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Creating marketing content without a marketing funnel or strategy is like setting sail without a course or a map. Your marketing funnel will work to inform your strategies behind the scenes so potential customers are guided down a path from brand awareness all the way to a purchasing decision. 

We’ll begin this guide with a deep dive into what marketing funnels are, how a funnel works, and cover some terms that aren’t to be confused with marketing funnels. Then, we’ll dive into nine simple steps you can take to create a marketing funnel today. 

Skip ahead here:

What are funnels in marketing?

A marketing funnel represents the buyer’s journey. In most cases, the funnel marketing system begins with awareness and ends with conversion. 

The marketing funnel is an excellent visual tool that marketing teams use to describe the journey because marketers expect to see anywhere from 20% to as much as 80% of people drop off at each stage. As people drop off, the pool of potential customers gets smaller and smaller, with only a tiny percentage of people from the awareness stage making it to the conversion stage. 

The amount of stages in a marketing funnel depends on your business’s strategy. One company may have only three stages, while another may have four or five. In our own breakdown on creating a marketing funnel, we’ll walk you through five. 

TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU: What they are

Because funnels can vary from company to company, you’ll also hear marketing terms like top-of-the-funnel (TOFU), middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU), and bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU). These terms refer to the general position of content or a customer in the overall funnel. 

TOFU content will always be about building awareness and BOFU content will always include conversion-driving content. But MOFU content is situated in between the two, and often shares blurred boundaries with its neighbors. 

For example, a blog post is often about building brand awareness, especially when it’s educational in nature. But a blog post that compares two competing software tools is designed to appeal to potential consumers past the awareness stage. Still, the blog post may be driving web traffic and building brand awareness, and consequently accomplishing the goals of both TOFU and MOFU content. 

In the breakdown of marketing funnel stages below, we’ve included five total stages because we believe it’s the most versatile approach. Most funnels will consist of at least three stages, with stages four and five being optional. 

  1. Awareness

The first stage, awareness, refers to brand awareness. Your goal at this stage is to make potential customers aware of your brand or a specific product or service. People in this stage are at the top of your marketing funnel.

In many cases, potential customers in the awareness stage have a problem, but they may or may not know what the solution to the problem is. 

For example, Customer Success Manager Alexa notices an unusually high number of support tickets at her company. She may not realize that it’s related to onboarding. While searching for solutions online, she found your blog post about leveraging customer education to decrease demand for support teams, which made her aware of your brand.  

It’s also possible that potential customers become aware of your brand when they’re not experiencing a problem your business solves. 

For example, a customer may discover your cooler company soon after purchasing a brand new cooler. After following you on Instagram, they’ve entered the awareness stage even if they don’t currently need a new cooler. 

Naturally, the awareness stage typically includes social media, digital advertising, and content marketing efforts. Search engine optimization (SEO) also plays an essential role in this stage, as it’s a strategy that can be employed on YouTube, Google, and even Instagram to help you get your content in front of more people. 

  1. Consideration

Potential customers in the consideration stage of your marketing funnel have moved on from awareness and are now actively pursuing a solution to a problem, placing them in the middle of the funnel.

To continue with our earlier example, Alexa, the Customer Success Manager, now recognizes that her company’s lack of customer education is directly contributing to increased support tickets. She’s Googling things like “Teachable vs. Thinkific” and “Kajabi Alternatives” to compare education platforms she’s aware of and interested in. 

The consideration stage typically includes content that’s designed to drive potential customers closer to a purchasing decision. This often includes ebooks, research reports, webinars, demos, how-to guides, templates, and white papers. It could also include landing pages or blog posts, like in our example above. 

  1. Conversion

In the conversion stage of a marketing funnel, prospective customers make a purchasing decision. 

At this point in the buyer’s journey, the prospect is familiar with your brand and your offerings and is looking for information to help them make a final decision. These potential customers are also considered to be at the bottom of the funnel. 

Marketing assets in this stage will often include product demos, free trials, pricing or pricing plan breakdowns, case studies, and social proof. For many of these assets, the goal is to cement the potential customer’s understanding of your product or service and its value to them. 

