Content marketing serves a lot of purposes. It begins with making your target audience aware of your product (and educating them about the usefulness of your product, if needed), and the ultimate goal is to help them evolve into being delighted consumers of your business. This — by design — makes content marketing a multi-stage process, one that follows different strategies and methodologies at different times.
As per a B2C marketing research report by Forrester:
A prospective customer consumes, on an average, 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase decision.
In all likelihood, some of those pieces would be ones that provide a comparison between the product and its competitors. So its quite obvious that you need to produce some pieces of content that address that particular question. But where does this particular type of content fall during the consumer’s decision making process?
Put yourself in your consumers’ shoes for a second. We have all bought a product or two ourselves. Does that process start by comparing two products that address our pain-point? No, right? There is a long process involved before we even get to the point of shortlisting a few possible candidates — and ultimately we pay for only one (or two) of those on the final shortlist.
This is why a content marketing funnel becomes vital to the business.
A consumer’s purchasing process starts from researching about the painpoint in his workflow he is struggling with, and this stage, he is looking to learn, to educate himself. And this marks the journey of a consumer that — if handled well — leads to him making a purchase. That is why the content marketing funnel becomes critical.
WHAT IS A CONTENT MARKETING FUNNEL?
Content marketing funnel is a process designed to feed new leads into your business process via different types and channels of content, and then working at converting them into possible transacting consumers by progressively working them through various graded content types/channels.
WHY DO YOU NEED IT?
Content marketing is arguably the marketing channel that gives you the most bang for your buck — in some cases, in a dollar-to-dollar comparison, it can drive 3–5x more leads for your business as compared to say display ads or search ads.
First of all, unlike ads which drive traffic to your business as long as you continue to pay for them, content marketing is more or less an evergreen source of traffic for your business. It leads to a widespread presence in search page results, drives backlinks and most importantly, helps you leverage the much ignored long tail keywords.
(Do read up on the value long tail keywords can add to your business. They are like tiny little breadcrumbs you are leaving all over for potential consumers to find their way to you.)
Then there is the fact that content marketing displays a much higher conversion rate as compared to any other marketing channel. Anywhere between 5x-10x higher as compared to your traditional marketing channels.
Because content marketing helps you forge and develop a relationship with your potential consumers, and helps you establish subject matter expertise — something that is extremely difficult to achieve using any other marketing channel.
THREE STAGES OF A CONTENT MARKETING FUNNEL
Let us look at each of them in detail, to understand their significance in the overall content marketing strategy and how to go about each of them.
TOP OF THE FUNNEL (ToFu)
Awareness is the theme here. Designed to grab the attention of the target audience, pieces of content herein produced aim on creating brand awareness and driving traffic to the website and maybe various landing pages.
ToFu is where you are striving to add continuous value to the lives of your consumers without having any expectations in return. Content produced here is aimed to answer questions your audience may be having, and at solving the pain-points they are facing in running their business.
So, how do you do it? What channels do you look at?
Since it is all about brand awareness, this phase follows a more sledgehammer approach as compared to a scalpel. You want to reach out to as many out there as possible to ultimately generate the maximum leads. Get as many of your target audience in your funnel as possible. So, you tend to disseminate your content via different social media channels et al.
Note : Strictly speaking, lead generation is a part of the middle of the funnel, and so ‘generating leads’, and therefore the utility of different landing pages would ultimately fall under the purview of MoFu.
So, what all should you be doing here? What you have got to remember here is that your goal is to grab the attention of your audience.
#1. Sharing content you don’t own — You can curate content that’s relevant to your business segment and your audience. For obvious reasons, this is the easiest type of content that you can create since you don’t need to actually create any content. Though you need to watch out for the fact that you share content that is of extremely high value to your audience — otherwise this content type can get real spammy real fast, and no one wants that. (Pro tip: Don’t just share links of the articles containing high-value content; add a byline to them while sharing — something like a key takeaway; the reason why you think it WILL add value to your audience.)
#2. Images and videos — Images can be used to offer tiny pieces of content that adds value to your audience. A slightly elaborate form of image can be an infographic — one where you talk about a certain topic in a visually engaging and yet concise manner. You can make how-to images, lists etc. Videos are slightly time consuming as compared to any other form of content, but if you have read up my stories about the power YouTube has in driving traffic to your business, you would know why they can potentially offer great conversion rates.
#3. Podcasts, webinars etc. — Podcasts, webinars, tutorial sessions etc. have grown to become powerful forms of content that brands leverage continuously to drive value to their business. One of the brands that I have seen leverage the power of webinars in an extremely solid manner is Neil Patel (Yep, there is no reason not to consider him a brand, is there?)
#4. Blog posts and articles — One of the oldest and still versatile mode. Search page rankings, isn’t it? When done right, this is something that will keep on driving traffic to any page you consider adding value to your business.
MIDDLE OF THE FUNNEL (MoFu)
Here, it is all about the consumers’
consideration. This stage focuses on creating content that educates and informs the potential consumers. This is about creating and nurturing your leads, forging a relationship with them.
In phase 1, we rolled out content that added value to the life of our consumers, driving traffic to your website. Now its time to convert these visitors to an actual lead. Most commonly, businesses tend to do so by offering something of value in return for the willingness of the prospective consumer to let you contact them — via emails or calls. Once you have their contact information, you begin the process of forging and nurturing a relationship with them. The intent here is to build a rapport with your audience — one that helps them gain trust in your subject matter expertise and capability to help them with their business.
So, what do we do here?
