Email funnels
When email marketing meets automation, you can create funnels that generate huge sales and profits while you sleep.
Or so you’ve heard.
The reality of automated emails is a bit trickier than it seems at first. When email funnels work, they’re powerful. The case studies are everywhere. Automation is the latest craze.
But there are a lot of stumbling blocks before you create a funnel that converts, and a lot of questions.
How many emails should you send?
What should you be putting in each email?
Will you send different messages to different members of your audience?
How do you get people to buy?
Your contacts want to hear from you. In a survey by MarketingSherpa, 91% of people wanted to get promotional emails from companies they do business with.
Email can boost your business. McKinsey and Co report that email is 40x more effective than social media. The Direct Marketing Association reports a $38 return per dollar invested in email.
Email is incredibly trackable. You can see the dollars come in, watch every action each subscriber takes, and adjust your marketing accordingly.
Those results are waiting on the other side of these email questions.
You’re about to find some answers. This post will show you

  • A deep strategy that totally changes how you think about emails that convert
  • Examples of emails you can steal for your funnel
  • Persuasion techniques that get sales – including popular tactics you may want to avoid
  • Segmentation. Personalization. Behind the scenes of what these phrases mean and how they magnify your results
  • How to plan an email funnel – and never wonder what to send

By the time you finish reading, you’ll know how to sell to any member of your audience. You’ll understand the deep psychology of email, and how to create funnels that grow your business.
Let’s get started with the five fundamentals of a great email funnel.

What makes a great email funnel?

A great email funnel can lead to great sales numbers, but what makes an email funnel effective?
You can talk about optimizing for deliverability, curiosity-inducing preheader text, A/B testing email subject lines, and a variety of tactics to improve your open rates.
Once your emails get opened, you can join the debate about design-heavy emails vs text-based emails. Buttons or text links? Colorful or plain?
All of those tactics have their place. Optimizing the nitty gritty of your email marketing can definitely improve the performance of your email funnels. And, once you’ve put together an email marketing strategy, it’s absolutely worth testing all of these factors.
But there’s only so much mileage you can get out of little tactics. To get the 40:1 results that email marketing promises, you need to start with a great funnel strategy.
Clearly the best email funnel

Clearly this is the greatest email funnel of all time

What goes into a great email funnel strategy?

  • Understanding the stage of awareness for each of your contacts
  • Email segmentation that actually helps you do better marketing
  • Personalization and personality that help your message resonate
  • Maintaining high quality lists
  • Persuasively driving people to the right calls to action

Let’s start with the most fundamental of fundamentals.

Stages of awareness:
The most fundamental of fundamentals

In the days long before email, marketers and copywriters had to rely on old-school methods of communication to get their message out there.
Yeah, I’m talkin’ snail mail.
Direct mail is still a huge area of marketing today, but back in the day it was even bigger. With so few ways to reach individual people, showing up in a literal, physical inbox had value.
Of course, it also had a cost.
Every piece of mail sent had a very real marketing cost. So the people that got good at direct mail needed to get good fast – or waste massive dollars sending out messages that didn’t convert.
Modern copywriters still study the techniques they used. And many of those techniques come to life in email marketing.
Email marketing is sort of like direct mail on a massive scale. It offers similar one-to-one communication, but can be sent much faster and at lower cost. It’s also even easier to test and measure.
So it makes sense to learn from “the old masters.” And none were so masterful as copywriter Eugene Schwartz.
Breakthrough Advertising

Source: Amazon

Eugene Schwartz’s Breakthrough Advertising is the copywriter’s bible. If you want to get a copy for under $125 – good luck. The lessons it teaches are so fundamental to great marketing that copywriters consider it a necessary expense.
The most important lesson of all? Stages of awareness.
The concept of stages of awareness is simple – different people have a different level of understanding of their own problem and your ability to provide a solution.
But hiding inside that simple definition is a treasure trove of actionable insights.
Understanding stages of awareness can teach you:

  • How long your copy should be
  • The number of emails to send in your funnel
  • What you need to talk about in your copy
  • How to organize your emails to nurture leads instead of just messaging them

We’ll dig into each a bit more. Let’s start by talking about what the 5 stages of awareness actually are:

  • Unaware: A person doesn’t know they have a problem, and it’s usually not worth marketing to them.
  • Problem Aware: A person knows they have a problem, but doesn’t know there are solutions to that problem.
  • Solution Aware: A person knows there are solutions, but hasn’t chosen one and doesn’t know about your product.
  • Product Aware: A person knows about your product, but isn’t totally sure it solves their problem.
  • Most Aware: A person knows a lot about your product. They are on the cusp of buying, but need to know the specifics.

