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Imagine if every new visitor to your website bought a product. Not some day in the future after navigating your complex purchase funnel, but right then on their first visit. How much easier (and more profitable) would your life as a marketer be?
In this post we'll discuss:
- what a content marketing funnel is
- what kind of content belongs at which stage
- content for attracting leads
- content for engaging prospects
- content for delighting customers
Ready to learn how to choose the right content for each stage of the marketing funnel? Let's jump in!
Creating Content for the Modern Consumer
The thing is, selling isn’t that easy. In fact, it’s probably more difficult today as a result of the average customer’s access to information and competitor deals. Today:
- The average customer engages with 3-5 pieces of content before talking to a sales rep
- 87% of shoppers now begin their search on digital channels (so having the right content is key to gaining their attention)
Modern consumers are savvy. They’re checking multiple pieces of content across several sites before moving on from one stage of the purchase journey to the next.
Finding the right content to answer the customer’s questions, nurture their opinion of and relationship with you, and ultimately convert leads into paying customers is hard. So hard that most brands and marketers are lost when it comes to choosing the right kind of content.
In our experience, lots of companies don’t know how content marketing comes together, and they ask questions like:
- How many blog posts should I write?
- How often should I be tweeting every day?
- Is there a specific percentage of my budget that I should be spending on video?
- Do I really need to write white papers and e-books?
What these companies fail to understand is that when done correctly, content creation isn’t solely about budget, beating the competition or a simple case of frequency.A great content strategy is closer to a Q&A: You research which questions your customers are asking and then answer them in detail, thus building trust and bringing customers closer to your brand. Click To Tweet
In this framework, every piece of content you create is an opportunity to bring a new lead closer to a sale or to inspire an existing customer to take action. Content synergy is the most important element here; there’s no point in creating 100 blog posts if you’re just going to send all your readers to your homepage.
If you struggle to come up with relevant and interesting material, want new ways to repurpose your curated content or want to learn how different types of content target different parts of the funnel, this blog post is key.
What Is a Content Marketing Funnel?
A content marketing funnel is a system that takes as many leads as possible through a step-by-step content flow and converts them into actual customers who pay for your products or services.
Picture the wide top of a funnel. This is where a large number of people might become aware of your products or services. All these people are your leads – or potential customers.
As they move through your funnel towards the much narrower neck, many will drop off. Finally, a very small number of leads will make it through to the bottom of the funnel and become a customer.
A basic marketing funnel includes TOFU, MOFU and BOFU stages:
Also called a content marketing funnel, its three stages can be labeled as:
- Discovery – when a lead first discovers your brand or the product you’re selling
- Consideration – when a qualified lead (or prospect) decides to find out whether your product or service is the right fit or not, often comparing it against others in the market
- Purchase – when the prospect gathers the last bit of information they need before deciding to buy and finally becomes a customer
An inbound marketing funnel is similar, but has a slight difference:
- Attract – Showing your prospects that your brand has the solution they need. This is where you grab their attention and get that initial small opt-in.
- Engage – Here, you take that initial opt-in and build the relationship through some value-building action (email nurturing, retargeting, etc).
- Delight – The follow up from the engagement is to make the experience better than anything the user has experienced elsewhere. You delight them so they not only promote you to their friends (refilling the attract stage), but also come back for repeat purchases themselves.
A great content marketing funnel isn’t about a one-time purchase. A great funnel takes your best customers and uses them to refill the top of the funnel. It’s less a linear progression and more a cyclical strategy that continually builds goodwill and trust:
And, finally, one of the most common marketing funnels of all uses the AIDA model to take prospects through the funnel from from top to bottom with specific types of content:
Your business is going to interact with people at each and every stage of the funnel, so as these leads continue to interact, you need relevant content to persuade them to take the next step.
Which Content Type Goes Where?
Now for the burning question that every marketer wants answered: What kind of content belongs at which stage?
Here’s the expanded four-stage content marketing funnel with different examples of content that is ideal for each of the four stages:
We want to be very clear that this is just our map for content types — there is no real consensus on which types of content work best in each stage because it depends a lot on your sales cycle, your industry and your audience. There is also a lot of overlap between content types and stages.
