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How To Win Lifelong Customers With These 7 Marketing Funnel Tips

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. We’re taking a deep dive into a marketing funnel – what each stage is, how to talk to customers at each stage, and what you need to do to win lifelong customers. It’s a long one, you might want a drink.

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Table of Contents

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Years ago, I was working on advertising for a major automotive company. (Hint: Their stock ticker symbol is F. Just F. If that’s not a badass nod to their Fortune 10 status, I don’t know what is.) I was surrounded by clever, brilliant, generous people who really knew what they were doing when it came to marketing and selling cars. 

That’s where I got my education on marketing funnels – advertising for this brand that’s so big, so historic and so influential that it arguably is the reason you have a driveway for your home. Which is to say, they know their shit.  

And they had a really great way of breaking down the different stages in a marketing funnel that made things crystal clear. I want to share them with you today.

Marketing Funnel Stage #1: Brand Awareness 

The first step in getting someone to buy your product or service is letting people know you even exist. When you first start a business, you might think, where do I find customers? How will people know I’m here? This is why it’s so important to drill down on your ideal customer. Because you need to know exactly who you’re targeting, so you know exactly where to find them. If your market is “everybody,” or “women” or “women between 25 and 80,” okay – where will you find these people? What’s the one site that “everybody” uses where you can advertise your business? 

It doesn’t exist. 

But if your ideal customer is “women from 25-35 with pierced ears who have an offbeat aesthetic,” it’s way easier to figure out where to target them. You could run ads on Instagram that target people who like Catbird, or Aurate, or Automic Gold

If your ideal customer is “working moms ages 40-55 who make $100,000/year,” your targeting will look totally different from “first-time moms ages 20-30 looking for part-time work from home jobs.” 

So the first step in Brand Awareness is knowing who your customer is and where they spend time online. 

We can break Brand Awareness down into even easier terms.

Brand Awareness = “I’ve heard of this brand.” Or, “I’ve seen this brand around.”

In the 1930s, Hollywood movie executives came up with the Rule of Seven. They realized that to get people to come see a movie, those people needed to see the movie advertised or mentioned seven times before they registered and remembered it. It didn’t matter how good the movie was, if people didn’t hear about it seven times, it wasn’t making an impact. 

Think about the last New Release movie or TV show you watched. How did you know it was coming out? How did you know you wanted to watch it? In my life, the seven times I might encounter new movie publicity could be: 

  • As an ad on Hulu while I’m watching something else
  • In a write up of the best new movie releases on Vulture 
  • A movie preview video that’s served to me on YouTube (I love watching movie previews on YouTube…) 
  • My husband mentions wanting to watch it to me 
  • A friend shares a news article about an actor we both like who’s in the movie and mentions it in an interview 
  • Banner ads that pop up while I’m reading the news or looking at fashion sites
  • A mention in the newsletter I get periodically from IMDb that promotes coming attractions

If you live in a big city, big-budget movies will also often run billboards off major freeways, so that when you’re rolling into Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, you see the title in big letters. (Actually, cities are chock full of ads, and you’ll probably see ads for the movie on buses, on top of taxis, inside taxis on TV screens, and so on.) 

So those seven different exposures may happen without you even realizing it.

In fact, by the time the movie comes out, I might just think, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard good things,” and check it out, rather than think, “Oh, I’ve seen this advertised.” 

Your Brand Awareness campaign doesn’t have to be nearly as broad or far-reaching as a Hollywood movie with million-dollars of promotional spending behind it. It’s enough to create an organic presence on social media and have people share your posts, or to run ads on Instagram or Pinterest that people see a few times. Word of mouth is by far the cheapest and most effective form of marketing, which is why brands try so hard to get people talking. 

