Content marketing is successful because of human nature. It comes down to being genuinely helpful and engaging, thus piquing the interest of your audience so that they’re inclined to delve deeper all on their own. It never explicitly promotes a product but is still able to cultivate brand trust, loyalty, and sales, almost like magic!
Writers love content marketing because they get to focus on creating truly insightful content. Brands love content marketing because they get to attract, nurture, and convert leads almost on autopilot. Of course, content marketing efforts require planning and strategy, so where do you start?
If you’re new to content marketing, here’s an actionable, step-by-step breakdown showing you exactly how you can start planning more cohesive, strategic content for all four stages of the buying journey.
What is the content marketing funnel?
The content marketing funnel (also known as the marketing loop) helps you visualize the stages of the customer’s journey.
No one wakes up one day suddenly ready to buy your product. Instead, they gradually move through different problem-solving stages until they reach the point of conversion. If you want to help them along that journey, you need to have content that matches their goals, and that’s what the funnel is all about.
Stages of The Content Marketing Funnel
The content marketing funnel follows the buyer’s journey, creating four steps or stages:
- Awareness: This is the top-of-the-funnel (TOFU). During this stage, the reader is looking to learn. Their questions are broad and non-specific. They likely don’t know anything about your company or the solutions available to them.
- Consideration: This is the middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU). At this point, the reader is aware of your company and even interested in it. They want to know more about your solutions and compare them to competitors.
- Decision: This is the bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU). By this stage, the reader is ready to make a purchase, but needs a few final pieces, like a price quote or delivery date, to convert into a paying customer.
- Retention: This is out-of-the-funnel (OOFU). Beyond the funnel, the reader has become your customer, but you now need to keep them engaged and continue offering value to create brand loyalty.
The classic funnel analogy does not nicely account for what happens beyond the funnel (i.e., the golden stage of customer retention), which is why the industry has shifted to the marketing loop, but that change in terminology won’t affect anything you’re about to learn, so let’s dive into how the content marketing funnel looks for each stage.
This is the awareness stage. Readers are problem-aware, but not solution-aware. During this stage, readers will:
- Ask very broad questions to gain context around their problem
- Begin learning about the solutions that exist to solve their problem
- Assess what the downsides and risks are of not addressing their problem
A company’s goal at this point is to attract potential customers, demonstrate niche expertise, and build brand authority.
Top-of-Funnel Content Types
Many different types of content can fit into multiple funnel stages, but here are some examples of content that performs very well at the top of the funnel.
- Articles and blog posts
- Social media posts
- eBooks and guides
Top-of-Funnel Content Tips
TOFU content represents a prime opportunity for search engine optimization (SEO) and generating organic traffic from keywords. Since TOFU keywords lack purchase intent, they are not as competitive as BOFU keywords. This means it’s easier for you to start driving traffic with them.
While high-traffic, keep in mind that TOFU keywords are broad “What is?” and “How to” type questions and will capture a wide audience. For instance, “how to sign a document online” might attract business owners who could benefit from the eSigning tool a company is selling, but thousands of non-prospects will be looking it up as well when they need to sign a work agreement, bill of sale, or power of attorney.
When creating content around broad TOFU keywords, here’s my advice for engagement: Address the problem fully, but give examples specific to your target audience. This will help you answer the query for everyone, thereby earning a better ranking, but will also demonstrate niche expertise for the small percentage of readers who represent potential customers.
This is the consideration stage. Readers are now solution-aware but need more information to compare their options. During this stage, readers will:
- Seek out in-depth educational content about your solutions and competitors
- Be open to making a semi-commitment, like joining a webinar or downloading a white paper
- Explore brand-specific materials, like case studies, testimonials, and how-to videos
A company’s goal at this point is to highlight its industry expertise and unique selling proposition by offering highly informative, relevant content that moves the reader to the next stage.