That being said, this is the best we’ve figured out for now, and it holds true for the vast majority of companies with successful content marketing campaigns.
Let’s learn more about each type of content, and why it works in its respective stage of the funnel using the start-up company Canary, “a complete security system in a single device”, as a case study.
Content for Attracting Leads
Running ads is one of the most efficient ways of quickly increasing your site’s traffic.
Generally speaking, you'll focus on one of two types of ads:
- Search ads (like those on Google/Bing, including Google Display Network)
- Social ads (for platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
Both are a great way of getting your brand in front of your audience. According to Google, for every $1 spent on Google Ads, businesses earn an average revenue of $2, and research shows that overall social ad spend is increasing. You’ll just need to spend a little time upfront figuring out who your audience is and which approach is best suited for them.
However, there’s one thing I want you to take note of: the idea of push vs. pull headlines. Pull headlines pull the user in by showing them that you have exactly what they need. They’re perfect for search ads like this:
That top ad from Charles Tyrwhitt literally parrots the search term back to me. When I’m searching for a specific item, mentioning it in the ad copy is almost guaranteed to get my attention.
However, on social platforms people’s intent is not necessarily to buy, but rather to procrastinate, catch up with friends, or check out funny pictures and videos. So to grab attention there, you need to push your way into their attention with something that stands out:
The above ad, whilst not particularly inspired or interesting, does stand out from the usual social media updates. It’s not a collection of photos, video or just a plain wall of text. It does its job of pushing its way into your attention by the simple fact that it’s different.
- How to Create Compelling Text Ads on Google (with Examples)
- How to Improve Your Amazon Ads to Increase Sales
- The Ultimate Guide to Creating a LinkedIn Ads Campaign
2) Landing Pages
If you’re running paid ads, then landing pages are where you’re going to send most of the traffic.
However, there are a few rules I’ve learned over my years of writing landing page copy that can help massively increase conversions – lessons that many brands don’t adhere to.
The most important lesson is: keep your messaging focused.
Find one thing you want to communicate, and build your page around that message. This image is the landing page from the Canary website that does this well:
One of the first things that you’ll notice is how simple it is, with more negative space than text. They also stick to one specific angle, which is focused on the financial savings that customers could get. For example, they offer:
- Free shipping
- 60-day money-back guarantee
- 1-year premium service for $169
These discounts will quickly grab the attention of the average browser because, well, who doesn’t love a discount?
These kind of offers are great to turn a lead sitting on the fence into a paying customer and will go a long way in filling the top of their funnel. And if the prospect scrolls down a little further, there is an excellent example of trust-building mixed with a financial saving element:
Canary not only mentions how much money they’ve saved their customers, but offer a quick call-to-action that achieves two things:
- Explains exactly how much you could save if you’re insured with one of the two mentioned insurers
- Sends you to a more relevant sales page that offers even more benefits for purchasing one of their products:
When you’re writing your landing pages, keep one focus in mind to make it easier to communicate the benefits and grab attention.
For completely unqualified prospects who know absolutely nothing about your brand or product, videos are a great way of communicating a lot of information in a short period of time.
Unqualified leads either don’t know who you are or have never seen any of your products, so you need to catch their attention with more riveting, “intro”-types of content.
Video often produces higher search engine optimization and stronger engagement:
- 84% of consumers were convinced to buy a product because of a product video.
- Video will account for 82% of all Internet traffic by 2022.
- Including a video on your landing page can increase conversions by more than 80%.
- Video is also mobile-friendly, which means it puts you in front of the 5.1 billion unique mobile users across the globe.
Here’s where Canary gets really smart. They know the reach that mobile offers and they also know how beneficial it is to have some form of mobile app for their service. If only there was a way to leverage the mobile usage of their service to attract new potential users… 😉
Canary takes advantage of some of the interesting videos from their users to populate their YouTube channel and their Instagram. These short videos are often shared with the hashtag #CaughtbyCanary.