So for an online-based business, to improve Brand Awareness, you could reach people by:
  • Posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, etc. 
  • Advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, etc. 
  • Pinning pins that link back to your site on Pinterest 
  • Advertising pins that link back to your site on Pinterest 
  • Creating a Facebook group and actively recruiting people to join it 
  • Participating in Reddit groups where you share relevant knowledge and promote your business where appropriate 
  • Running ads against Google or Bing searches for applicable keywords 
  • Writing guests posts for relevant news publications or blogs that have a bigger reach, with a byline that links back to your site 
  • Paying influencers or micro-influencers to talk about your brand 
  • Asking satisfied customers to recommend your brand to a few friends

 

I bet you can think of a dozen more ways to just show up in front of people online. Just remember: People need to see or hear about you seven times before they’re even aware of you. 

Copywriting Trick #1 – Brand Awareness: 

When you’re writing for brand awareness, your focus should be on making your brand stand out. Making your brand memorable. This might mean using provocative language on your blog posts, writing audacious text-based social posts, creating advertising that leverages high-powered, niche keywords, etc. For brand awareness, think, “LOOK AT ME!” Anything you can create or write to get attention will help stack up against the seven times people need to see you to remember you. 

Brand Awareness is showing up on your audience’s radar enough times to register.

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 1, Brand Awareness: I've seen this brand before."

Marketing Funnel Stage #2: Brand Favorability 

Once people have heard of your business–and they remember hearing about your business, you can move into the next stage of the funnel – brand favorability. 

Brand favorability = “I like this brand.” 

Going back to the movie comparison, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen or heard about a movie if it’s not something you’re ever going to watch. I really dislike war movies, battle movies. I could see a WWII movie advertised every day for a month and it’s not going to change my mind about watching it. 

What I do love are period pieces, comedies, artsy films and horror movies. Horror movies are a great example because they typically have a lot of spending behind promoting them, but even with a horror movie, there are good movies and bad movies. And you can usually tell right away. 

So even if I see a horror movie advertised all the time, if it looks crappy, I probably won’t watch it. But if it looks good? If it’s got actors I like in it, a fresh setting or plot, or it’s a new installment in a franchise I already like? It’s going on the top of my to-watch list. 

Once people are aware of your brand, they need to like you. 

Think about the brands you like. Why do you like them? What do they do that make you like them? If you had to buy a pair of shoes, say, from a brand you’d never purchased from before, who would you pick? It would probably be a brand that friends have recommended or who you’ve seen on social media, and whose posts or aesthetic match your own. 

There’s this law practice in metro Detroit who have been brilliant about marketing themselves, Zupac Law. They’re two young criminal defense lawyers, a man and a woman, and they’re cool. How do you know they’re cool? Well, on the site, the woman has purple tips to her hair and she’s branded herself as The Hippie Lawyer. The guy goes by Skateboard Lawyer and even in a suit, he wears bright ties and a goofy smile. But why do I remember this law firm? I’ve never had a need for a criminal lawyer at all. 

But they made an impression.

Because at a Vintage Faire event a few years back in a local market, they were passing out free stickers that looked like this: 

Funny, right? A lot of their promotional materials referenced cannabis (now recreationally legal in Michigan) and in their business, they work to help defend people against unjust drug-related charges (for instance, a man who was sentenced to 20 years in jail as a teenager for selling marijuana–when it’s now legal and people are using it everywhere). 

Why is it easy to like their brand? 

  • They’re funny 
  • They reference cultural touchstones – Star Wars, Better Call Saul, alien iconography from the late 90s (if you know, you know) 
  • Their posts and swag are memorable 
  • It represents their ethos – these are not your dad’s stuffy lawyers. These are people you could call if you’re 29 and have no idea what you’re doing. 

 

Copywriting Trick #2 – Brand Favorability: 

Give your audience something to like about you. If you’re funny, be funny. (Think of Ryan Reynolds’ tweets and how people eat it up.) 

If your business is service-based, give them valuable content that helps them improve their lives, whether they hire you or not. (For example, if you’re a life coach, give people a list of 10 ways they can improve their habits in an afternoon.) 