Middle-of-Funnel Content Types
- Industry reports
- Case studies
- Product demos
- Side-by-side comparisons
- Comprehensive guides
- Free tools
Middle-of-Funnel Content Tips
MOFU content is a great opportunity to build trust in prospective customers and show that you understand audience needs and pain points. You should continue targeting keywords at the middle of the funnel, but you’ll notice they’re now more specific and potentially more competitive.
Broad questions like “how to sign a document online” have now been narrowed down to specific queries like “best document signing tools.” You can identify MOFU keywords because they indicate comparison and that the searcher has already done some top-level exploring, but still needs more information to decide on their path forward.
In the middle of the funnel, you can start using calls to action that plug your product or service by offering demos or a free consultation with your sales team. It’s good to start creating friction at this point, like by using gated content, as it’s going to start narrowing down to qualified prospects who are serious about becoming paying customers.
This is the decision stage. Readers are now solution-aware and ready to make a purchase decision, but they need a final nudge. At this point, they will:
- Navigate to landing pages looking for a specific piece of content, like pricing information
- Look for reassurance by reviewing case studies, integrations, referrals, and metrics one final time
- Plan for what will happen after purchasing by exploring shipping policies, warranty information, and documentation
A company’s goal at this point is to ensure they don’t lose a prospective customer to a competitor. The content needs to build the reader’s confidence and address any final objections or hesitations by delivering the right content, often via email marketing and retargeting campaigns.
Bottom-of-Funnel Content Types
- Case studies
- Comparison tools
- Pitch decks
- Product pages
Bottom-of-Funnel Content Tips
BOFU content needs to be hyper-targeted to your ideal customer so they feel like you’re speaking directly to them. During the content creation process, get picky about planning pieces with a specific buyer personain mind.
The bottom of the funnel is where content writing and copywriting truly begin to meld, creating content that remains authoritative but really taps into audience pain points with highly actionable CTAs that get the reader excited to make a purchase.
Blog content remains important at the bottom of the funnel, but as soon as a lead is secured on a list (email or otherwise), companies can maximize conversion rates by utilizing more targeted content formats, be it LinkedIn ads or direct emails.
This is the retention stage. Readers are now customers, but they won’t stick around forever if a company isn’t actively engaging them. At this point, they need:
- Reassurance that the company is continuing to provide value to them with product enhancements and helpful content so they can make the most of their purchase
- Outstanding service and support far beyond the refund period, plus surveys asking for their feedback as time goes on
- Direct emails and ads to keep the brand top-of-mind, with updates on new features, discounts, and exciting happenings
A company’s goal at this point is to turn a customer into a brand ambassador. Retention content isn’t all about upsells, but rather expressing appreciation and continuing to offer value through personal outreach and support.
Out-of-Funnel Content Types
- Product announcements
- Company updates
- User forums
- Help articles
- Surveys and polls
- User guides
- Courses and webinars
Out-of-Funnel Content Tips
OOFU content is focused on customer success, loyalty, and retention. This customer base can exponentially impact a business; keeping them happy can lead to high-value referrals in addition to future purchases, upgrades, and renewals.
One great thing about effective content marketing is that all of the TOFU content you’re working on is also valuable to OOFU customers as the top-of-the-funnel covers so many ancillary topics that it’s bound to help customers stay abreast of industry trends and make well-informed decisions.
To best retain customers who are out of the sales funnel, spend time segmenting your audience based on specific interests, products purchased, and levels of loyalty so that you can cater to them directly and ensure you’re offering just the right content.
Become a Strategic Partner to Your Clients
Building brand awareness is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many perks of content marketing. Lead generation, nurturing, and conversion can all happen on autopilot within the content marketing funnel, or at least give the sales team a major headstart by helping to attract and warm up prospects. Still, content marketing is just one slice of the bigger digital marketing puzzle.
If you’re a content professional offering your services to businesses, content marketing is one of the most timeless and invaluable skills you can learn. Would you like help to become a more strategic partner to your clients and maximize your income? Come join our Slack channel for mentorship, resources, and work opportunities.