it’s time for you to deliver on that so the customer has a good experience with your product.


Satisfied customers become repeat customers. To retain customers, give them help when they need it, provide them with educational materials about how to get the most out of your product, and so on.


If you’ve been doing a good job up to this point, you can now start to expand the initial sale. This might mean selling customers additional products or services, upgrading their service, or getting them interested in a completely different product that solves a different problem. The key to reaching this stage is helping the customer see your brand as dependable and an authority on the products you sell and the problems you solve.


Extremely satisfied customers can help you expand your customer base further. They become brand advocates and do part of the work of selling your product to their peers, colleagues and friends. When customers become brand advocates, it’s incredibly important that they remain satisfied with and excited about your product. After all, they’re going to be out there talking about it one way or another; you should make sure they’re saying good things about your brand.

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