Write with personality. What’s your brand’s tone? 

  • Are you playful? – “Boring ice cream makes cows sad. That’s why we’ve crafted 10 unique flavor combinations here at…”

     

  • Formal? – “Our therapy practice specializes in treating young people with mental health disorders…”

     

  • Knowledgeable? – “Every minute, 1 million plastic bags are sent to a landfill. We divert and recycle plastic into sustainable polyester workout clothes so you can…”

     

  • Empathetic? – “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when the news is more stressful by the day. Here at X, we’ve developed free guided meditations that…”
 

To be likable, you have to know what your audience likes. 

Which, again, is why it’s key to know what audience you’re targeting, because what your Uncle Jack likes and what your kid cousin Mackenzie likes are almost never the same things

Brand Favorability is sharing things about or from your company that you know your target audience values. 

 

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 2, Brand Favorability: I like this brand.

Marketing Funnel Stage #3: Consideration 

Meet Lily. She’s heard of your business. She likes your business. But she’s not sure your business is the right fit for her. And that’s because… 

Consideration = “This is for someone like me.” 

There are tons of brands you’ve heard of and even think are cool, but that have no place in your life. For example, you might know and like the kind of clothing your opposite-sex partner or sibling likes to wear, even if you’ll never wear them. I have zero need for Dockers in my life, but I know my husband loves them and the brand seems like pretty decent quality. 

Another example might be a luxury car like a Porsche or an Alfa Romeo. You’ve heard of them. You like the brands–all sleek lines and glamour and power. But do those brands fit in your life, right now, as you are? Could you afford the price, the upkeep, the insurance? Would they have room for kids in the backseat (if they have a backseat at all)? 

Can you pay for all the gas they burn through using their powerful engines? 

Speaking for myself, no, no and no. I can admire them from afar, but an Alfa Romeo is not for a person like me. And that’s okay! That may change down the road, but if I bought one right now, it would be more trouble than it’s worth to keep it. 

What car do I own? A Jeep Compass. 

Have I heard of Jeep? Obviously. Do I like the brand? Yes, because they’re owned and manufactured primarily out of the United States and that’s important to me. And they have a long history and a good reputation for quality. Are they for someone like me? At this point in my life, yes–the one I got is not too expensive (as much as I love the Wrangler…). 

It’s got 4-wheel drive for Michigan winters and crappy roads. The Compass is SUV but on the small side, so we can take it to Ikea but it’s not guzzling gasoline like a bigger model might. And it’s got enough bells and whistles that I value that it feels like a delight to drive it. (Seat warmers for occasional lower back pain? Show me where to sign.

Copywriting Trick #3 – Consideration: 

Show your audience what features address their specific needs. I say show, because you need to connect the dots for them and let them see how what you say is true. 

For example, I could tell you, “Our tutoring services are great for special needs kids.” Do you believe me? 

But if I said, “Our tutoring services are great for special needs kids, because every one of our tutors has a degree in early childhood education, as well as extensive training and certification for working with conditions from Down’s syndrome to Autism,” now you can see that my claim is true. Those DO sound like factors that would make your tutors great for special needs kids. 

You need to know what challenges your audience faces. (They don’t have to be life or death.) 

This jewelry brand, Maison Miru, has something called “nap earrings.” Cute name, right? They’re earrings that have flat, screw on backs so you can wear earrings while you sleep without pointy studs digging into the skin behind your ears. 

If, like me, you wear stud earrings and are too lazy to take them out and put them in every day, but you don’t love the way they poke you when you lay down, nap earrings are a SLAM DUNK. On the site page for nap earrings, they go into a number of other benefits:

  • You can shower in them, sleep in them, and workout in them 
  • They can go both in your lobes or in cartilage piercings because they’re a standard thickness 
  • They’re available in both gold and silver to suit your taste and style 
  • The earrings are easy to wear and super secure since they twist on
  • They’re hypoallergenic and safe for people with sensitive skin

     

Are these earrings for someone like you? They check all kinds of boxes for me – why yes, I would love to shower in them, choose from gold or silver, not worry about losing them and keep my easily-irritated skin happy. 

