The 9 stages of an effective email marketing funnel to nurture prospects and reacquire customers

Profile photo of author Annie McGreevy
Annie McGreevy
18min read
Email marketing
October 5, 2023
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Let’s get the bad news out of the way first…

Consumer expectations have shifted and there’s no single type of funnel that’s going to convert everyone. What really works is creating personalized experiences that focus on the micro-moments within the shopper’s journey and using those to influence and capture the customer––again, and again, and again.

This is what retention marketing focuses on, and some experts have suggested that it be renamed to “re-acquisition” to highlight just how important it really is in today’s market.

As Grace Clarke, an ecommerce marketing consultant, pointed out during the OWN IT conference, “brands are shifting from the thought process of ‘Once we have a customer, we have them forever,’ to ‘Once we have a customer, we get to continue to stay in a relationship with them and reacquire.’”

So, how do you do that?

How do you create micro-moments and personalized experiences that build customer loyalty and repeat purchases––ultimately impacting every customer’s lifetime value? Moreover, how do you do that without running your marketing and customer service teams into the ground?

Well, you build a powerful email marketing funnel.

The exponential—and cost effective—power of a strong email marketing funnel

A properly planned and executed email marketing funnel creates a personalized, positive brand experience. With the right customer data platform (CDP), you’ve got easy access to accurate data that allows you to address whatever concern the subscriber is experiencing at that point in the funnel—and avoid overwhelming them with irrelevant information.

Remember: messages you send out via email have no added cost on top of what you’ve already invested in your creative team and your email service provider. An email marketing funnel is cost-effective—over 75% of all businesses place email marketing in the top 3 ROI-generating marketing channels, according to Klaviyo’s 2023 marketing mix report.

How to maximize each of the 9 stages of the email marketing funnel

The 9 key stages of the email marketing funnel are acquisition, awareness, engagement, consideration, purchase, adoption, feedback, reacquisition, and advocacy. We’ve got a deep dive into the importance of each stage and how to make the most of your contact with the subscriber at that point.

Image shows the 9 stages of the email marketing funnel acquisition, awareness, engagement, consideration, purchase, adoption, feedback, reacquisition.

1. Collect addresses and grow your email list

The top of the funnel involves collecting subscribers you can then nurture.

“The whole relationship starts with the pop-up,” Milo McMahon, founder and lead strategist at Outdoor Ecommerce, says.

The whole relationship starts with the pop-up.
Milo McMahon, founder and lead strategist
Outdoor Ecommerce

It’s true: One of the best parts about email marketing is that your subscribers want to hear from you. Your emails are welcome in their inbox, as opposed to paid ads popping onto their screens or interrupting them while scrolling through social media.

To build that relationship, you’ll need them to opt in to your marketing emails. The best way to do this is via an opt-in form on your website.

McMahon offers some advice about timing, too: “Give your website visitors time to investigate your product and brand before you ask them for their email address.”

He recommends waiting at least 8-10 seconds before showing the email pop-up, but he also suggests split testing. “See what happens when you wait longer,” he says. “You may get fewer total sign-ups, but you also may be getting a higher quality audience who have more intent, because you gave them time to learn about your products before you got them on your list.”

You can also use sign-up forms to collect more than just contact information.

Answers are a goldmine of direct inputs from customers—the zero-party data we collect syncs as profile properties within Klaviyo, creating the bridge to facilitate personalized interactions with our customers.
Joanne Coffey, retention marketing manager
Jones Road Beauty

Jones Road Beauty, for example, offers an onsite quiz that helps customers find their perfect shade of foundation, concealer, tinted face powder, and other products. “These answers are a goldmine of direct inputs from customers—the zero-party data we collect syncs as profile properties within Klaviyo, creating the bridge to facilitate personalized interactions with our customers,” Joanne Coffey, retention marketing manager at Jones Road Beauty, explains.

And the end results are significant: Jones Road Beauty’s placed order rate is 20% higher if a customer fills out the quiz, as opposed to a standard welcome flow.

2. Build awareness by nurturing your subscribers

Your new subscribers probably know the gist of what you sell, but your early emails to them should communicate the best of what you offer. The last thing you want is for potential customers to unsubscribe because they don’t know you can solve their problems.