Since, middle of the funnel is all about generating leads, and forging, nurturing and growing a relationship with your audience, the best type of content type here would be educational resources.
You should aim to create content that is useful, practical and can show incremental value in a short span of time, with minimal effort. In other words, create content that can potentially help your consumers score some quick wins in their businesses.
Since your first focus here is to capture your prospect’s contact information (most commonly email and in some cases, phone number), this type of content is often labeled a Lead Magnet.
Some of the most commonly used resource types for this stage are:
#1. Case studies — Data forms the best and most compelling example, and case studies often include statistics and other data that are gathered, analysed and presented at the end of a project. Case studies help your business because they target the basic human psyche — we seek validation in the work of others. You can also use case studies to showcase testimonials and stories illustrating customer wins. To do this most effectively, it makes sense to tailor the story in a manner that shows the contrast between before and after your customers started using your product/services.
#2. Free guides, ebooks, worksheets etc. — The primary intent here is to display how your product helps your audience solve different problems plaguing their businesses. Whether it helps them save time, or increase productivity and efficiency, guides and ebooks help you showcase the strengths of your products/services. Worksheets are a type of how-to guide that help your audience see for themselves how your techniques and/or product is adding value to their lives.
#3. Whitepapers — Whitepapers solve multiple problems, but most importantly, they help convince your audience that your product/service can be a solution to a particular business problem, and it is a business problem worth investing to solve. Whitepapers quantitatively illustrate how solving a particular business problem can add value to the business.
To ensure that your lead magnets are indeed magnets, try to answer this question — Do they provide real, tangible and immediate value to the consumers? If they don’t, you need to think a bit more.
(Pro tip: To maximise your RoI, it is always a good idea to make content that has a high likelihood of being shared around. This helps bring additional leads into the funnel, and it does so straight at the middle of the funnel, bypassing the first stage.)
Important Note: Ever since the EU begin enforcing GDPR regulations, be sure you read up on best practices for email lead capture.
BOTTOM OF THE FUNNEL (BoFu)
Conversion is the game here. This is the part that focuses on conversion of leads to consumers. It is extremely product focused and tends to get as personalised as possible.
Now that you have facilitated your audience into getting aware about your brand, your product/services, and have built some sort of a rapport with them, now its time to put your effort to a test and present them an offer that eases them in transitioning into a paying customer.
This is the trickiest part because of the simple reason that it involves changing the mindset of your audience from receiving value for free to paying to receive that value (even if it is much more value than what they have been getting for free). That is why personalisation becomes so critical here.
To get over the inhibition threshold of transitioning from receiving free value to actually paying for it, you need to bridge the gap between the value offering of the two segments. So how do you do that?
The simplest way to is to leverage the rapport and nurtured relationship you have been building via emails etc. Start leaving breadcrumbs leading consumers upto pages where they can pay to start using a product that offers exponential value as compared to the free value they are consuming/receiving on that page. To sweeten the deal, you can offer them special time-bound promotional or referral discounts, or offer limited time trials before asking them to actually pay for the product.
SOME FINAL POINTS BEFORE THE BONUS
Other than these, there are of course some no-brainers:
- For any kind of marketing, you need to always start with an audience in mind. Unless you understand the target audience and what are the problems they face, you would not be able to create the right content for them. So, needless to say, this has to be the starting point of any strategising.
- Research on what your audience looks for when they Google. The top of your funnel relies a lot on appearing in search page results, so it makes sense to ensure that you are producing content that’s aligned with the search phrases and keywords of your target audience.
- Put yourself in your audience’s shoes and try answering, with an unbiased head, the question — “What will be a convincing argument for me to try a new product?”
- Don’t try to solve multiple problems on day one. It is better to be the preferred solution for one single, specific problem for a niche audience out there as compared to being ‘one of many solutions’ for a bigger audience.
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Instead of guessing what kind of content you should be producing, research on what kind of content and what topics are being received well by your target audience. Start by focussing there. There are two approaches here : Approach 1 — Figure out the most engaging and popular content in your topic area and create similar content to ride the success wave being witnessed by others. Approach 2 — Use the pool of popular content to identify the underlying theme that’s gaining popularity, and then create a fresh piece of content that covers a topic/sub-topic that has yet been unaddressed by others. Content marketing is already a tedious process; let us eliminate the guesswork!
THE FOURTH BONUS STAGE OF THE FUNNEL
What do you do once you have converted your consumers? You had invested into getting a lead to become an actual transacting customer, and now they have, so its done right? All you need to do is to make sure that they don’t face discontent with your product/service and you will continue to have their business. Correct?
Errmmm… Yes and No!
Sure, it is obvious that you want a customer to continue using your product/service for as long as possible, increasing your average lifetime value of a consumer, but if you are really looking to maximise your revenue and return on your marketing dollars and hours, you need to go over and beyond that.
While it is true that content marketing gives great conversion rates, nothing matches up to advocacy by an existing consumer. You want your customers to be loyal users of your product/service, but at the same time, you also want them to be the strongest supporters, advocates and ambassadors of your business. And you can achieve that by delighting your consumers and rewarding them for their advocacy.
(But you need to do that in exactly that order. If you ask a dissatisfied consumer to promote your product, if he does that, he would do that only to reap the benefits that come with it, and that won’t do you much good.)
Your loyal customers and vocal proponents of your business are the best sources to seed the top of the funnel, and you can make this process even more effective by ensuring customer delight — not just with the usefulness of your product/service/free-resources, but a customer service that’s worth being jealous of.