Email marketing as a functional strategy: Types of funnels

Mar 1, 2023 11:14:43 AM. By Nelson Rojas.
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Email marketing as a functional strategy: Types of funnels

The strategy

If you start a game of chess by moving the pieces at random, there is only one outcome: checkmate. The reason is simple: the lack of a plan makes it impossible to predict the opponent's moves, which makes us vulnerable to any offensive or the onslaught of chance.

The same applies in the corporate environment, where strategy plays a primary role in both proactive and reactive ways. In each case, it is an anticipated response that suggests a rational course of action in uncertain and hostile environments to gain an advantage over an adversary. All of this is accomplished through effective configuration of resources based on the scope and competencies of the organization.

It is clear, then, that strategy serves to set both the direction and the scope of the organization in the long run. This fact does not only affect the top level of management, but also other levels of the organization whose strategies, moreover, will be subject to the strategies set by the top level of management and, consequently, will have a more specific scope. Therefore, when setting strategies, it is essential to determine the level to which they should be limited. In this sense, three organizational levels can be identified at which the different strategies will be executed:

  1. the corporate level: this is where the general management of the entire company takes place and this is where the strategies are set that focus on adding value to the various business units.
  2. the business level: this is where strategic business units (SBUs) target specific markets to successfully compete in them. Business-level strategy refers to the particular and differentiated combination of products and markets addressed by a business unit.
  3. the functional or operational level: this is where the different departments of the company work together: Human Resources, Purchasing, Development, Marketing, Customer Service, and others. In this case, the strategies are specific to each department and are developed to achieve the objectives related to the functions of each of them.

Email marketing as a strategy

At this point, we could make a similar statement to the one we made at the beginning: if you launch an email marketing campaign and configure your resources haphazardly, it can only have one outcome: Checkmate. The reason for this is that email marketing is not an isolated strategy, but is linked to a highly planned campaign at a functional level within a marketing team.

In essence, it is important to understand that although email is an application for optimizing communication that was originally intended for private use, due to its functional and economic advantages, it has become a fundamental tool for businesses and, therefore, constitutes a variant known as email marketing. Consequently, it is no longer defined only as an application or type of communication, but as a business strategy at a functional level, limited to the marketing area, which in turn is a division of the functional level of the organization.

From this point of view, email marketing is a strategy that proposes a rational approach in the face of such an uncertain phenomenon as the will of a group of prospects, all in order to gain an advantage over the opponents that compete for the same goal: to convince these prospects to voluntarily become members, stay as members or take a specific action, all of which must be achieved through the effective use of a specific resource: the email.

But what do we mean by effective configuration?

With effective configuration, we primarily mean the adjustment of the processes embedded in the email marketing strategy. This includes setting the goals, determining the audience, determining the types of emails to send, and optimising the emails, among others. In this case, we will focus on breaking down one of these processes which is a critical one: identifying email types to determine when and how each should be used.

First, you need to understand that email marketing, as all sales techniques, fits into the marketing funnel and buying cycle because its goal is to "effectively move people through your funnel of marketing." For this reason, depending on the level of the funnel, the tactics used by the email marketing strategy should be gradually adjusted, and so should the copy of each message.

In this sense, in the spiral of consciousness of the funnel, the tactic is aimed at creating a need in the prospect, while the interest spiral is aimed at providing the prospect with the necessary information about the product to make a safe purchase. In the desire spiral, on the other hand, once the prospect has expressed the intention to buy, the tactic changes again and focuses on providing the prospect with offers for available products or services. In the action spiral, conversely, when the prospect attempts to make the purchase, the tactic changes again and is focused on removing doubts that could interrupt the process, such as payment options, delivery time, return policies, or warranty. Finally, in the loyalty spiral, even if the purchase has already been made, the tactic should be aimed at providing the customer with support, services ,and promotions in order to keep them so they can purchase again.

