January 16, 2023

Funnel Strategy: 54 elements to help you guide your buyers’ journey through the marketing funnel


As your calendar gets booked up with meetings and your daily hours get pulled into task completion, don’t overlook the necessity of spending some time in a raw generative state focused on coming up with ideas.

It is essential to marketing success. And a key value that you bring, dear marketer, with your beautiful and complex human mind that can’t (yet) be replicated in an AI.

To get you started on that kernel of an idea that you can grow into a marketing concept, we bring you 54 elements are meant to provide that initial spark of inspiration.

Scan through this article with an open mind. Hopefully if just one of these elements gives you a new idea for optimizing your marketing funnel, it will be worth your time.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

Funnel Strategy: 54 elements to help you guide your buyers’ journey through the marketing funnel

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“After defining your ideal customer (which we have covered in other sessions), answer this vital question: ‘What is the very next element people are searching for in the buyer's journey?’” Flint McGlaughlin wrote in a recent email to the MECLABS SuperFunnel Research Cohort (MECLABS is the parent organization of MarketingSherpa).

In that email, McGlaughlin included 54 elements that you can utilize throughout your funnel from first contact to final sale. In this article, I share those elements with you, plus I added in an example to get you thinking how you can use each element.

If you’re stuck for how to improve the performance of your funnel, you can use this article to spur your next breakthrough idea. Scan through all of the elements and see which jump out at you. Then focus on those to add more value in your funnel.

“Think deeply about the people whom you serve. Which elements matter most to the customer, and which could you deliver better than anyone else? Expect this answer to be tough and expect it to take time.  This is your process-level value prop.  This is the key.  This is the birthing of a new success,” McGlaughlin advised.

Funnel Element #1: Working sample (trials/demos/more)

Give your prospect a way to get a small taste of your product before making the full commitment. This article discusses some considerations to help you decide which type of working sample you should offer them – Homepage Optimization: Free trial vs. demo.

Funnel Element #2: True costs

Help you customers understand the true cost of not going with your offer. For example, if you are a CPA or tax preparer, there may be a high mental cost (friction and anxiety) for your prospects to file their own taxes or work with the IRS. If you’re not familiar with mental cost, read – Mental Cost: Your customers pay more than just money.

Funnel Element #3: Comparison chart

The classic way to use this is to compare your product or service to your competitor. But could you benchmark your customer set, and create custom comparison charts where your prospects compare themselves to their peers? Here’s an example of what a benchmark chart could look like (you would add a highlighted dot showing where the prospect fits in) – Marketing Research Chart: Do conversion rates predict success?

Funnel Element #4: Detailed specs

If you have an omnichannel funnel, this is where you may leverage digital to provide more information. You likely can’t have all the detailed specs in a print ad or brochure, but you can link to it. You might not be able to have all the detailed specs in store, but you can include a QR code that provides that info online.

In fact, this was one of the early benefits of the web. Read how the National Sales Manager at Thomas Register used an online “rich” catalog way back in 2001 – Two Proven Ways to Raise B-to-B Sales Online.

Funnel Element #5: An infographic (show how it works)

Nowadays, there are so many infographic templates that just throw in some numbers, add some colors and shapes, and call it an infographic. But an effective infographic in your funnel can do more than that, it can show a larger process or system, and sometimes even show where they are in it. It can give them a holistic picture of a larger, complex process all at once. See how McGlaughlin uses an infographic in The 21 Psychological Elements that Power Effective Web Design (Part 3).

Funnel Element #6: Case study

A good case study not only shows prospects that your peers use your product or service to great effect, building up the credibility and appeal of your product, it also gives them ideas for meeting their own goals and overcoming their pain points. In that way, the case study has its own value to engage prospects and encourage sharing.

If you’re unsure how to create a case study, we break it down pretty thoroughly for you in Case Study Blueprint: How-to guide to create 8 kinds of marketing case studies.