For example, Alex, the Customer Service Manager, would likely take interest in our case study on how Later used Thinkific Plus to increase customer retention. Why? Because it explains, in great detail, how a company similar to hers purchased, engaged with, and successfully implemented an online learning platform for customer education—the exact application she’s on the market for— solving the problem she’s facing. 

Customers at this stage aren’t looking for general information on what your offering can help them do; they’re looking for specific, applicable information that resonates with their own unique problem. So, it’s essential that your marketing content is specific to your ideal user persona or buyer persona. 

  1. Loyalty

Some marketing funnels end with stage three. And while that may make sense in some contexts, we recognize that the customer’s journey doesn’t actually end with a purchase—it goes far beyond that. 

Take Alex’s fictional scenario. Her customers entered her business’ marketing funnel and made it through the third stage, the purchasing decision. It was only after the purchasing decision that customers began to drop off, leaving the company and product for alternative solutions. In this scenario, the customers were not loyal.

Customer loyalty refers to an ongoing, positive relationship between a business and its customers. Because it’s cheaper to retain customers than it is to attract new ones, the loyalty stage of your marketing funnel may be the stage with the highest return on investment. 

Things you can do to support customer loyalty include:

  • Providing excellent customer service
  • Asking for customer input and acting on the insights
  • Actively seeking to understand your customer’s needs
  • Offering comprehensive customer education

Typically, this stage falls under the umbrella of “Customer Success” and is often handled by Customer Success managers, like Alex from our example. However, customer success can also be achieved through social media strategy, content marketing, customer support teams, and more, so it’s important to develop a comprehensive customer success strategy

  1. Advocacy

The fifth and final stage in our marketing funnel is advocacy. Customers at this stage go beyond your average loyalty; they’re your brand’s biggest fans. When asked if they would recommend you to their friends and family, they answer with a resounding yes—and then they do it. 

Compounding on your investment in customer success, advocates of your brand bring others into your marketing funnel all on their own, by word of mouth. 

You can, and should, support customers at this stage by offering referral and affiliate programs. These aim to incentivize customers to broaden your brand awareness by sharing their experience with friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, or anyone they think will benefit from what you have to offer. 

Marketing funnels vs. AIDA funnels: What’s the difference?

In the world of marketing funnels, AIDA funnels have earned their spot in the marketing hall of fame. Developed by Elias Lewis in 1898, AIDA funnels are often used interchangeably with marketing funnels, but the two have some important differences. 

First, let’s start with why they get mixed up.

Both AIDA funnels and marketing funnels guide potential customers through awareness, consideration, and purchasing stages

The AIDA acronym stands for:

  • Attention – Potential customers become aware of your brand and product or service
  • Interested – Aware of who you are and what you offer, potential customers take interest in how your offering can serve them
  • Desire – At this stage, potential customers are familiar with you and your offering, and are beginning to envision what their life would look like after a purchase
  • Action – The potential customer makes a purchasing decision

AIDA funnels are linear structures that only have four stages. In contrast, marketing funnels can be more complex. In fact, the 5-stage marketing funnel above is an example of a funnel that goes further than the AIDA model. 

The AIDA model will never include loyalty or advocacy because of its 4-stage limitation. This means marketing funnels can give marketers more flexibility, as they can add and remove stages to describe their customer journey more accurately, even going as far as creating a cyclical funnel.

Comparing marketing to sales funnels

Sales and marketing funnels, similar to AIDA funnels, are also often used interchangeably.

Traditionally, marketing funnels are geared toward raising customer awareness and nurturing initial consideration. In contrast, sales funnels come into play when an individual becomes a lead, steering them toward a purchasing decision. This distinction becomes more apparent with physical products. 

For example, an automotive brand might use digital advertising and PR for brand and product awareness (stage one), but the dealership’s sales associate personally navigates leads through the purchase process (stages two and three). In this scenario, there’s a pretty clear divide between sales and marketing.

Conversely, for an online business, such as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company, a marketer might be able to guide a potential customer from the awareness stage to making a purchase, potentially bypassing the need for direct contact with a sales representative. In this scenario, both funnels were functionally the same.