Knowing the stage of awareness of your prospect tells you how much information you need to give prospects before they’re willing to convert.
Joanna Wiebe, conversion copywriter and founder of Copy Hackers, explains the stages well in this chart.
Stages of Awareness

Source: Copy Hackers

Stages awareness are easier to understand with an example, so let’s imagine two people who are both trying to lose weight.

  • Mike, a 40-year old man, was in great shape back in his 20s. But since his career and family started taking up more time, he’s gained some weight. He’s ready to lose it.
  • Joe, a 40-year old man, has been overweight his whole life. When he turned 40, he decided that he wanted to lose weight once and for all.

If you sell an exercise program, how would you need to speak differently to these people?
Mike, our formerly fit friend, knows a good amount about working out. It’s been a while, but he’s been in shape before. He knows the terminology. He has some sense of what works. But he hasn’t heard of you yet, so he’s Solution Aware.
The message you send to Mike would be designed to make him aware of your product, then to get him to think your product is the best solution. The steps of your message might be

“You want to lose weight, so you need an exercise program.

This program combines strength training, healthy diet, and encouragement to get you results.

You can get the program, plus one-on-one training help, for $50 per session.”

If you want to talk to Joe, though, you have to start earlier.
Joe also wants to lose weight, but he’s never been in shape before. He may have a vague sense that exercise is good, but he doesn’t know of any specific workouts – or what he needs to be looking for. Joe is Problem Aware (also called Pain Aware).

“You feel uncomfortable in your own skin. Enough is enough – you’ve decided to lose weight.

If you’re thinking about losing weight, you’re probably looking at exercise routines.

Did you know that exercise can only get you so far? Diet is actually the key to shedding pounds.

When you combine diet with a great strength training program, you train your body to burn fat for energy. It takes energy to build and maintain muscle, and that energy comes from the food you eat. So if you build more muscle and eat less food, you lose weight.

This program combines strength training, healthy diet, and encouragement to get you results.

You can get the program, plus one-on-one training help, for $50 per session.”

Pretty different, right?
Let’s ignore that the copy isn’t very good. Notice the ways that these messages are different (and the same)

  • The second message is much longer. Joe is only Pain Aware, so we need to do more work to get him ready to say “yes” to our offer.
  • Both messages match the prospect’s stage of awareness. Mike is probably thinking “I need an exercise program,” so that’s what we lead with. Joe is probably thinking “I’m tired of feeling like this,” so that’s what we lead with.
  • Both messages work to steadily advance the prospect from their starting stage of awareness to Most Aware

Read that last one again. Both messages work to steadily advance the prospect from their starting stage of awareness to Most Aware.
That is the core insight that can dictate the entire strategy of your email funnel.
When you start with Pain Aware prospects, you need to

  • Reflect their pain in your starting emails
  • Explain that there are solutions that can solve their problem
  • Introduce your solution
  • Convince them that your solution is the best answer to their pain

When you start with Product Aware prospects, they’ve already heard of your solution. So instead

  • You reflect their stage of awareness by introducing your solution
  • You convince them that your solution is the best answer to their pain

If your prospect is Most Aware? All you need to do is make a great offer. They’re just about ready to buy.
The goal of your email funnel is to move people from their stage of awareness to the point of sale.

This is the most fundamental of email funnel fundamentals. It shapes which types of emails you choose, how frequently you email, how long your funnel needs to be, and what messages you send.

Expert insight: Jordie van Rijn on nurturing leads

Jordie van Rijn
“Don’t assume all of your leads need to be warmed up. If you don’t know, you don’t know.
Here is what you do: If appropriate for your product, add a non-sleazy call to action to the end of your email, to give them the opportunity to make a micro-conversion. Let them explore, look at your product, take a next step (or already buy.) Use the ‘clicked, but non-converted’ on that link to put these in the fast-track in your ‘funnel of love.'”
– Jordie van Rijn is email marketing consultant and founder of