The different types of email marketing

It is evident that the tactics change in each spiral of the funnel and so does the message you want to convey. This leads to dozens of messages being created for different purposes, creating a long list of different types of emails whose sequential description might be ineffective in figuring out which of many to use and for what purpose. It is more practical to know that each type of email must correspond to one of three aspects: Acquisition, Nurture, or Conversion. So when it comes to types of email marketing, it is not about a single email, it is about different approaches to a series of emails. So you could say that there are basically 3 categories of email marketing that correspond to the goal of each level of the funnel. For this reason, and because of the connection with the marketing funnel, authors like Gunelius conceptualize categories of email marketing that they call funnels, each of which determines a series of multiple messages. From this perspective, there are three categories of email marketing:

  1. Email marketing funnels for acquisition
  2. Email marketing nurturing funnels
  3. Email marketing funnels for conversion

Within each of these funnels, a wide variety of messages are generated that respond to a different tactic that we can use to create subcategories commonly referred to as types of email marketing.

Marketing funnel relationship and customer purchase cycle

Image 1. Marketing funnel relationship and customer purchase cycle.

The email marketing funnel for acquisition

This is the first spiral of the funnel, so we cannot talk about email yet, because at this point, the prospect has not even realized that they have a need, so obviously there is no access to their data contact. So the goal is to get the word out about your product, service, or brand and get as many prospects as possible on a subscriber list dedicated to each previously identified segment.

This is best accomplished by offering messages on the various web pages with relevant and useful information that represents a low-risk offer to a prospect, but has sufficient value to exchange for their contact information because as we mentioned earlier,the goal is to voluntarily obtain as many email addresses as possible and then market to them by sending them to the center of the funnel. Tactics commonly used for this purpose include Lead Magnets and Live Webinars.

  • Lead Magnets: It is a tool that appeals to reciprocity. It is designed to attract subscribers by offering specific and interesting content to download in exchange for a potential customer's contact information. This resource can be an ebook, a template, reports, checklists, infographics, or other educational material.

Ebooks, infographics, and templates

Image 2. Ebooks, infographics, and templates.

However, not all cases use downloadable material, but also an online service such as a quiz that assesses certain characteristics, or an application that measures aspects of interest to a segment or website. On the other hand, there are those who are blunt and use a direct invitation to subscribe before making a purchase.

Quiz, grading programs, and direct invitation

Image 3. Quiz, grading programs, and direct invitation.

  • The Live Webinars: They are live online seminars in which participants debate in real time. This character gives it a certain relevance over lead magnets as it allows it to be located, not only in the inbox, but also in the psyche of potential customers when they enter their agenda.

The live webinars

Image 4. The live webinars.

Email marketing nurturing funnel

Once the list is built properly in the first funnel, you can move on to the second funnel, where the real email marketing begins, because from here, the goal is focused on keeping subscribers in the funnel, which is achieved through compelling, structured emails strategically targeted to a segment at a specific time.

This process takes an infinite amount of time. That's why it is so important that the messages provide each potential customer with pertinent information that helps them make a decision, so they can move on to the next spiral, where they are expected to take the action: buying a product or service.

On the other hand, the dynamics of this process make it possible to refine the list of those contacts who are unlikely to ever make a purchase and keep only those who are more likely to do so.

Welcome emails

The nurturing process responds to a logical structuring of the content that must consider the most appropriate timing for each message. So, for example, if you are contacting a potential client for the first time, the most logical thing to do is to send them a series of welcome emails, where the first message welcomes them , the second contains links to additional resources, and the third already introduces what you do or offer. This is important, because we must not forget that the email, due to its connection with the epistolary genre, takes on a personal character, so the main idea of this protocol, as with the letter, is to build a personal relationship with a potential client.

Series of welcome emails

Image 5. Series of welcome emails.

Emails newsletter

Once the greeting and welcome phase is complete, the actual nutrition phase begins. This consists, among other things, of a series of regular publications that include, in each delivery, different articles related to the company's area of interest and an offer, usually accompanied by a CTA that provides access to some premium content as well as to another product or service. This type of publication is called a newsletter.