Whilst their follower count on both platforms isn’t huge, the engagement these posts get is. It’s a great way to leverage mobile’s preferred medium (video) to reach new people and attract them to the brand.
The beautiful thing about Canary’s approach is that they’re not just using video – they're using video captured with their own product. Something that both validates the concept of security and shows the camera’s quality.
They can also reuse many of these videos in places like landing pages or blog posts for greater reach and impact.
- The Video Structure that Big Agencies Use to Create Successful Videos
- The Complete Guide to YouTube SEO
- The Ultimate Guide to YouTube Advertising
A good infographic is one of the easiest ways to capture attention, generate backlinks and grab yourself some easy social shares.
People love stats that are relevant to their industry or interests and when used well, they can have profound effects on your marketing:
- 65% of B2B marketers use infographics for their content marketing
- People process images 60,000X faster than text and retain the data for 3 days if coupled with a relevant image:
- Infographics perform 3x better on social media:
- 40% of marketers report that original graphics perform the best in terms of engagement:
Infographics are the most obvious addition to your marketing if you’re dealing with data you need to visualize (hence why they're also called “data visualization”). Infographics meet at the intersection of information, illustration and design to present data in a easy-to-consume (and, often, fun) way that might otherwise be bland and boring.
Take this infographic example we put together for the growing AI trend:
Infographics aren’t just eye-catching; they have the benefit of communicating vast amounts of information in a relatively short period of time.
- 73 Super Interesting Stats & Facts about Google [Infographic]
- 84 Influencer Marketing Statistics [Infographic]
- Hacking Email Marketing: 14 Tactics that Work [Infographic]
- 27 Quick Content Marketing Tips to Drive More Traffic [Infographic]
Customers at the top of the funnel have a problem they’re looking to solve. In other words, these folk aren’t looking for “Adidas Predator 18 Soccer Cleats”. They’re searching for things like “how to improve my free kicks”, “how to increase acceleration on the soccer pitch” or some other specific problem-related search.
To grab these users’ attention, you’ve got to take your eyes off the sale and try to help them solve their issue, or their pain point. And a handy little checklist will give your potential customers a step-by-step process to do this. If you manage to help them, then they’re more likely to remember your brand and come back to you when it’s time to buy.
Take the below video, Ultimate 6-Point Facebook Advertising Checklist, as an example:
Of course, you want to make sure that the user comes back in the future and one of the easiest ways to do this is to add a downloadable to your free checklist. Something like a highly designed visual version of the list that requires an email opt-in. This will give you readers' contact details for future follow ups.
Content for Engaging Prospects
Once you’ve attracted potential customers to your brand, you need to keep them engaged. A social follow or email sign-up is worthless unless you take the time to keep in touch and build the relationship.
Trust is almost as important to customers as quality. If you’re not fostering the relationship with your customers, you’re missing out on a ton of potential revenue.
Here are a few types of contents that will help keep your users engaged in order to build trust in your brand.
1) Blog Posts (How Tos or Guides)
Your leads have now seen your landing page, found your social media accounts, laughed at your viral videos, and probably shared a few of your compelling and impeccably designed infographics. Now they’re ready for more.
One of the first things a prospect will want to know after deciding that a product or service might be useful is whether they can trust the brand behind it. And the best way to build that trust is by establishing domain expertise as a helpful thought leader. And helpful leaders usually offer free advice.
- 55% of marketers say blog post creation is their top priority for inbound marketing
- Using statistics in blog posts improves consumer trust
- Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13X more likely to see positive ROI
- 43% of B2B marketers say blogging is their most important type of content
- Content marketing gets 3X more leads than paid search advertising
Establishing a detailed blog that helps answer users' ongoing questions is key in keeping them engaged and building more trust.
Let’s take a look at this in action by heading back to Canary’s blog:
Canary offers blog posts aimed to entertain (Mother's Day 1 Year Later) and inform (Security & Privacy 101) their potential users. They make use of their user-generated content and tackle issues and questions that people considering buying home security might have.