Funnel Element #7: User guide

Help your prospects understand how to do something in your industry if they are earlier in the funnel (file their own taxes, replace their windshield wipers, hire a data manager, etc.) or better understand how to use your product or service if they are later in the funnel. For an example, check out our own MarketingSherpa Quick Guide to Lead Generation: 8 content, social media and webinar tactics to boost lead volume.

Funnel Element #8: Market research

Provide your potential customers with information to help them better understand their industry or hobby or passion. Here’s an example I found dipping into the MarketingSherpa archives from 2004 – The Role of Search in Business to Business Buying Decisions: A Summary of Research Conducted.

Funnel Element #9: Eligibility requirements

This has a two-fold benefit. You help prospects understand if they are the right fit for your product or service. Also, you don’t waste your team’s time chasing people who would not be a good fit. This is known as lead qualification, which you can read about in Chart: Chief requirements for B2B lead qualification.

Funnel Element #10: Setup instructions

Could be something general your customer might be interested in if they are early in your funnel, or it could be about your product specifically if they are later in the funnel. Here’s an early funnel example, Social Media Tips: 5 easy steps to set up a Facebook business account.

Funnel Element #11: Time it takes (to use the product/to setup/to see results)

When a customer considers purchasing your product, they want to know what time they have to invest in the product to get value from it and how quickly they will get that value. They can search Google to find that information. Or you can teach them.

For example, how many nights do you have to sleep on it before you know you bought the right mattress? And what if you didn’t, how long do you have to return it? Take a look at Example #1 in Conversion Rate Optimization: Four examples of writing and design changes that improved results to see how the MECLABS team tested this with a mattress company.

Funnel Element #12: User feedback

Not only can user feedback help you create more valuable products and a more seamless funnel, displaying that feedback can help your ideal customer understand if your product or service is a fit for them. Getting that feedback is no easy task, so here’s an article that might help – Marketing Research Chart: When to ask for customer reviews.

Funnel Element #13: Specialized fit

Most products and services are not for everyone. Help your customer understand if their situation is a fit for your product. There is a great example on The MECLABS Seal page – scroll down to the “problem-first treatment” for the blown head gasket product, and see how the landing page leads with copy that lets customers know the product is a specialized fit for the right situation.

Funnel Element #14: Sample outputs

When we asked 1,200 American consumers to describe an experience with a company they were highly satisfied with, the top response was “I consistently have good experiences with it” (you can see the chart on this Inside the Industry page).

Often, they have to wait until they are a customer to have that good experience. But can you give them a taste of it in your funnel pre-purchase? If you have an SEO software, give them a few pages with analysis of their website. If you offer promo products, send them a free pen with their name and logo on it, etc., etc.

Funnel Element #15: Essential maps

Helpful for a local brick-and-mortar company, in which case your location can be part of your value. Read how a local shop tested its location in Small Business Social Media Advertising: Local shop conducts value proposition testing with Facebook ads.

Funnel Element #16: GPS coordinates

Attract nearby prospects. This technology has been around for about a decade, we first reported on it in 2009 in GPS Ads Drive Store Traffic.

Funnel Element #17: Category value (sometimes you sell the category, then the product)

When your customer is not yet in the market for your product, it can be more effective to lead with the overall category. To help you decide, you can read Value Sequencing Decider Graphic: What do your customers need to know, and when do they need to know it?

Funnel Element #18: ZIP code

Another way to focus your advertising and funnel on those you can best serve. And remember to make sure your software platform treats ZIP codes like a category, not like a metric even though they are numerical, as we explain in Marketing Metrics: Why all numbers aren’t created equal.

Funnel Element #19: Buyer’s guide

Another way to help your prospects make the best decision, as well as show them where your products and services fit into the overall ecosystem. Here’s an example, Special Report: Webinar Buyer’s Guide -- 12 Tips + List of Key Vendors.

