What Is the Content Marketing Funnel?

The marketing tool known as the "funnel" has evolved into the "content marketing funnel" with the unprecedented growth of this new segment of the marketing world. This new version enables content marketers to support sales better by targeting each stage of the funnel with specific content that helps to qualify, nurture, and convert leads into customers. The strategic use of content can open many doors for marketers in companies of all sizes.

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Content marketing done correctly is not a race against the competition. It's more like a spectator sport where you watch your leads get closer. Each piece of content is an opportunity to bring a new lead closer to a sale or inspire an existing customer to take action and is a critical piece in creating and maintaining attraction.

Different stages in the funnel each get their own appropriately targeted content. This content attracts new customers and helps move them through the funnel from awareness to purchase to retention. Each piece of content has a job to do. What works to bring someone to your website will not necessarily motivate them to buy. At each stage in a customer’s movement through the content marketing funnel, you have to create stage-appropriate content.  Gone are the times, if they ever existed, when traditional content marketing created content with no purpose and was hoping for a visitor to click on the  "Contact Us" button. 

The Content Marketing Funnel

Most often stylized as a funnel, the content marketing funnel is a graphic that shows a system of stages (Awareness, Consideration, Decision Making, Delight), each with associated content. It starts with as many leads as possible and moves, or funnels, those leads through a step-by-step flow of content and converts them into actual customers.

At the top is a large number of people who have become aware of your products or services. These are potential leads, and future customers. As they move towards the narrower part of the funnel, some will drop off.

A smaller number will continue on the buyer's journey and become paying customers.

Awareness Stage (Top of the funnel)

This first stage of the content marketing funnel is where you want to attract and educate your audience on your topic, make them aware of you, and show them how you can solve their problems and eliminate their pain points.

At this stage, the content itself should not be about you. Here you'll deliver exciting articles, updates, and posts that make potential customers want to engage with you. That way, you can build relationships, entertain, educate, and speak to their passions—no hard sell.

The outcome you want from awareness content is website traffic. Once someone visits your website, they have entered your sales funnel. You can continue to build brand awareness and begin moving them towards purchase by exposing them to your consideration-stage content. More on this is below.

The content you create for the Awareness stage is most effective in these formats:

  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • Infographics
  • Videos

Note that not all audiences will react equally to the different forms of content, so mix it up. Study the available metrics to analyze which content performs best for your target audience. Look at total shares, views, time on page, scroll depth, and bounce rate.

Top of the funnel content

Evaluation/Consideration Stage (Middle of the funnel)

At this stage, you are building a relationship, creating trust, and getting your audience interested in your products. It's still not time for the hard sell, but once people are aware of your brand, you do want them to consider making a purchase. Still, you don't want your content to read like an ad.

You want engaged readers to become customers by getting them thinking about your products. This stage is the point where potential buyers determine the legitimacy of your company, develop trust in you, and decide if they need your product.

That means creating:

  • White papers
  • Webinars
  • Case studies
  • Blog posts

Guides, templates, and white papers perform well to influence leads and generate leads. You can look at leads generated and leads influenced to determine which type of content performs the best.

Email marketing keeps your audience engaged and drives reliable website traffic while promoting your products. Still not the time for hard-sell tactics.

Middle of the funnel content

Decision-Making Stage (Bottom of the funnel)

This is the stage where you seek to convert contacts that have expressed interest in your product into active customers. They know your brand and products, and it's time to make the sale.

At this stage of the content marketing funnel, you are showing your audience that a purchase is their smartest next step. Your goal is to create content that results in closing the deal. The most effective formats at this stage are:

  • Reviews
  • Self-assessments
  • Product sheets
  • Questionnaires
  • Calculators

Bring on the (hard) sell.

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Delight/Retention Stage

This is the crucial phase for retaining your customers in the long run. Here you continue to nurture customer relationships to not only retain the customers but to increase their lifetime value to your business.  Retaining customers is easier and less costly than winning new ones.

A good way to keep your customers engaged is an email newsletter they'll look forward to receiving. A bit of product promotion can be combined with great content that continues to educate and entertain them.

The goals of the delight stage content include renewal rates, increased product usage, online interactions, referrals, and user-generated content. Various content types that work at this stage include:

  • Product guides
  • Educational materials
  • Member-exclusive content
  • Forums
  • Special offers
  • Giveaways

Beyond the Marketing Funnel

To ensure your content is used to its maximum potential, you must deploy a well-constructed content marketing approach and align your content strategy and editorial calendar with your content marketing funnel. This gives you a clearer idea of your strategy, increases your content's efficacy, improves ROI, and aligns your content with the overall marketing strategy.

As a marketer, your goal is to move people down the funnel, keeping them interested until they’re ready to make a purchase, and then keep them coming back for more.

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Shelley's been in Seattle practically since the dawn of time. She enjoys having fun (seriously) with research and writing. In her off hours she reads and walks, although not at the same time -- because tripping over sidewalks is embarrassing.

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