A welcome series is a great way to capitalize on the new interest in your brand. And it has the power to convert subscribers into customers: Welcome email flows across industries drove $2.40 in revenue per recipient in Q2 2023, according to Klaviyo benchmarks.

Image source: Twitter/X

Tabish Bhimani, director and principal strategist at Mastrat Digital recommends always including a discount in your welcome email—no exceptions. He says this does much more than encourage that first purchase. It can:

  • Create the habit-forming behavior of opening your brand’s emails
  • Reward the customer for signing up
  • Give your brand an opportunity to capture zero-party data (if you include a survey in the email with the discount)
  • Have a positive impact on your deliverability

Ecreamery, an omnichannel ice cream brand, sends this email soon after a visitor subscribes. It does a few things to build awareness of what the brand can do for their customers:

  • Leads with a free, enticing offer
  • Highlights seasonally available flavors—a move that may motivate a quicker purchase before stock runs out
  • Includes an easy-to-navigate menu at the bottom that shows how shoppers can easily customize gifts and set up a subscription
Image shows a marketing email, potentially a first email, from ecreamery that features a special offer, shows seasonal products, and includes an easy-to-navigate menu.

Image source: Ecreamery

Consider these pro tips to nurture your subscribers via a welcome email:

  • Segment your welcome series based on where you collected the subscriber’s email address. For instance, if they signed up for emails in-store, send them coupons they can use there.
  • Personalize your emails by using the subscriber’s first name in the subject line or first line of the email, or displaying products they’ve browsed in the past.
  • Make sure the email design is optimized for conversion, with high-quality product shots, on-brand headlines and copy, and CTA buttons above the fold.

3. Drive engagement by sharing your brand mission

At the engagement stage of the email marketing funnel, you’re showing your subscribers how you can solve their pain points. At this point, it’s crucial for your brand story and mission to be crystal clear, so you can communicate it to your readers.

Skincare brand KORA Organics sends this email that goes into quite a bit of detail about topics they know their audience cares about: that the products are certified organic and highly effective.

At the very bottom, 6 icons communicate important points, concisely anticipating potential sales objections and resolving them.

Image shows an email taken from a series of emails from KORA Organics introducing brands’ mission and values to a new subscriber.

Image source: KORA Organics

Consider these pro tips to engage your subscribers:

  • Get clear on your company’s mission and vision so you can communicate it clearly and creatively.
  • Get in-depth about what your audience cares about—in this case, the fact that the products are both organic and effective.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate with visuals. Part of the reason KORA is able to get so much into this email is that

4. Encourage consideration by differentiating your brand

Once you’ve communicated your brand values and what you can deliver to your potential customers, you’ve entered the consideration stage. At this point, you need to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

“At this stage of the email marketing funnel, your brand is stacking up value as to why a subscriber should consider buying from you,” explains McMahon.

At this stage of the email marketing funnel, your brand is stacking up value as to why a subscriber should consider buying from you.
Milo McMahon, founder and lead strategist
Outdoor Ecommerce

Take a look at this example from Bookshop, an alternative to Amazon whose tagline is “Every Purchase Supports Independent Bookstores. A Better Way to Buy Books Online.”

The first sentence strikes an inclusive note, assuming that the subscriber is already a supporter. The email also shares how much money the company has generated for local, independent bookstores—a cause most visitors to care about. They include a small discount, and then, more importantly, they reiterate what their company does and how the subscriber can help them achieve their mission.

This email also includes a link to the recipient’s subscription preferences page, the company’s entire mission statement, and a geo-locator to help readers find their local bookstore.

Image shows an email from Bookshop to a new subscriber during the conversion stage that emphasizes the brand’s ethical stance on supporting small, independent bookstores.

Image source: Bookshop

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to explicitly differentiate your brand from competitors, even if you don’t mention them by name. Bookshop’s mission seems to have developed in response to Amazon’s growth and domination. And that’s a big reason why people like to give their money to Bookshop. The brand doesn’t shy away from this as they introduce themselves to their new friends at this stage of the funnel.

5. Keep building trust throughout the purchase experience

Congratulations—your efforts at awareness, engagement, and consideration were successful, and your subscriber has bought at least one product from you.

Now what? Sit back and hope they like it? Not quite.

