How To Build Your Content Marketing Funnel
by Geoff Hineman
By now, you've heard about the importance of high-quality content. You may have even started making a list of different blog posts, tweets, and videos you can develop. That's a good idea because, according to a recent Salesforce blog post 87% of shoppers begin their information gathering in a digital channel of some sort. Further, according to a Forrester report, a shopper will consume, on average, 11.4 different pieces of content before deciding whether they are going to purchase and from whom.
These numbers certainly reinforce the need for high-quality content. To be most effective at creating content that is designed to convert shoppers into customers, you need to understand the sales funnel and how it applies to your content development strategy.
In this post, we are going to break down the three section of the sales funnel and discuss how your content marketing funnel should be addressing the needs of all three stages. We'll give examples of the types of content and marketing strategies that go along with each step, including post conversion retention.
What is a Content Marketing Funnel?
Your content marketing funnel should mimic your sales funnel. It's called a funnel, because the process of qualifying shoppers means, by necessity, that you'll have to shed the tire kickers to get to those who have a genuine intention of buying. As you do this, the number of shoppers will decrease as you get closer to the conversion point. The process of decreasing your pool of shoppers to conversion looks very much like a funnel.
The three main parts of the sales funnel are known as Top of Funnel, Middle of Funnel, and Bottom of Funnel. We will get into more detail about each step in just a moment. As your shoppers move through the funnel and closer to converting, the types of information they search for differs. As such, you'll want to develop a content marketing funnel that addresses the content needs of shoppers at each stage of the funnel so you can essentially hold their hand through the funnel to the eventual conversion.
As we delve deeper into the three parts of the funnel, we will offer suggestions for content at each step. Keep in mind, however, that every business is unique. As such, recommendations for one stage of the content funnel may work better in a different stage for your business. As you build a content marketing funnel strategy, it should become clear to you which suggestions below might need to be shuffled around to best suit your business needs.
Where to Start Your Content Marketing Funnel
You have a product or service that solves a problem. Some people know exactly the problem they have and need your product to solve it. Others may not even know the problem they have, but they know the symptoms of the problem. There are some people in the middle.
To start building your content marketing funnel, you first need to know what people are looking for at each step of the funnel. You'll usually find this information in three key places:
- Customer Service – Your customer service team fields questions all day long. Have them make a list of the questions they get most often.
- Product Managers – Depending upon the nature of your product(s), there will be someone dedicated to knowing it inside and out. Depending upon the size of your business, this person could be the owner or a dedicated product manager. Their responsibility is to have a full understanding of product features and benefits. These features and benefits should naturally fit into a stage of the funnel, with broader information at the top and more detailed information at the bottom.
- Keyword Research – There are several free and paid keyword research tools out there. The most popular (and free) options are Google Search Console and the Google Keyword Planner in Google Ads. With the former, you can get a good idea of the types of keywords that leading your site to appear in the search results, along with the click-through rates (CTR) of those results. With the latter, you'll get more detailed information about the total search landscape. I would suggest consulting every single keyword research tool you have at your disposal to gather as many terms and questions as possible. From there, you can weed out the ones that don't apply and develop the ones that do.
When you have a substantial list of relevant questions to address, the next step is to decide where in the funnel the content belongs. So, let's look at the three stages of the funnel.
Top of Funnel
The top of the funnel, also known as TOFU, is for shoppers who are at the discovery phase of the sales process. They have a problem and are seeking an answer. They may not even know enough about their problem yet to know if your product or service is the answer. This is the stage, then, where you want shoppers to start becoming aware of your brand and its offerings.
When you have discerned the types of topics that would best suit a shopper in the discovery phase that characterizes the top of the funnel, it's time to look at the content formats that will help to qualify those shoppers. In short, your content should answer a question in a way gives the shopper enough information to know whether your products/services would help solve the stated problem.
Some common forms of content you can employ at the top of the funnel include:
- Optimized blog posts
- White papers
- Reports that feature original research
- Overview videos
- Social Media Posts
Remember, not all these options will be a good fit for your business model; feel free to adjust accordingly.
For many searchers, your content will make it clear that they'll need something different than what you offer. It's best they learn it now rather than make a purchase only to find out later that your product doesn't address their needs, which can lead to bad reviews and negative comments on social media.
For some shoppers, however, your offerings will make sense. Those are the shoppers ready to move to the middle of the funnel.
Middle of Funnel
The middle of the funnel is also known as MOFU. Think of it as a consideration and evaluation phase. This is the stage at which shoppers think your product or service could help solve their problem, but they need more information. This information will come in the form of more-detailed content. This is also where branding becomes a factor. Shoppers want to trust and identify with the business from which they buy a product so they can feel good about the purchase. Content at this stage of the funnel can go a long way toward preventing buyer's remorse and even starting to sow the seeds of a repeat shopper.
Some common forms of content you can employ at the middle of the funnel include:
- Detailed expert guides
- Webinars / Live Interaction (e.g., Facebook Live)
- In-depth white papers that really get into the differences of feature and benefits that separate your product or service from competitors. This is a good place to really drive home your unique value proposition.
As with the top of funnel approaches, not all these options will be a good fit for your business model. Find which options make the most sense for you and create accordingly.
By the funnel's very nature, some shoppers will drop out at this stage. After all, the whole point of middle of the funnel content is start making it very clear to shoppers whether your product or service is best for them. Sometimes, it won't be. Other times… they'll be ready to move to the bottom of the funnel.
Bottom of Funnel
The bottom of the funnel is known as BOFU. This is where you need to break out the content that will seal the purchase or conversion. In the sales arena, this would be referred to as the close. As such, the bottom of the funnel content should be sales-rich. Shoppers who are at this stage of the funnel have already done their research, likely with your content and content from other organizations. The questions at the bottom of the funnel are no longer dealing with finding ways to solve a problem or the types of products that will solve a problem. The questions that need to be addressed in the content at that bottom of the funnel are much more related to why shoppers should buy from you!
If you've done your keyword research, you should be able to identify the types of terms and questions that are representative of someone close to making a purchase.
The types of content found at the bottom of the funnel might include:
- Case studies
- Detailed product literature
- Trial offers (where applicable)
Remember, this is the content designed for converting a shopper to a customer. This is where you are trying to convey to a shopper that your product or service addresses their exact need and that you are the right business from which to purchase. This is not the time to pull any punches.
It's long been known that it is less expensive to retain an existing customer than acquire a new one. In fact, a recent article in Forbes suggests that it can cost five times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. That being the case, putting all the effort into building a content marketing funnel would just be incomplete without accounting for a way to keep those newly-won customers.
While much ink has been spilled on customer retention, there are some techniques that work particularly well and can be incorporated into your content marketing funnel planning. They involve unique ways to stay relevant and visible to customers. Some options include:
- Follow up emails with special promotions
- Loyalty / Rewards programs
- Ask for reviews / feedback (and incorporate suggestions where appropriate)
Retention is an important part of process because customers like to feel that you are invested in them. Even simply knowing you are there gives your customers peace of mind and makes them feel like they made the right decision, both of which are key to repeat sales.
Having a content marketing funnel that mimics your sales funnel is good way to hold a shopper's hand through the buying process and make them a repeat customer. It's starts by gathering shopper inquiry information from customer service agents, product managers, and keyword research tools. With this information, you can assess your current content marketing efforts to identifying areas that need further development and just where those pieces go in the funnel.
When executed properly, you can drive sales now and set yourself up for incremental sales increases in the future.