Regardless of the scenario, marketers and sales professionals play crucial roles in both funnels, which often overlap and blend together. The delineation between the end of a marketing funnel and the beginning of a sales funnel isn’t universal but specific to each business’s strategy and operation. Ultimately, understanding if, where, and why to draw the distinguishing line is important, but it is a unique decision only you can make. 

Create a marketing funnel in 9 steps

Now, with a solid understanding of how a funnel works, let’s dive into the practical steps of creating your own marketing funnel, beginning with understanding your target audience. 

  1. Identify and understand your target audience

The first step in creating a marketing funnel is twofold. 

First, you must identify your target audience by pinpointing the group most likely to purchase your product or service. These are the people most likely to benefit from what you have to offer. 

Once you’ve identified a target audience, you need to understand everything about them. Begin by gathering demographic data like income, age, gender, job title, and geographic location. Then, dig even deeper, looking to understand psychographics too. This includes things like values, business objectives, and unique pain points. 

Armed with details, you’ll be equipped to tailor your marketing efforts for your target audience, increasing your marketing funnel’s chances of success. 

  1. Map out the customer journey

Next, you need to map out the customer journey, ensuring alignment with your marketing funnel. 

Your customer journey map details all of the touchpoints potential customers have with your business from the start of the funnel to the end of the funnel marketing system. This means it’ll include interactions with your social channels, website, and customer support team. 

This involves identifying the various stages of your marketing funnel and mapping customer interactions and experiences onto each stage. For example, in the awareness stage, potential customers might first encounter your brand through social media or a blog post, while in the consideration stage, they might explore your website or engage with your email campaigns.

Understanding how the customer journey intersects with each stage of the marketing funnel is crucial for optimizing the customer experience and guiding them toward conversion 

  1. Set objectives for your marketing funnel

After you’ve outlined your customer journey map and funnel marketing system, set clear objectives for each funnel stage. We recommend creating SMART objectives. SMART stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 

An example of a SMART goal at the top of the funnel is to “boost blog traffic by 5% in 2024%.” An example for the middle to bottom of the funnel would be “Increase ebook downloads by 10%.” 

Setting SMART goals like these will allow you to measure each stage’s progress and overall success. Should the funnel’s performance not meet expectations, you’ll know exactly where to direct your improvement efforts (more on that later). 

  1. Identify the best channels for engagement

Step four in creating a marketing funnel is the first step that significantly pulls on the work you’ve completed so far. 

Here, you’ll need to combine insights from your target audience research (step one)  with the stages in your funnel (step two)  and your SMART goals (step three) to identify the best channels for engagement. The goal is to align your presence with your audience’s preference. 

For example, if your audience is GenZ college students (step one) and your objective is to increase awareness on social platforms by 10% this year (steps two and three), a social strategy that prioritizes TikTok and Instagram will serve your strategy better than focusing on Facebook and Pinterest.

Other channels for engagement include platforms like Reddit, YouTube, and X, podcasting, television, and even print media. 

  1. Develop a content and optimization strategy

Once you’ve identified channels for engagement, it’s time to create content for the top and middle-of-the-funnel. 

Just like step four relied on steps one, two and three, this step relies on steps one through four. Your content should be tailored to your target audience’s overall pain points, funnel stage, engagement channel, and your goals. 

For example, potential customers in the awareness stage will benefit most from educational content. If you know your audience is searching for information on Google and your goal is to drive more web traffic, an SEO blog post about a frequently asked question in your industry would be a great way to drive traffic to your site and generate more brand awareness. 

The key is to not only optimize your content for your potential customer’s precise funnel stage and pain point, but to also optimize it for the search engine responsible for distributing your content. Google is the most common search engine for web traffic, but social platforms are also search engines with their own unique algorithms. 

  1. Implement lead capture and nurture tactics

As you create content and move toward the middle and bottom of your funnel, you’ll need to begin offering different kinds of content. 

Remember, customers who have made it to the bottom half of your funnel are in the consideration and conversion stages—they’re looking to understand your product or service more deeply. 