Once a subscriber has made a purchase, they’re officially through the narrow part of the funnel. This period is crucial for building trust. Bhimani sees the post-purchase phase as a time to “drive the confidence factor up.”

“Once someone pays you,” he says, “your job is to focus on stewardship. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be available on as many channels as possible.”

Once someone pays you, your job is to focus on stewardship. Communicate, communicate communicate. Be available on as many channels as possible.
Tabish Bhimani, director and principal strategist
Mastrat Digital

Herbal water brand Aura Bora sends purchase confirmation emails packed with plenty of information:

  • The date of the purchase
  • The order number
  • How many hours it typically takes the team to fulfill orders
  • Typical transit time frames
  • Which shipping carrier they use
  • The customer’s billing and shipping addresses
  • Exactly which products the customer ordered, how many of each, and how much they cost
  • The customer’s total bill
  • How much money they saved (if any)

This is a lot of detail, and Aura Bora presents it in an intuitive, easy-to-digest, and beautiful design. The customer doesn’t have to do any digging if they want to make sure their shipping address is correct, for instance, or they want to balance that month’s budget and get an exact figure of what they spent.

Image shows a purchase confirmation email from Aura Bora that includes everything a shopper would need to know, all in one email.

Image source: Aura Bora

Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to go beyond transactional emails and set up more detailed post-purchase emails—they’re a great place to keep building trust.

6. Encourage adoption by continuing to educate

Once your subscriber has converted into a customer, it’s a great time for (more) education. The adoption phase is when you should provide onboarding tools like tutorials that will set your new customer up to get the most out of your products.

Emails at the adoption phase can feature everything from user-generated content showing how the product looks IRL, to reviews hyping a particular product, to video content teaching customers how to best use the product.

After someone makes their first purchase, Jones Road Beauty, for example, sends specific post-purchase product education during the adoption phase, along with a personal follow-up from a member of the customer experience team.

This simple tutorial doesn’t require the customer to leave the email—unless they want to buy more:

Image shows an educational email from Jones Road Beauty, teaching the reader how to put on eye makeup—valuable content.

Image source: Jones Road Beauty

Pro tip: Invest in creating educational content such as product tutorials, how-tos, and guides. You can use them across mediums to create true value for your audience, and have a reason to talk to them that isn’t salesy.

7. Prevent churn by starting conversations and communicating frequently

One way to keep your customers coming back is to ask them what’s working—and what’s not—about your products.

Coffey offers a straightforward strategy to prevent churn—reaching out with genuine concern. Jones Road Beauty, known for its superb customer support, shares a page from their playbook: Churn risks enter into a flow to receive text-based emails from either the chief marketing officer or the senior director of customer experience, asking what would improve the experience.

These emails steer clear of sales pitches, instead expressing a genuine willingness to hear concerns and enhance the experience with Jones Road Beauty.

Communicating regularly and clearly is a great way to strengthen a relationship, especially when you aren’t pushing a sale.

You can do that by:

Jewelry brand Uncommon James sends this request for reviews a few weeks after a customer receives their products. It includes several questions about the shopper’s experience with their new jewelry, and each one is easy to answer, setting the shopper up to feel heard, understood, and cared about.

The email also asks a few questions related to the shopper’s demographics, which can help the brand personalize future emails.

Image shows an email from Uncommon James that asks a recent shopper to leave a review, and also collects important demographic information.

Image source: Uncommon James

How can you make the most of the reviews customers write? The Jones Road Beauty team, for instance, reads their 1-2 star reviews carefully and uses the feedback to head off objections in future educational emails.

Bhimani emphasizes the importance of timing with emails that ask for product feedback. Of course, you don’t want them to arrive before the products do. “With the right tech stack,” he says, “you can trigger flows once a product is delivered.”

Pro tip: Bhimani advocates for collecting SMS numbers during check-out, so you can offer SMS support for orders.

8. Keep your eye on expansion—you can do more than up- and cross-sell

If you have 1-2 products that have solved a pain point for your customers, chances are, you can provide them with even more value through other products.

Once a subscriber has converted and made a purchase, Jones Road Beauty invites them to join a VIP Facebook group with over 25K customers. There, they get early access to product launches, have open conversations about confidence, and learn from the brand’s trained team of makeup artists.