Funnel Element #20: Essential checklist

Help customers work through an important (and often complex) product related to their industry, hobby, goals, challenges, etc. To get you thinking of what might be a fit for your product’s category, here’s an example of a checklist we created – The Marketer’s Mindset Checklist.

Funnel Element #21: Comprehensive blueprints

Especially helpful for a complex product, service, or industry, this is value you can deliver to your potential customers before they ever decide to make a purchase. As an example, see how we built the free marketing course Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages based on a Landing Page Blueprint.

Funnel Element #22: Executive summary

This can provide high-level value and show an example of the value potential customers will receive if they choose to purchase the full product. For example, when MarketingSherpa used to sell Benchmark Reports, we made the Executive Summary available for free. To give you an idea for how this might work, here is the exec summary plus excerpt for the MarketingSherpa 2010 Social Media Marketing Benchmark Report.

Funnel Element #23: 10 key questions

Guide the prospect to understand key factors that will lead to their success in your industry, category, etc. The upside here is you’re not trying to convince them of something, you are guiding them to their own best decision and helping them achieve their goals. To get you thinking of some ideas for your industry, you can read Landing Page Optimization: 5 questions to ask for a quick win.

Funnel Element #24: Behind the scenes

The value you create is hidden behind the four physical walls (or virtual remote walls) of your company. For example, if you’re a services company, realize that customers will value the output you create more if they see the work that goes into it, and will be more likely to want to work with people they know and have learned about than a generic company.

To give you an idea for how to create content like this in your funnel, read Creative Leadership Ideas: A behind-the-scenes look at how 9 companies run their marketing departments and agencies.

Funnel Element #25: Product config

If your product has many options (like a car brand with many models, trim lines, colors, etc.), help your prospects work through all those elements and create the ideal version for their unique wants and needs. One way to do that is with a configurator, learn more in How the use of a Configurator enabled our test site to achieve an 11.74% conversion rate through its primary order path.

Funnel Element #26: NFT version

NFT stands for non-fungible token, which simply means it is an assurance that something is unique. So, if you create digital versions of your products (like shoes or clothes for example), you can sell or give them to prospects with the assurance and proof that they have the true original version of it.

For this one, if you don’t already know what an NFT is and are using it, you may be intimidated by the possibility. So, the best encouragement I can give you is to get out of your comfort zone. To inspire you to do just that (it is quite difficult of course) listen to a story from Emily Campbell, Chief Marketing Officer, Infinite Electronics, at 14:32 in Digital Transformation: First team first, it’s hard to be simple, get out of your comfort zone (podcast episode #29).

Funnel Element #27: The making of...

Similar to “behind the scenes,” although in this case focus more on how the thing is made then who is making it. An example to get you thinking – How to Create an Online Video: Step-by-Step Guide to Make It Easy on You (and Your Budget).

Funnel Element #28: Crypto-ownership

Similar to an NFT, you could create your own cryptocurrency and use that to incent your prospect to take action.

As a I mention, we have a free online, on-demand marketing course – Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages – and we could create our own cryptocurrency called MECbucks and reward it to people who completed quizzes in the course.

A word of caution though – with the fall of FTX, the Wild West days of crypto may get reined in by regulators, so understand the full implications of this one first.

Funnel Element #29: Signed copy

An NFT is a way to create something unique that only one customer can own, and so is a signed copy. For example, people who purchase The Marketer as Philosopher limited leather edition receive a hand-numbered book signed by the author – Flint McGlaughlin.

Funnel Element #30: A gift sent to...

Jill Snyder, VP Corporate Marketing, Aprimo Inc, decided to invest in a dimensional campaign where she sent a box with a gift to each exec. Read how she did it in How to Make Really Expensive Direct Mail Campaigns Pay Off -- 5 Tips on Dimensional Mailings.