But how will Canary’s prospects find their blog posts? Will they have to visit their website to see what’s new? Nope, that’s where social media kicks in.
- How to Build a High-Performance Content Marketing Strategy
- Never Run Out of Ideas: 7 Content Creation Strategies for Your Blog
- How to Newsjack: A Guide for Content Marketers
- 22 Companies Dominating the World With Content Marketing Campaigns
2) Social Media
It takes quite a while to rank on Google and see a decent level of organic traffic. You could just sit around and wait until people find your blog, but that’s a huge waste of time. This is where social media comes in handy.
Social media can be a great way to attract new leads. However, it’s also just as good at engaging with those you’ve already caught the attention of:
- 66% of marketers use blogs in their social media strategy
- 97% of marketers are using social media to reach their audience
- 65% of salespeople who use social selling fill their pipeline, compared to 47% of reps who do not
- There are 2.77 billion social users globally
Social is a great way to foster a sense of community engagement. By creating regularly updated content channels on the social platforms where your target audience hangs out, you provide your prospects with easy access to your advice.
You also give them a chance to see what other prospects and customers are saying. A prospect can instantly scan through dozens of eye-catching pics, announcements and satisfied customer comments.
Social media is the quickest, surest way of getting prospects and customers to engage and eventually become brand evangelists (which is why it shows up in the “Delight” stage as well).
Canary continues to share their users’ posts and engage in other ways through social media such as Twitter:
The ideal social media strategy includes regularly updating all your business’s social media accounts to maintain a strong and consistent presence and catering to your followers as needed.
Social isn’t just for attracting new leads with ads, but also for engaging with your potential customers and getting them to trust you a little more.
3) White Papers/E-books
Sometimes a blog post simply isn’t going to cut it. Maybe you need to offer more detail, delve deeper into the topic or just want something that better demonstrates your expertise.
This is where a white paper or e-book comes in. Interested leads who are a little further on in the funnel love this longer-form content:
- 75% of B2B buyers say they would share contact information for a white paper
- 71% of B2B buyers turn to white papers when researching purchasing decisions
- HubSpot’s e-books continually get thousands of shares
Longer-form content is wanted by your audience and goes even further to building your authority. When most people are willing to exchange their email address for a copy, it can be a vital part of your overall nurture funnel.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of this is on Backlinko. Brian Dean takes an interesting approach, though. He not only offers the full guide for free, but then asks if you want to download it. He doesn’t gate the content, but still offers the email download option. Take his backlinks guide as an example:
4) Case Studies
Case studies are another great way to build your authority. They show that you’re an expert in your chosen field.
Traditionally they’ve been used in sales decks or as a downloadable asset, which makes sense as they’re one of the best deliverables for accelerating the purchase decision for B2B brands. However, there’s been a shift in recent years resulting in some inventive uses.
The guys at Grow and Convert do a great job of using case study pieces on their blog, using them to detail how they achieved a certain goal for their clients. Take the below content strategy case study as an example:
These pieces aren’t just great at grabbing a potentially interested customer’s attention, but in building trust and relationships with those who are interested in hiring them. You can make them long and detailed, like this case study on Single Grain's content marketing growth strategy by Bastian Ernst, or a shorter “just the facts, ma'am” one, like these case studies:
Case studies no longer have to be locked behind a content gate. If you want to nurture more of your leads, see what making them completely open can do for you.
Video may be taking over the world, but webinars are able to take that concept to the next level.
As opposed to just presenting a recorded video to explain your expertise or demonstrate something, a webinar is an online seminar or workshop in real time in which your audience can interact with you by asking questions. In fact, 92% of webinar attendees want a live Q&A session at the end of a webinar.
The more interactive (and thus human) element of webinars leads to some impressive stats:
- People will give you almost 1 hour of their attention (compare that to the seconds or minutes someone will give an article or even a video)
- The average number of attendees for the average webinar is 148
- 60% of marketers are using webinars as part of their content marketing strategy
Webinars are a great way to engage curious potential customers before encouraging them toward the purchase decision through demonstrating your knowledge. Neil Patel says:
“Webinars are one of the best ways to hook in new leads. They are great for teaching people the hands-on methods that you’ve used to see success….Webinars turn you into a trusted expert and a thought leader in almost no time.”