Content that helps customers understand you more deeply includes webinars, ebooks, and live demos. However, it’s crucial to recognize that producing this type of content comes with higher costs compared to TOFU content. While businesses typically don’t charge for this high-value content, they usually require some form of exchange, commonly in the form of information.

That’s where lead magnets come in. 

Lead magnets serve as powerful tools to attract and capture leads effectively. These marketing assets are typically more extensive and valuable than TOFU content, prompting companies to request contact information like emails and phone numbers in exchange for access to your high-value content. 

For example, Thinkific creator George Pitts includes the link to his lead magnet in his Instagram bio. This lead magnet could be a resource guide, a workshop, or a webinar. This helps him to build his email list, share his teaching style with his students, provide value, and then, eventually, make a course sale. You can use lead magnets in a similar way – to get people’s emails that are interested in your business and nurture them to a sale. 

Read more: 6 Step Lead Magnet Funnel to Capture and Convert Prospects

Additional information, like job title, income, etc., can help businesses qualify leads as well. 

Once you’ve gathered your leads, it’s time to do one of two things: move them forward or nurture them. 

A lead nurturing campaign is simple: your goal is to stay at the top of their minds, whether that’s with pop-up ads, a custom email campaign, or some other method. Eventually, they’ll need your offering, and you want to be the first person they think of when they’re ready to buy. 

  1. Drive your audience toward conversion

Leads at the cusp of conversion require a more direct approach than their nurtured counterparts. 

Think of lead nurturing as a holding pattern, keeping people interested without letting them drift away. But for those ready to take the next step, it’s about pushing them forward, not allowing them to idle or pull back. 

Here’s how to drive people toward conversion: 

  1. Utilize social proof. Potential customers in the conversion stage will respond positively to customer reviews and relevant case studies because these assets resonate with their own needs and experiences. 
  2. Place offers strategically. As your audience nears a purchasing decision, they’re more receptive to discounts, bundles, and limited-time offers, especially when these offers create a sense of urgency. 
  3. Leverage persuasive calls to action (CTAs). Your CTAs should be clear, compelling, and convey value. ​​For example, “Launch your first course and start earning for free” feels more actionable than “Get started now.”
  1. Measure, analyze, and optimize

While the effectiveness of your marketing funnel can endure for quite a while, it’s not truly “evergreen.” Marketing funnels need continuous monitoring and analysis. 

You can measure your funnel’s performance using tools like Google Analytics and Hubspot to track web traffic, downloads, and other metrics. 

If the product you’re offering is housed on a Software-as-a-Service, you may be able to track some metrics directly on the platform. For example, Thinkific Funnels allows Thinkific creators to generate and track leads by offering free digital products or portions of a paid product for free. 

The metrics you need to track vary based on the funnel stage and your objectives. To help you get started, we’ve compiled a list of the most common metrics people track based on the stage (TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU).


In the top of the funnel, you want to gain insight into customer behavior. For example, where are the customers engaging with your content, and how? 

Helpful TOFU metrics to track include: 

  • Website traffic – The unique number of visitors will tell you how many new visitors you have looking at your site.
  • Traffic source – This tells you where and how visitors find your site. Types of traffic include organic (the result of SEO strategy), paid, social, and referral (the result of backlinks) traffic.
  • Brand mentions and PR coverage – While not technically a metric, these things can reveal how others feel about your brand. 
  • Social media engagement – This includes impressions, likes, shares, comments, and followers and indicates how successful your social strategy is. 

The general goal for these metrics is to see an increase month over month or year over year. 


The metrics you gather in this portion of the funnel help you understand how valuable your content is to potential customers. 

Helpful MOFU metrics to track include: 

  • Lead conversion rate – This rate measures how effectively you convert visitors to leads. 
  • Time on Page & Site – The time visitors spend on a specific page or your site (if they visit multiple pages) can indicate the value of your content.  
  • Bounce rate & pages per session – These also provide insight into the value and quality of your content. High bounce rates and low pages per session indicate visitors aren’t satisfied with what they’re finding on your site. 
  • Cost per lead – This indicates how cost-effective or expensive your lead generation efforts are. While the cost per lead isn’t necessarily indicative of a “good” or “bad” funnel, lower numbers are better here.
  • Email opens and click-throughs – These indicate how effective and persuasive your copywriting is in email campaigns. Well-written headlines and emails will generate more opens and click-throughs, driving traffic to your website. 
  • Landing page clicks and scrolls  – A high number of clicks and scrolls suggest visitors are interested in your landing page content. 