Funnel Element #31: Charter membership

Give early adopters an extra benefit. For example, in her “How to explore your subscription revenue through email testing and strategic pricing” presentation at MarketingSherpa’s 2007 Selling Online Subscriptions Summit, Julie Lohmeier, Vice President, Marketing, Zacks.com, presented the following pricing strategy:

  • Preview Period:  $99 for 13 months
  • Charter Membership:  $99 for 12 months
  • Full price: $199
  • Discount:  $149
  • Monthly option: $24.95

Funnel Element #32: Expert Q & A

Much of your company’s wisdom is hidden inside the heads of its employees – unless you create content to help get it out. Publishing answers from your experts can help prospective customers while showing (not telling) them your company’s expertise. To get started, read Content Marketing: 5 questions to ask subject matter experts to get the ball rolling.

Funnel Element #33: Test your skill

Help the customer gauge their own abilities to see how much they need help from your product or service, or how much they are learning from your content. For example, “You can watch lessons from Google’s experts, then test your knowledge through quizzes and practice exercises” (from Marketing Careers: 5 sites to develop and enhance your skills with free online courses).

Funnel Element #34: External studies

“It is dangerous to succumb to the illusion that the prospect sees our company the way we see it,” our founder Flint McGlaughlin has said (Internal Clarity vs. External Clarity). An external study can bring an outside perspective with third-party credibility to the customer, buttressing key points you are trying to make in your industry.

Funnel Element #35: Collector's edition

Something special for the biggest fans and most highly motivated potential customers.

For example, when Reader’s Digest sold music CDs, they sent direct mailers with lines like “Share the magic of Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong with 68 of his most memorable songs in this fabulous Collector’s Edition, including...” and  for Pat Boone “Now, in this exclusive Collector’s Edition album, you can relive the magic with 60 original recordings – including all of his No. 1 hits, key songs from his movies plus his most requested inspiration favorites.”

You can read the mechanics behind the campaign in the case study How Reader’s Digest Mined Purchasing Data to Personalize Catalogs & Lift Conversions 74%.

Funnel Element #36: Unlimited support

A great anxiety reducer, but more than that, this should be part of your pricing strategy.

A great example in this line explaining testing platform options, “Many free platforms offer little to no support, outside of basic instructions on their websites. Some expensive platforms provide unlimited support, which, in many cases, includes a personal account rep” (from Online Testing and Optimization: 4 factors to choosing a testing platform).

Funnel Element #37: Honest conversation

Instead of a sales call, provide the same honest advice you would to a friend, and carry that throughout your entire funnel. Get ideas from Content Marketing: 9 examples of transparent marketing.

Funnel Element #38: Photo with founder

MECLABS generated a 35% higher clickthrough rate with a founder’s photo instead of a generic stock image for a debt relief company. Read all about it in This Just Tested: Stock images or real people?

Funnel Element #39: Gift to charity

For example, a sending platform created a flexible gift card that allowed recipients to donate to their charity of choice. Read Example #5 in 7 Examples of Using Marketing to Become a Force for the Good.

Funnel Element #40: VIP coupon

Use VIP coupons to provide that extra incentive to get customers to act. But you can also use them as part of an affiliate marketing program to get other marketers to help get prospects into and through your funnel. If you are so inclined, you can read 1,041 Affiliates Reveal How Merchants Should Improve Their Programs.

Funnel Element #41: Custom routine

Work your product into a habit the customer already has developed or encourage a new habit. For example, if you are selling a print newspaper subscription, pair up with a local coffee company to add the newspaper to their daily coffee habit. Get ideas in Charles Duhigg on How You Can Use Habit to Influence Customer Behavior.

Funnel Element #42: Insider's tour

For example, in the early days of social media a location-based service called Loopt signed bands onto its platform and encouraged them to write about the “backstage” and “on-the-road” aspects of their tours. Read more about it in How to Recruit Friends to Create ‘Stickiness’ for Your Website with Social Media Tactics.

