Content marketing is virtually everywhere in modern digital marketing. Your email inbox is probably filled with countless email newsletters from different brands. This very piece you are reading is part of a content marketing funnel.
Why are individuals, companies, and brands going through all the trouble of creating these funnels? It’s a super-effective method of attracting, nurturing, converting, and retaining customers.
According to a report by eMarketer, 58% of the respondents (marketing influencers) reported that content marketing is their most effective online tactic.
Your business needs a content marketing funnel. How do you build one? That’s what we’ll discuss today, but first:
What is a Content Marketing Funnel?
A content marketing funnel is a strategy that involves using different types of content to guide potential customers through the buyer’s journey. The technique turns prospects into loyal customers and brand advocates. An effective content marketing funnel caters to all customer journey stages; awareness, consideration, and conversion.
Whereas some marketers end their funnels after the conversion, the best content marketers think beyond that. Forward-thinkers create additional content aimed at boosting customer retention and advocacy. We’ll discuss all four stages of the content marketing funnel in-depth in the next section.
Content distribution is another vital element of a successful content marketing funnel.
According to the rule of seven, the average prospect needs to interact with a brand seven times before purchasing. So, you need to develop an effective content distribution strategy to maximize your exposure.
Creating actionable blog posts alone is not enough.
Sure, building a successful blog is critical, but you have to go above and beyond to maximize the ROI of your content marketing strategy. You need to build an email list and create a newsletter strategy, for example. You might try guest posting to gain exposure. Social media content also plays an integral role in building brand recognition, lead generation, and nurturing.
Ultimately, you need to know which channels your ideal customers use. From there, it’s all about creating high-quality content for each channel.
The Four Stages of a (Content Marketing) Funnel
Like the sales funnel, the content marketing funnel consists of four stages. These are usually visualized in the form of a funnel.
You have lots of leads entering the funnel at the top. However, the number decreases towards the middle of the funnel as you weed out unqualified leads. That leaves you with prospects who are then converted into customers at the bottom of the funnel.
From there, the priority shifts to customer retention. That helps you boost the lifetime value of each customer and increases the return on investment of your funnel.
Building customer loyalty and advocacy takes place at the fourth stage. The goal is to use existing customers to attract new clients. That’s usually done through strategies like customer referral programs.
Let’s get practical and look at building a successful content marketing funnel for your business.
How to Build a Content Marketing Funnel
Before building a content marketing funnel, you must first understand your target audience. You need to know your prospect’s demographics, interests, needs, and pain points. That will help you build an accurate buyer’s persona with all the details you need to target your prospects more effectively.
For example, knowing the age of your target audience makes it easier to create an effective content strategy. It helps you understand the type of content to use and how to tune that content in a way that resonates with your prospects.
Your research will also help you understand what channels will likely give you the highest ROI. For example, if you’re running a B2B company, LinkedIn is likely to be more relevant to your audience than a platform like Pinterest.
Meanwhile, interests and pain points will help you adjust your content creation strategy to ensure your sales pitches come off organically.
How are you supposed to get all this data? Here are a few starting points:
- Analyze your customer database – Your existing customer database can provide valuable insights into who your ideal customers are. For example, purchase history can help you know what your ideal customers are typically interested in. You can also get details on your customers’ age, gender, and location from the database. Your marketing and sales team can also prove to be very resourceful.
- Ask your customers directly – Create a short survey and publish it on your website. You can also distribute it through other channels like email and social media.
- Use audience intelligence tools – Audience intelligence tools like Audiense and Brandwatch provide audience insights that can help you understand your target audience better.
Once you understand your target audience, the next stage involves creating relevant content for each funnel stage. Although some types of content are exclusively used in specific stages of the funnel, you can use certain pieces at various stages.
For example, case studies are just as effective at the bottom of the funnel as they are at the middle of the funnel. You just need to adjust the story behind the case study to fit the stage. The same can be said for email newsletters.
Let’s go through some of the content types that can be used at the different stages of the content marketing funnel:
1. Top of the Funnel: Awareness
The primary goal of the top of the funnel content is to build brand awareness. You need content that enlightens and engages your target audience at this stage. The content should answer relevant questions that your target audience may have. The content could also point out issues that your customers might not know.
Leads coming through the awareness stage are rarely ready to spend money resolving their problems. The top of the funnel or ToFu content, then, should not be “salesy” or transactional. Focus on delivering value through highly informative content.
Making your ToFu content entertaining is also pretty useful. After all, you want to leave a good impression that will help leads remember your brand in the future.