Consideration is the time to show people why your business is right for their needs. 

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 3, Consideration: "This brand is for someone like me."

Marketing Funnel Stage #4: Intent to Purchase 

Ok, so you’ve discovered a new brand. You like them. They address your unique concerns and seem like they’re for someone like you. And now, you know you need what they offer, and they’re deciding between you and another business.

Intent to Purchase is the point at which a potential customer makes up their mind about your brand. Even if they don’t need what you’re selling today, you’re on their list of finalists. 

Intent to Purchase = “I’m know I’m going to buy X product soon and it may very well be from your business.”

For example, let’s say you’re a runner. You’ve got a good pair of running shoes, but you know in a month or two, they’re not going to be as supportive as you need due to general wear and tear. But there’s this new running shoe brand you’ve seen on Instagram, your friend bought a pair and has only good things to say, and they have the features you need at the price point that’s right for you. 

You know you’re going to need a new pair of running shoes very soon, and you’ve narrowed it down to this brand and one other.

Intent to Purchase is also when you add something to your Amazon cart but don’t check out right away, or fill up your cart on OldNavy.com but you’re waiting for a sale code to pull the trigger. You could easily go through with the purchase–but you could also still wind up giving that money to another brand that meets all your needs, too.

This is the stage at which urgency, exclusivity or incentives work well. 

Your customer has already made up their mind about your brand. All you have to do now is close the deal. 

Think about what makes you checkout from an online store, or finally call up a business for a service you know you need. 

In the case of products, it could be that you get a reminder email from the brand – “Hey, you left something behind!” Or it might be that they offer you a deal – “Get 15% your first order.” There might be a time limit – “Buy one get one free ends at midnight!” Or a bonus deal – “Purchase our famous pork dumplings and we’ll throw in chili crisp for free.” 

In the case of a service, it could be tied to seasonality – “Repair your roof before snow starts falling.” It might be triggered by an event – “High school reunion this year? Sign up for a 1-on-1 personal training package now and blow your classmates away.” You might offer an incentive or coupon – “Get a free consultation call now,” or “50% off your first session.” 

Copywriting Trick #4 – Intent to Purchase: 

This is the point where persuasion works best. You’re never going to persuade someone who’s in the Brand Awareness or Brand Favorability stage to Just Buy It, Already. They’re still evaluating your business and your products to see if it’s a good fit. If it’s not a good fit, no amount of clever sales copy is going to seal the deal. 

But when people are in the Intent to Purchase stage, they may only need a nudge to complete a transaction. It could be as simple as a reminder email that says, “Hey, your items are still in your cart.” Maybe you add some urgency: “The items in your cart are selling fast!” Or an incentive, “Get 15% off the items in your cart when you checkout today.”

For service-based businesses, it might look more like, “You downloaded the XYZ guide–are you ready to take the next step? (Reminder.) Or “I’m opening my books for July–grab your spot before they’re gone.” (Urgency.) Or “Buy a package from me this month and get a bonus 30 minute one-on-one coaching call for free.” (Incentive.) 

Intent to Purchase is the time to issue a call to action for people to buy from you. 

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 4, Intent to Purchase: "I need to make a purchase, maybe from this brand."

Marketing Funnel Stage #5: Purchase 

At this stage in the funnel, your audience has closed the deal and completed a transaction with your business. This is great news, because the probability of selling to an existing customer is as high as 70%. It’s also a critical juncture, because 71% of people have ended their relationship with a brand for having crappy customer service.

Your job once your customers have purchased from you is to express gratitude and make sure they know how to access customer service. 

Purchase = “I’ve completed a transaction with your business.”

This is why every retail business will send you a “Thank you for your order!” email with a link to support if you need it. It’s critical to acknowledge the fact that a customer chose your business, tell them thank you, and share explicit instructions for what to do if they have a problem. 