- Why You Should Be Hosting Live Webinars
- How to Create a Webinar in Less than 45 Minutes [podcast]
- How Jungle Scout CEO Greg Mercer Acquired Those First Customers with Webinars and Content Marketing
6) Ratings & Reviews
Ratings and reviews are commonly thought of as something for after purchase, but they can (and should) be used to inform how you engage with your audience.
Every review of your product or that of your competitors is a direct line into the consumer’s mind. It’s a cheat sheet of the problems they’re facing and what you can do to make your content more engaging.
Let’s imagine that you offer products or services based around productivity. You head to Amazon to look at some reviews of productivity products, like the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-free Productivity, and you see these reviews:
If you see lots of similar negative reviews, then you have a good idea of what the competition's product is lacking:
“Amazon reviews of products in or related to your industry can help you create or upgrade your products, determine what content will best resonate with your audience and even hone your marketing messages. But not all reviews. Remember, people leave reviews when they love a product, hate a product or got paid to post a fake review about a product. Take those people out of the mix and you have your data set: the ones who leave 2- and 3-star reviews.”
- What Should You Do When People Complain About Your Product or Service?
- How to Use Amazon Reviews for Content and Product Development
- The Kick-Ass Guide to Increase Customer Reviews for Your Online Store
With a return on investment of $32 for every $1 spent, email is still the ROI king. It’s also one of the best ways to keep your current leads engaged, interested and moving down the funnel towards that eventual purchase.
The best thing about email is that you can automate it with detailed targeting which can be used for a number of different goals. You could run a simple welcome sequence that helps build a better image of your brand after someone signs up for a free e-book all the way and send triggered emails with offers if someone views your pricing page multiple times without purchasing.
These prospects aren’t leads anymore, and they’re going to start scrutinizing everything a little more closely. In other words, you must deliver helpful and detailed content right into their inbox that is tailored to the email subscriber's specific problem or pain point. Such content might be special offers that are relevant to them, in-depth how-to guides, and product demo or testimonial videos.
By tracking on-site and in-sequence action, you can almost hold your potential customer’s hands on their way to their purchase. To read more on how to do this effectively, check out this piece:
Once you’ve demonstrated your helpfulness and expertise without strings, a prospect is going to be far more comfortable with and serious about your brand.
- How to Use Personalization to Increase the Impact of Email Marketing
- 8 Quick Tips to Ensure SEO-Friendly Emails
- Beyond the Newsletter: You’ve Got Their Email, Now What?
Content for Delighting Customers
Now that you've made the sale, don't think this is where your effort ends. In many ways, it’s where the real effort begins.
A sale is the end of that initial purchase journey, but it’s the beginning of the far more important customer journey. It’s here that you’re really going to make your money because customer acquisition is 6-7X more expensive than retaining customers.
However, more recent research indicates that overall CAC has risen almost 50% in the last 5 years:
It pays to hold on to the customers you’ve already acquired. It pays to give them a reason to come back time and time again. And the only way you can do that is to delight them after the fact.
Below are examples of the content that’ll help you achieve exactly that.
- The Customer Acquisition Playbook: Email & In-Person Outreach
- 6 SEO Tactics for Maximum Customer Acquisition
- 3 Content Marketing Efforts to Improve Your Customer Acquisition Strategy
- 4 Ways to Signal to Google that You’re an Expert Content Creator
We could just say that doing X or Y is the best way to keep your current customers engaged and delighted. But we don’t know your business and we don’t know your customers. And, honestly speaking, you might not know them as well as you should either.
This is where surveys come in. A good survey will help you understand how you can better serve your audience. It’ll highlight a few things you can use to increase conversions. For example, you can use surveys to understand:
- How to optimize your overall site experience
- How to optimize your checkout process
- What customers want from you after the sale has gone through
All of which can be great ways of improving the customer experience, making it easier to delight each and every shopper. You just need to figure out the best way to survey your audience, and what kind of questions you’ll want to ask them.
