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 better support sales 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 up a lot of doors for marketers and startups.
First, understand that content creation done correctly is not a race against the competition. It's more like a spectator sport where you watch your leads getting closer and 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.
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 make the purchase decision. At each stage in a customer’s movement through the content marketing funnel, you have to create content that’s stage-appropriate.
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, Purchase, Retention), 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 the leads, the potential customers. As they move towards the narrower part of the funnel some number of them drop off. A smaller number stay in the funnel and become paying customers.
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 interesting articles, updates, and posts that make potential customers want to engage with you. That way, you can build a relationship, entertain, educate, speak to their passions. No hard sell.
The outcome you want from awareness content is website traffic. Once someone is visiting 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 below.
It is suggested that the content you create for the Awareness stage is most effective in these formats:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
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.
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 to get 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 have a need for your product.
That means creating:
- White papers
- Case studies
- Blog posts
Guides, templates, and white papers perform well in numbers of leads influenced and overall leads generated. You can look at leads generated and leads influenced to determine which type of content performs the best.
Email marketing also works to keep your audience engaged and drives reliable website traffic while promoting your products. Still not the time for hard-sell tactics.
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 now 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. Most effective formats at this stage are:
- Product sheets
Bring on the hard sell.
This is the stage that's crucial 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.
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
- Special offers
Beyond the Marketing Funnel
To ensure your content is used to its maximum potential you need to align your content strategy and editorial calendar with the 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.