Again, an existing customer is your most valuable asset, because not only are they more likely to purchase from you again, but they’ll account for the majority of your profits. Brands that treat their existing customers well will always win out over brands who ignore customer retention and offer rewards only to new customers. 

You can see this in action with things like loyalty programs. 

Immediately after purchasing from, say, the Gap, you might get an email like, “You’ve earned $40 in Gap Cash!,” free money you can use to buy from them again next month. Or you might see this at your local coffee or sub shop, where they stamp a card for every purchase and give you one free after you buy 10. 

They’re saying, we recognize you. We are grateful for your business. We know you could’ve chosen someone else–and we want you to come back.

Copywriting Trick #5 – Purchase: 

The customer is your new best friend. Reward their purchase with gratitude (love language: words of affirmation). Make sure they know how to use their product or take the next step with the service you’re offering. This could be sending them a Welcome video, a Quick-Start Guide to a more complex product, or a promise to follow up with them within 2 days. Make sure they also know what to do if things go wrong, because a new customer can easily turn into a disgruntled customer if their experience doesn’t go smoothly. You can mitigate this by getting ahead of it. Show them where to find help, who to call, where to go. 

Here’s an example for a fictional author: 

Thank you so much for purchasing my new book, XYZ and ABC. Be sure to download the Reading Guide if you’re reading it as part of a book club. And let me know how you like it by leaving a review on Goodreads–I read them all (the good, the bad, the ugly). 

If you have any problems with your order or your ebook purchase, contact me and I’ll personally make sure it gets ironed out. 

The Purchase stage is the time to thank your customer and ensure their experience continues to run smoothly. 

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 5, Purchase: "I just bought something from your brand."

Marketing Funnel Stage #6: Retention

Okay, going back to those customer retention stats up in the Purchase stage, we can already see how important the Retention stage is to every business. It’s SO much easier to sell to an existing customer than track down a new one. 

But did you know that repeat customers also spend 33% more than new ones? They already know and trust your brand, and they show it with bigger purchases. 

Retention = “I’ve had good experiences with your brand and I’m open to buying from you again. (Don’t mess it up.)”

In 1980, Coca-Cola ran a landmark study that showed that happy customers tell around 4-5 people about their good experience with your business. And unhappy customers tell 9-11 people about their bad experience with your business. 

I’ve seen all kinds of stats since then–unhappy customers tell 9, 15, 22 people about their bad experience–but regardless of what the concrete number is, the bottom line is that it’s at least double. One unhappy customer can stop a lot more people from even considering your brand. 

On the upside, 90% of people are more likely to trust a recommended brand – even if that recommendation comes from a stranger. 

Your number one job in the Retention stage is to keep your existing customers happy. 

Last week, I got a package in the mail from Adagio Tea. I’ve ordered from them before, many times, but it’s been a while because I still have a big stash. Inside the package was five wrapped tea bags in different varieties, with a note that said, “Hey, we haven’t seen you in a while but we thought you might like to try these.” Excuse me?? You were thinking of ME? You sent me a package out of the blue with something FREE in it? 

When was the last time someone in your own family or friend group sent you a package for no reason? 

It made a big impression. And it redoubled my loyalty to a brand that’s always had a great quality product – because they took the time to appreciate me as a customer. 

This is also the stage where you might need to go above and beyond to retain unhappy customers. 

In my business marketing class in college, they told us: An unhappy customer can become your most loyal customer if you provide quality customer service. I’ve found that to be true in my own life. 

If a business messes up my order, it’s frustrating–but hey, we’re human. If I contact that brand and they overnight ship me the correct thing, tell me to keep or sell the wrong thing, and give me a discount for my next purchase? Well hell, I’m coming back. Because I know that even if things go wrong, the brand will go to bat for me. 

People don’t expect your business to be perfect. But they do expect you to appreciate their business, and to show it by solving any problems that come up. 