A newsletter´s goal is to position the brand or service as the first option in the subscribers' mind, since developing a habit allows them to recognize the brand and, if the content is interesting, to associate it with a positive feeling. At the same time, knowledge about the brand or service offered can be increased, but most importantly, a continuous connection with the subscribers can be maintained, which eventually leads to conversion into a customer.

Series of periodicals

Image 6. Series of periodicals.


Lead Nurturing Emails

Once the relationship with the subscriber is solidified, it is time to move them from the information spiral to the decision spiral. This is accomplished through emails that are more direct and specific about the features of the product or service you want to offer. Then it is about promotional emails that advertise various materials: Ebooks, webinars, or offers for services or discounts.

In this type of email, persuasive arguments such as social proof, likability, the principle of authority, or that of scarcity are used with more emphasis, creating a sense of urgency that pushes the prospect to make a decision that moves them closer to the next funnel.

Promotional email series

Image 7. Promotional email series.

Email marketing funnel for conversion

The messages in this funnel are intended to motivate recipients to take a desired action, such as making a purchase. As in the previous cases, it is a series of emails that may be aimed, among other things, at resuming the purchase process of someone who has abandoned it for some reason. These messages are called abandoned cart recovery emails, and they configure a series of messages to get you to resume and complete the purchase.

Abandoned cart recovery emails

Image 8. Abandoned cart recovery emails.

Conversion messages are also used to encourage users who have downloaded a free trial version of a product to upgrade to a premium service. This type of message is called trial update emails because it aims to convince the user by describing the benefits of an update, offering free configurations, discounts, and more.

Trial update emails

Image 9. Trial update emails.


In contrast, for software services that offer free trials and based on their duration, messages that gradually remind the customer that the trial will soon expire are common, but at the same time include "additional messages with useful information, useful links, testimonials, case studies and other content that will remove barriers to purchase." These messages are referred to as free demo emails.

Free demo email

Image 10. Free demo email.

A long list of messages could be enumerated, more than 30 according to our last survey, which is natural since the number depends on the creativity of the copywriter. However, the goal is to understand that whatever the message is, it should fit into one of the three funnels suggested by Gunelius. Thus, complementary messages related to the purchase, the so-called Cross-Sell, could be added to the list of messages in the conversion funnel, as well as others with special offers or the request to recommend a friend.


Email marketing is a business strategy at a functional level, which is part of a well-planned campaign. Its goal is to gain an advantage over the opponents who compete with us to persuade buyers to take a certain action achieved through effective configuration of a systematized series of emails. These emails are synchronized based on the marketing funnel and the consumer buying cycle.

From this perspective, and taking into account Gunelius' position, we do not have an individual and scattered email typology, but rather three categories or funnels into which all marketing emails that can be created are classified.

The first funnel of email marketing, the acquisition funnel, is at the top of the funnel where prospects are added to the email list by exchanging their contact information for downloadable content such as e-books, templates, reports, checklists , infographics, or by signing up for events such as webinars.

The second funnel of email marketing is the nutrition funnel. It is located in the middle of the funnel and this is where email marketing itself begins, because from here the goal is focused on keeping subscribers in the funnel through structured and strategically targeted series of emails to a segment at a specific time. Consequently, we have a series of welcome emails, newsletters, lead nurturing and others.

The third funnel of email marketing is the conversion funnel, which motivates recipients to take the desired action. As in the previous cases, this is a series of emails aimed at resuming the purchase process through abandoned cart recovery emails, trial update emails, or free demo emails.

In our last survey, we counted more than 30 types of email marketing, but an exhaustive and detailed list of each "type" of email marketing is not very operational and would always fall short. Rather, the point is to understand that each message can be categorized into one of the three funnels suggested by Gunelius.


[1] The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India. (2020). Strategic Management. Recovered
[2] Ike, L. (2017). Business  strategy. Xlibris.
[3] Gulenius, S. (2018). Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Business. Entrepreneur Press, Publisher.
[4] Gulenius, S. (2018).
[5] McGrath, K. (2021). 19 Tried-and-True Lead Magnet Ideas and Examples [+ Step-by-Step]. HubSpot. Recovered
[6] Gulenius, S. (2018).
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