How marketing funnels work

In the first chapter of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice falls down the rabbit hole.

At risk of distorting Carroll’s famous tale, let’s think of Alice as the consumer and the rabbit hole as the marketing funnel. We first find Alice lounging around, bored, when the rabbit piques her curiosity. Intrigued, she follows him down the rabbit hole to learn more. Once there, she looks around, peeks into a door, and sees a beautiful garden. Finally, she finds a bottle with a call-to-action: “drink me” She obeys.

This is the kind of customer journey brands can track and facilitate by using a marketing funnel.

To make it clearer, let’s move away from the Alice in Wonderland metaphors and break down what marketing funnels are, how they work, and how you can apply them to your own business.

What is a marketing funnel?

A marketing funnel illustrates the path your customer takes to making a purchase. The funnel is usually broken down into phases such as awareness, interest, decision, and action:


These terms may sound general and vague. So to illustrate, here’s an example of phases of a marketing funnel:

  1. Awareness: Seeing an online ad for your product
  2. Interest: Visiting your website to learn more about the product
  3. Decision: Adding the product to their online shopping cart
  4. Action: Checking out and purchasing the product

Now, let’s break down these phases even further and see how they play out in the wild.


Say you’re browsing Facebook, bored, when you see an ad for Sephora. You weren’t necessarily looking for makeup, but this pops up and piques your interest. You’ve now successfully entered the awareness phase, and your journey through the marketing funnel begins.

Source: Facebook

Create your own eye-catching Facebook posts in Canva with templates like Modern Women’s Beauty Facebook Post. This one has a ready-made background image and a pop of text that you can customize for your audience—perfect for sparking awareness and stopping customers mid-scroll.


Intrigued by these skincare products, you click “Shop Now” and head to the Sephora website to learn more. Once there, you’re greeted by an informative product page where you can browse the whole skincare line.

You look around and check out what the store has to offer. Maybe you click on a few products to see their pictures, features, and customer reviews. You gather all the information you need to make your decision.


Create your own website banners in Canva with templates like Pink and Gold Retail Leaderboard. This one can be customized to sit at the top of any product page. Simply add your logo, special offer, or color palette to keep your customers’ interest and move them through the next phase of the marketing funnel.


You’ve found a product you like: The Lavender Water Sleeping Mask. It’s in your price range, contains the right ingredients, and has four stars. So, you decide to buy it.


You click “Add to Basket” and are all ready to check out.


You might think the marketing funnel ends there, right? You’ve already decided to buy. But just because a product is in your cart, that doesn’t mean you’re actually going to buy it. In fact, over 75% of online shopping carts are abandoned. Why? There are a variety of potential reasons: High shipping costs, confusing checkout page, having to create an account, or simply deciding to wait.

That’s why a customer only reaches the end of the marketing when they complete their checkout and receive their confirmation of purchase. That’s also why you need to make sure you have a well-designed, intuitive checkout page that clearly conveys any additional costs and makes the Checkout button pop.

Even if your customer does abandon their cart, remember that they’re still in the marketing funnel—they’re just stuck in the decision phase. They may even need a gentle nudge to help convince them to buy. Ad retargeting is a valuable tactic for this. With ad retargeting, you can deliver customized ads to people who’ve already interacted with your brand and are beyond the awareness phase.

Why do you need a marketing funnel?

Evidently, customers don’t always move through marketing funnel in a clear, linear way. Sometimes they need to hang out in the interest or decision phase. Or maybe they need to see a few pieces of awareness content before they’re finally interested enough to explore your brand account or website.

As marketing blogger Tim Rettig wrote, “For customers to purchase your products, they first need to be convinced that they are making a good investment. They need to trust you. They need to feel like the risk is relatively low.

For instance, Sephora might target you with another ad on Instagram to convince you to buy their products or even add a related item to your cart:

Sephora ad on Instagram

That’s why you need that funnel to guide your marketing operation and understand your audience at each touchpoint. When, where, and why did they interact with your content? And once they did, what do they need now to move them along the funnel? With this information blocked out, you can plan your customers’ path to purchase and track their movements every step of the way. Without a relevant marketing funnel, you’re left hoping customers find your products and the inspiration to convert.

Create your own Instagram ads on Canva with templates like Colorful Photos Collage Instagram Post. This one uses colorblocking and high-quality images to set a young, playful tone, but you can always swap them out for product photos or illustrations that match your brand.

How can you use your own marketing funnel?

You need the right content to attract customers in different stages of the funnel and motivate them to move along the path to conversion.

Let’s look at some of the options you can choose from for each stage.


Infographics are the perfect vehicles for conveying a lot of information or data in an easy, engaging way. Spotted on social media or a blog, they can often help spark interest among prospects.

Take this infographic from education resource platform Course Hero:


It breaks down important themes, characters, and lessons from a book of short stories, and presents it all in a visually pleasing, shareable infographic. Notice that it doesn’t scream “USE COURSE HERO!” Instead, it demonstrates how the platform can help students with their reading assignments. And this graphic could be enough to push them into the awareness or interest phase of the marketing funnel.

Create your own infographics in Canva with templates like Pastel Books Infographic. It even includes a section with social information, so prospects can take the next step and continue researching your brand on other channels.

Email newsletters

Over 3.8 billion people across the world use email. And every dollar spent on email marketing returns an average of $38. So, why not get started?

Email newsletters are versatile tools you can use to nurture leads in various stages of the marketing funnel: They can help drive interest after someone signs up for your email list; they can prompt decisions with enticing deals; they can follow up with after someone takes action and makes a purchase.

Just look at this email newsletter from Urban Outfitters. It showcases a range of products along with a special offer:

Urban Outfitters Newsletter

Build your own fashionable email newsletters in Canva with templates like White Fashion Newsletter. It already hasthe special offer built in at the top. And then you can plant your products and calls to action in the minimalist blocks below.


Here’s a promising start: One-third of all book sales are from ebooks. Ebooks don’t just have to be romance novels and sci-fi books; they can be marketing tools to help you engage customers. They don’t even have to be for purchase, either. You can offer free ebooks in exchange for email addresses or other customer data, which you can then use for the next phase of your funnel.

That’s why Hubspot launched its ebook, “A Beginner’s Guide to Social Media.” It asks for the prospect’s name, email, and company information. In exchange, they receive a free ebook. The landing page even states: “Is this really free? Absolutely. Just sharing some free knowledge that we hope you’ll find useful. Keep us in mind next time you have marketing questions!” In other words, meet us at the next stage of the marketing funnel.

You can easily create your own ebook cover in Canva with templates like Blue and Yellow Creative Business Book Cover. You can even browse book cover templates by category and genre, like business, graphic design, and non-fiction, so you can find the right one for your story.

Falling down the rabbit hole

Marketing funnels may not be as exciting as the opening to Alice in Wonderland. They don’t contain talking rabbits, secret passages, or magic potions. But they do contain the key to understanding customer journeys, building more effective marketing strategies, and increasing sales.

With a marketing funnel at your fingertips, you can turn enigmatic customer behaviors into a science—giving people exactly what they need to generate interest and fall down the rabbit hole of what your brand has to offer.

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