Get this right and your audience will tell you exactly how you can make them happy.
2) Special Offers and Loyalty Programs
Too many e-commerce brands operate on a simple “one and done” policy. They want today’s sale and never look at how they can engage their previous customers — which, as you’ll know from above, is a massive missed opportunity.
One super easy, always popular method of delighting your customers is to provide exclusive offers and loyalty programs. In fact:
- 58.7% of consumers rate loyalty programs as one of the most important elements for frequenting a brand
- 79% of consumers look for loyalty rewards and offers before making a purchase
- 59% of customers are more loyal if the brand shares small gifts as a reward
Setting up a reward program will continue to engage and delight your best customers. It’ll keep them coming back for more, increasing their lifetime value, and usher them along the path to becoming brand ambassadors. But keep in mind that “typically members lose interest [in loyalty programs] because they either don’t understand the benefits or the incentives aren’t worth the purchases they must make to get them.”
Starbucks has a loyalty program in which customers receive free drinks and food after a certain number of purchases, free refills, and a free item on their birthday. Amazon, of course, has Amazon Prime, where members get free 2- or same-day shipping for eligible purchases, streaming of movies, TV shows and music, exclusive shopping deals, etc. Prime members spend 4.6x more money on Amazon than non-Prime members do.
There are numerous methods to explore for this including:
- A point-based system ($1 = 1 point), where point thresholds equals discounts
- A tier-based system (gold tier get 25% off on category X)
If you’d like a little more information on building brand loyalty to delight your customers, be sure to check out this 3-minute Marketing School podcast: How to Improve Brand Loyalty
Emails are great at every stage of the customer journey (which is why we've included it twice), including delighting existing customers. But the main aim with emails at this stage is to re-engage, entertain and delight — which isn’t that hard.
You just need a good CRM that stores customers’ details so you can send timed and targeted emails, preferably that include some form of offer. For example, you could try running some of the below:
- Birthday/anniversary/other occasion offers (like the below)
- Up- and cross-sell emails
- Surveys and questionnaires to understand how to better help customers
- Simple thank you emails
- A sequence on how to get the most out of the product they've purchased
There’s no secret to success here; it’s a simple case of staying in touch and adding value in as many natural ways as possible.
4) Social Media
Social media was initially meant to help friends connect with one another. But as the user base has grown, brands of all sizes have started relying on social platforms to acquire and engage with users.
And customers have embraced social with open arms — especially for customer service:
- 48% of customers expect a response to their question on social within 24 hours
- 42% expect a response within 60 minutes
- 32% expect a response within 30 minutes
And keep this important detail in mind: Everything said on social media is completely open to the public. So when 54% of the 3.2 billion people using social media check social before making a purchase, responding to those customer queries and offering a great service is of paramount importance.
If you want to delight your customers, you have to have a section of your customer service team dedicated to social media, not just to offer the kind of service that turns an unhappy customer into an advocate, but because each problem solved is a potential new acquisition method.
We’re living in a self-service world. An increasing number of customers want to conduct their own research, progress at their own speed, and purchase when they’re ready.
So brands who help them progress through these steps with valuable, high-quality information are the ones who will continue to grow. Why? Because those great experiences that lead to delighted customers lead returning customers which lead to brand evangelists. These are the people who will go out of their way to promote your brand to their friends.
The ultimate goal is not to generate X sales or increase certain metrics by Y (although these can be important); the goal is to adapt your content funnel to better serve your users so they will handle most of your marketing for you — i.e. word-of-mouth marketing. It creates a cyclical journey that leads to an ever-increasing number of sales and revenue for you.
Every company, from the small Mom and Pop store to the behemoth multinational, can and will benefit from a detailed content funnel. This article provides a good outline of the stages of the purchase journey and the kind of content that best for each stage. However, it’s up to you to figure out what is best going to resonate with your specific customers.
And if you want help figuring out what this might be, feel free to get in touch with our experienced team here!