Copywriting Trick #6 – Retention: 

Appreciation, appreciation, appreciation. Write to them like you’re old friends. Make sure they know that you know how important they are to your business. Give them perks and use words like “exclusive” and “for our loyal customers.” 

You might want to give them first dibs on new products or services–and make sure they know that they can access it before anyone else. Ask for their input or feedback by sending out surveys about what new products they would want to see, or asking for reviews. Show them that you’re listening to them, and looking for better ways to serve them. 

Some of the best email marketing in my inbox is from brands that continue providing value to me, even if I haven’t spent another dollar. For service businesses, this could look like a newsletter with links to relevant articles, favorite things, or new videos the brand has put out. 

With products, it’s usually beautiful image-based emails showing off the newest thing, sending me news of upcoming promotions or discounts directly, or sharing content about how to use the product. For example, if I bought a coffee subscription that delivers beans once a month, I would expect to see some information about recommended ways of brewing, who harvests and roasts their beans, and some recipes for coffee-based drinks I might enjoy. 

Retention is about engaging your customers, showing them appreciation, and paving the way for them to buy more from you. 

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 6, Retention: "I would buy from your brand again."

Marketing Funnel Stage #7: Advocacy

Brand advocates are the rare breed of customers who LOVE your brand and want everyone to know it. They’ll tell anyone and everyone about your awesome products, and they send more business your way. These are the people who send referral codes to other people to earn rewards with a store. Or the people who tell their friends, “Tell So-and-So I sent you when you book your next service.” 

These people are loyal AF. You can still mess up the relationship, of course, but liking your brand has been baked into some small corner of their identity. 

Advocacy = “I LOVE this brand, and I recommend it to everyone.”

Think of a customer ordering a Coke at a restaurant, and the waitress saying, “Is Pepsi okay?” The waitress even having to ask that question shows how fiercely people have a preference between the two brands. 

Customers in the Advocacy stage are the ones leaving (positive) reviews about your business. They’re the ones sharing your social media posts, reading all your blogs, marking your new releases on their calendar. They’re the people going to Target before it’s open to stand in line for an exclusive partnership. They’re the people signing up for your biggest coaching packages or your most comprehensive service plans. 

These people are 10x more valuable than a casual customer. 

Proportionally, you probably won’t have as many of them–but you won’t need as many of them, because they’re bringing in new customers and fans. 

Think VIB Rouge at Sephora. Platinum-level frequent fliers. If you’re old enough to remember – the old pastel pink Cadillacs with the Mary Kay logo on the window, the prize only their very tippy top sellers got. 

Copywriting Trick #7 – Advocacy: 

Treat them like royalty. Don’t just reward them with first-access exclusive offers, reward them with offers only Advocates like them can get. Give them personalized and personal attention. These are the kind of people you might email directly once or twice a year, tailoring your email to their specific habits and preferences, rather than sending a form email that drops their name in the intro. 

Build a relationship with these people, because more than anyone else in the world, they want you to succeed. They believe in you, and they want other people to believe in you. Don’t half ass it. Reward them generously with attention, freebies, exclusive offers and appreciation. 

An image that says, Marketing Funnel Stage 7, Advocacy: "I freaking love this brand. Let me tell you more..."

In Conclusion…

Nearly 5,000 words later, I hope you have a more thorough understanding of your audience’s journey from stranger to fan. Now that you can envision each stage vividly, you’ll know how to tailor your communications to speak to where they’re at. Whether they’re just discovering your business, or returning for their tenth purchase, every person has different needs and desires. Understanding what those are will put you well on your way to intelligently marketing your brand and authentically growing your business. 

Is there anything about what you’ve read here that you’re still curious about? Drop me a question in the comment form below. 

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Hi, I'm Lana.

I’ve spent 16 years in advertising, and now I’m using that knowledge to help creatives grow their own small businesses. Will that include you this year?

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