It’s a thoughtful, creative way to create community around your brand and the things that matter to your customers.

There are plenty of other ways to introduce your other products to your existing customers: personalized emails based on what they’ve bought, browse abandonment flows, or simple cross-sell emails.

Or, you can make a BOGO free offer, like Aura Bora does in this email. This not only encourages already-loyal customers to try a new product, it also helps the brand sell more cases in stores.

Image shows a marketing email from Aura Bora that offers BOGO free if shoppers buy their products in store.

Image source: Aura Bora

Pro tip: Don’t be shy. At this point in the funnel, your customers like you. So don’t hesitate to introduce them to a new product, or even incentivize them to try it.

9. Encourage advocacy with incentives

Once someone has bought your products more than once, that means you’re doing something right. It’s time to see if they’re willing to advocate to others on your behalf. If you haven’t already sent a review request, now is the time.

And why not take it a step further? There is no better marketing than someone you know recommending a product or brand. So why not incentivize that word-of-mouth recommendation?

Toilet paper brand Who Gives A Crap sends this silly, simple email offering a discount to refer them.

Image shows a referral incentive email from Who Gives A Crap, with a silly headline “Don’t be a doo-doo head,” and showing pictures of children, with the intention to create brand advocates.

Image source: Who Gives A Crap

An incentivized referral isn’t the only way to encourage advocacy. You can also reward customers for referring you by granting more loyalty points. Or you can share a hashtag and encourage shoppers to share how they use your product on their social channels.

Pro tip: Consider regular customers prime for referrals and get creative about how you nurture and reward them.

How personalization and automation power a more effective email marketing funnel

If you haven’t already started to automate your email marketing funnel, now’s the time. As the industry reorients around AI, tools like Klaviyo’s Smart Sending and Smart Send Time set you up to never email any one customer too often and to understand the best windows for your customers to receive emails.

When you pair that with our advanced personalization, the customer experience is elevated and the results speak for themselves.

“Personalization, to us, extends beyond utilizing the ‘First Name’ tag,” Coffey says. “It encapsulates a tailored approach where every message is adapted based on the customer’s actions during their browsing session.”

“Our strategy is a multi-step approach to guide them through the buyer’s journey, including education, positive reviews, driving to quizzes, and asking if they need any assistance—rather than just pushing a sale,” she adds. “This strategy has increased our place order rate by 315%.”

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Email marketing funnel FAQs

Some commonly asked questions about email marketing funnels.

What is an email marketing funnel?

An email marketing funnel refers to the process by which a subscriber goes from a prospective lead to a customer through emails that are both educational and promotional.

How often should I send emails in my funnel?

The cadence of your email sends will depend on the actions you choose for your subscribers to trigger them, as well as your brand’s prerogative. We recommend that you time your email sends based on how engaged your audience is. For instance, send to highly engaged subscribers daily, send to people who haven’t opened or clicked in the last 30 days 3x a week, send just 1x a week to people who haven’t opened or clicked in the last 90 days.

How do I measure the success of my email marketing funnel?

A good customer data platform like Klaviyo will have analytics that show you how successful your marketing emails are according to key performance indicators like open rate, click rate, conversion rate, and revenue per recipient. You can also measure your results against our benchmarks and filter by industry.

What are some best practices for automating email marketing funnels?

Some best practices for automating email marketing funnels are:

1. Enable sign-up forms on your website to gather email subscribers and new leads.

2. Collect zero-party and first-party data about your customers so you can personalize your email marketing campaigns.

3. Segment your customers so you can send more relevant emails.

4. Nurture your subscribers through email sequences with welcome series, educational content, and brand stories.

5. Build trust throughout the funnel with transactional emails, requests for reviews, and invitations to loyalty programs.

Annie McGreevy
Annie McGreevy
Senior editorial writer
Annie McGreevy is a senior editorial writer at Klaviyo, where she researches, interviews and writes about how businesses of all sizes can better leverage their owned marketing channels to succeed on their own terms in the current economic environment. Previously, she was a ghostwriter for thought leaders in the payments industry and taught writing to undergraduate students for more than a decade at The Ohio State University. Also a creative writer, her fiction and essays have appeared in Electric Literature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Nouvella Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Ohio and loves the cold weather, hiking, and a good Zoom background.