Blog posts make great ToFu content. These can be used to attract leads and increase brand awareness. They also provide an opportunity to showcase your expertise in your industry.
For example, Zendesk uses the piece of content below to educate leads before discussing some of the tools users need for sales prospecting. Of course, their tool is strategically and subtly included in the list.
Other examples of top of the funnel content are:
- Social media content
- Email newsletters
Keep in mind that you will need a solid strategy for each type of content. For example, blog posts are pretty effective, but you have to follow SEO best practices to make your content visible. You also want to create actionable blogs that make you look like a thought leader in your niche.
You will also need an excellent social media marketing strategy that will help you connect with your target audience at a personal level. Start by identifying the social networks where your ideal customers hang out. Next, do your research and determine what type of content performs best in that channel. Generally speaking, short-form videos perform really well in socials.
Interacting with your audience on social media is also crucial. Avoid buzzwords, don’t be too formal, and create that human connection. Reply to those mentions and take full advantage of user-generated content. That’s what brands like Hubspot do.
Similarly, you need a good strategy for your email newsletters. Write engaging subject lines, personalize your email content, create mobile-friendly emails, etc.
Thankfully, various tools make running email campaigns a seamless experience. These tools help you schedule recurring emails, personalize your emails, track opens, clean up your email list, and automate other email marketing tasks.
2. Middle of the Funnel: Educating
Leads moving into the middle of the funnel or consideration stage are more aware of their interests and pain points. They are also looking for possible solutions to those pain points.
Therefore, your middle of the funnel or MoFu content should help the prospects understand what your product or service can do for them. You can employ some sales tactics here but don’t be too pushy.
Middle of the funnel content is often “gated.” That means that prospects have to provide their details to access that content. So, for example, you may request the prospect’s email address before sending them MoFu content. That’s what OptinMonster does here:
The cheat sheet, which is an addition to a blog post, appears as a popup when leaving the page.
Below are other types of MoFu content:
- Comprehensive how-to guides
- White papers
Whatever the content type is, make sure it is valuable and entertaining. Remember to include a clear call to action that can push the prospect to the next funnel stage.
The good thing about using gated content in the middle of the funnel is it helps you build a personal relationship with prospects since it gives you access to their contact details.
3. Bottom of the Funnel: Build Trust
Prospects entering the bottom of the funnel are fully aware of their pain points and are interested in your solution. They just need that final nudge to cross the finish line. That’s what the bottom of the funnel or BoFu content is supposed to deliver.
Customer testimonials and product reviews are especially common at this point. You will find top brands publishing these reviews on their landing pages.
Here are other examples of BoFu content:
- Free trials
- Discount offers
- Case studies
Make sure the content is personalized for the specific needs of each prospect. Your value proposition should also be a no-brainer.
It’s now time to work on keeping your customers, and one of the best ways to do that is by maintaining regular communication.
At this point, you should be very familiar with what each customer is interested in. Therefore, you should target them with relevant educational information through email and other channels. Moreover, keep your customers in the loop when you have promotions, discounts, and policy updates.
Chatbots, online courses, and product tutorials are also very critical at this stage. They will help your customers get the most value out of your product. You should also open multiple lines of communication to ensure customers can reach your team with ease.
Turning customers into brand advocates takes place at this stage as well. The idea is pretty straightforward: deliver an excellent customer experience incentivize your customers to tell their friends about your product or services. You can quickly achieve that through referral programs.
Read the story on Dropbox’s referral program to get an idea of how successful these programs can be.
A content marketing funnel uses different types of content to attract, nurture, and convert customers. In this article, we explored the four stages that build a high ROI content marketing funnel, i.e., top of the funnel, middle of the funnel, the bottom of the funnel, and retention.
We also shared the different types of content that can be used at each stage. For example, you can use blog posts and social media posts to boost awareness. Meanwhile, gated content like how-to guides, demos, ebooks, etc., works best in the middle of the funnel. Use customer testimonials, product reviews, and case studies at the conversion stage.
Finally, you can utilize email newsletters to keep current customers engaged. You can also use social media to create a community for your customers.
Hopefully, this guide has given you all the insights you need to set up your funnel. So, here’s to your first successful content marketing funnel.
Looking for more content marketing advice? Check out some of these posts:
- 15 Creative and Killer Content Marketing Ideas (with examples)
- 37 Useful Content Marketing Tools for All of Your Content Needs
- These 14 Benefits of Content Marketing are Why You Should Invest More in Content
- 14 Content Marketing Platforms to Empower Your Digital Marketing in 2022
- These are the 23 Types of Content Marketing Your Business Needs to Know About
Hero Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash