Rethinking Email Marketing: From Funnels to Ecosystems

In the world of online business, the traditional marketing funnel approach may not be the most effective strategy for email marketing. Instead, adopting an email marketing ecosystem perspective allows for a more personalized and engaging experience for subscribers. This approach, based on five key pillars, focuses on sending the right emails to the right people at the right time, ultimately leading to more effective and authentic email marketing campaigns.

This essay is part of the series, Fix Your Flow: Get the Right Emails to the Right People.

In the world of online business, you’ve likely come across the concept of a marketing funnel. It’s the idea that people enter your world from various sources – podcasts, Facebook ads, virtual summits, Google search, etc. – and are funneled towards your offers.

I’m not a huge fan of this funnel approach when it comes to email marketing.

Instead, I propose a shift in perspective, from thinking of email marketing as a funnel to viewing it as an ecosystem.

The Pitfalls of the Traditional Funnel Approach

The traditional marketing funnel suggests a linear path where subscribers are treated as mere widgets on a conveyor belt, all moving towards the same destination. It assumes a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t consider the nuances of your business model. Do you sell digital products, offer group programs, or work one-on-one?

These distinctions matter but are often overlooked in the funnel model.

Additionally, the funnel model implies a constant need to add more people to your email list.

While this may be true for some businesses, it doesn’t apply universally. And it really depends on your business model. (Not sure what I mean? I love this essay by business and operations strategist, Jessica Lackey, called What’s Your Business Design.)

Your business model should factor in when it comes to the size of your email list. For example, a consultant like myself may not require a large email list compared to a content creator like Sally who’s product is her newsletter and a selling some digital products.

Tech Issues in the Funnel Model

Moreover, the funnel model can lead to technical problems in the backend. Here are some common issues:

  1. Multiple Simultaneous Funnels: When someone signs up for multiple freebies or lead magnets, they can get pulled into different funnels simultaneously. This results in receiving multiple email sequences about similar or different products, overwhelming subscribers.
  2. No Segmentation: In some cases, the funnel model lacks the capability to distinguish between subscribers, resulting in treating everyone the same. This issue can lead to a lack of personalization in your email campaigns.
  3. Incomplete Funnels: Neglecting to build out certain funnels within your email marketing software – especially when you keep adding on new ones and/or there’s other pieces of tech involved in the process -can go unnoticed until you realize that some subscribers have never received any emails from you and you’re not sure why.
  4. Automated Follow-Up: Failing to set up automated follow-up email sequences, such a with a welcome sequence, can result in subscribers forgetting who you are after months of silence, potentially leading to disengagement.

The Ecosystem Approach to Email Marketing Automation Strategy

Instead of the funnel, I prefer to consider an ecosystem approach to email marketing.

This approach focuses on sending the right emails to the right people at the right time, fostering a more personalized and engaging experience. I call this approach to email marketing automation strategy “Automating with Heart“.

The Five Email Automation Pillars

To implement this approach effectively, I’ve identified five pillars that form the foundation of your email marketing ecosystem that I use when working with my clients, whether it be helping them to pinpoint where their ConvertKit setup is a hot mess or migrating them over from another email marketing software:


How are you using tags and custom fields to organize subscribers within your email marketing software so that you can better segment, understand your audience, and personalize your offers.


What’s the flow when someone signs up for your email list or lead magnet as they begin that customer journey? That includes everything from the landing page, what happens immediately after they hit “subscribe,” and any automated emails they receive.


What automated emails do you have set up to sell your free and paid products and services, or where are there opportunities to do that? How are you personalizing those offers based on what you know about your subscribers?


What happens when someone makes a purchase or books a call? What emails are they receiving (and no longer receiving), either through your email marketing software or another platform.


What are your email stats telling you? Where are there opportunities to send follow-up emails based on what you know about your subscribers? In this pillar, analyzing email statistics to make informed decisions and identify opportunities for follow-up emails (whether they be automated or more manual)

We’ll be delving deeper into each of these pillars, equipping you with the knowledge and tools to automate your email marketing while maintaining a genuine human connection with your subscribers.

By shifting your perspective from a rigid funnel to a flexible and adaptable ecosystem, you can create a more engaging and effective automated email marketing strategy that enables the right emails to get to the right subscribers, which in turn builds trust and connection so that you can increase opportunities to make sales.

Read the next post in the Fix Your Flow series, Chaos, Clutter and the Quest for Order

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