 If what you measure here is lower than your goal, it could indicate that the quality of your content isn’t up to par, that you’re targeting the wrong audience, or that you aren’t delivering enough value at this stage in your funnel.


Because BOFU metrics are so closely related to purchasing behavior, they’re easily linked to generated revenue. As a result, these metrics help you gauge the effectiveness of conversion efforts and provide direct insight into your strategy’s economics. 

Helpful BOFU metrics to track include:

  • Conversion rate – Also referred to as lead-to-customer conversion rate, this indicates how effective your funnel is at converting leads into customers. 
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV) – CLV refers to the amount of revenue you can expect from a single customer for the duration of their relationship with your brand. 
  • Sales cycle length – The length of your sales cycle indicates how effective your sales funnel (the BOFU stages of the marketing funnel in this context) is. 
  • Return on ad spend (ROAS) – Ad spend at the top of your funnel is typically done for awareness. And because it’s not tied to a purchasing decision, ROI is harder to measure. But at the bottom of the marketing funnel, ad spend can be linked to purchasing behavior. A high ROAS suggests your ads are effectively driving conversions. 

Poor BOFU metrics include a low conversion rate, high CAC, low CLV, a long sales cycle length, and low ROAS. If you’re experiencing any one of these, it suggests your conversion process is inefficient or that you’re spending too much to acquire a customer compared to how much you’ll earn from that relationship.


Like a bounce rate for your website, post-purchase metrics help you gauge customers’ satisfaction with your product or service. 

Helpful BOFU metrics to track include: 

  • Customer retention rate – This metric measures how many customers your business retains for a specific period, measuring satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Net promoter score (NPS) – This score measures satisfaction and loyalty by asking how likely customers are to recommend your offering to family, friends, or coworkers. 
  • Churn rate – Customer churn refers to the number of customers who stop using your product or service within a specified time period.
  • Upsell/Cross-Sell rate – This refers to your ability to sell additional products or services to existing customers. 

Post-purchase metrics relate to the loyalty and advocacy stages of the marketing funnel, which aren’t included in every marketing funnel. So, let’s look at how you can incorporate them into your marketing funnel.

  1. Engage customers post-purchase

Keeping current customers is almost always cheaper than finding new ones. Similarly, satisfied and loyal customers can become brand advocates, recommending you to friends, family, and coworkers. This kind of advocacy is also known as word-of-mouth marketing and is highly sought after for its high ROI. 

In essence, customers you’ve already spent money nudge their friends and family along the funnel on your behalf, often for free. However, while word-of-mouth marketing can be free, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in your customer post-purchase. Here are some ways you can ensure customers are satisfied with your product or service:

  • Customer onboarding —This process is all about ensuring new customers are fully equipped with the knowledge to use your product or service to its full potential. Customer onboarding can reduce customer support demand while increasing retention.
  • Relevant product recommendations – Upselling and cross-selling, when relevant, can bring even more value to your customers. 
  • Engaging content – Current customers still want content, so be sure to include them in your content strategy. For the best results, we recommend creating content specifically for existing customers. 
  • Community building – Facilitate an online community for your customers to share inspiration, problem-solve, and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. 
  • Customer surveys – Gather insights from existing customers, and use that information to improve their experience and the experience for potential/incoming customers too.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to create a marketing funnel isn’t a one-time process; it’s a cyclical journey of growth and refinement. As you gather insights from existing customers, former customers, and potential customers, work to improve your marketing funnel at every stage. And remember, optimizing your funnel isn’t just about driving better metrics, it’s about creating a better experience for the people who engage with your offerings. Each improvement gets you closer and closer to serving your own community more effectively. 

Ready to create your own marketing funnel? Try Thinkific for free today and leverage Thinkific Funnels to begin driving students through your own marketing funnel.