Funnel Element #43: Copy of patent

Adds credibility. But could also provide sophisticated prospects more insight into how your product works. For example, we used a Google patent filing as a source in an early article about SEO – How to (Really) Gain Link Popularity: 5 Mistakes and 3 Proven Tactics.

Funnel Element #44: Custom video

Zumba Fitness used a custom video for the email launch of their Instructor Convention. Read how they did it in Email Marketing: Zumba Fitness uses personalized video to drive a 50% click-to-open rate.

Funnel Element #45: Founder's cell number

Providing the founder’s cell phone number can shortcut the sales process, jumping over many steps in the funnel. It is also a great way to learn from potential customers.

You may think this is only for small companies, but when I interviewed Aron North, Chief Marketing Officer and Commercial Owner, Mint Mobile, he talked about going into Reddit forums after a campaign is launched and interacting directly with customers (okay, not the same exact tactic as providing the founder’s cell phone, but certainly adjacent). Listen to how he does it starting at 40:20 in Not Enough Lobster In The Ocean: Trusting their gut leads to 90,000% revenue growth at Mint Mobile (Podcast Episode #11).

Funnel Element #46: Chance to win

Sweepstakes and contests are an incentive that can attract new customers and further engage current customers. See how Moosejaw does it in Social Media Giveaway Campaign Lifts Sales 15%: 6 Steps.

Funnel Element #47: Essential quiz

As Flint McGlaughlin teaches in Sales Funnel Planning: Three ways to diagram and densify the force of your value proposition, your marketing should provide reasons to stimulate conclusions.

Notice how he didn’t say you’re trying to convince potential customers of something. Because when you take that approach, they naturally resist. One way to provide reasons that help them come to their own conclusions is with a quiz that they walk through themselves, and actively answer.

Funnel Element #48: Expert training

As I mentioned, MECLABS has a free marketing course – Become a Marketer-Philosopher: Create and optimize high-converting webpages. It is a way to attract and serve people. But remember, expert training is training that truly serves them, and had independent value. It is not just a thinly veiled sales presentation.

Funnel Element #49: Adventure logs

You can use this in two ways – either about the customer, or about your company.

It’s a way for the customer to store and be remembered of all the positive experiences related to your product or industry.

Or it’s a way for your company to log and share all the work it has done during a period. For example, we used to share all our content in a quarterly research journal. Here is one example – MECLABS Quarterly Research Digest for Fourth Quarter 2013.

Funnel Element #50: Failures (and why)

When you tell customers what you can’t do, they are more likely to trust you when you show them what you can.

Also keep in mind, in an era of push-button publishing, your failures are not a secret. We explain more in Marketing Chart: How a customer experience #fail affects brands.

Funnel Element #51: Extra help package

This isn’t just a chance to earn more revenue, it’s a reassurance support will be there when they need it, encouraging them to make the purchase to begin with. For example, when we reviewed LiveBall, we noted “Available to help with questions in coaching package” (from Online Testing and Optimization Solutions: Quick guide to LiveBall).

Funnel Element #52: Draft version

It’s a way to float a trial balloon with a few potential customers. Or with the media before distributing an official press release (more ideas for that in Public Relations: 5 tactics for getting your message to the media).

Funnel Element #53: Custom analysis

Everyone likes something that is just about them. This could be as part of a free consultation on a human-to-human call. Or this can be something your software or tool can create automatically.

Keep in mind, the custom part of this analysis could also be using your company’s custom technique with an example customer, and then sharing it through your content. See an example in Data Pattern Analysis: Learn from a coaching session with Flint McGlaughlin.

Funnel Element #54: Previous results

Show previous results so prospects can get an idea on the results they can achieve with you.

Of course, it’s not always easy for marketers to find those results from customers. Customers don’t always track and benchmark their performance well. So, make it easy for your customers to collect results. Here’s an example – Get Your Free Test Discovery Tool to Help Log all the Results and Discoveries from Your Company’s Marketing Tests.

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