Operations Manager, 5+ Years of Project Management and Digital Marketing Experience
June 7th, 2021
What is a content marketing funnel?
The content marketing funnel is a customer-centered campaign that uses targeted educational content to attract your ideal prospective customers at all points of the buyer’s journey, and move them along toward making a purchase.
Wouldn’t it be great if all our customers came to us ready to buy?
In the real world, that’s usually not the case. Our prospects need information and guidance. They need to know that if they hand over their hard-earned dollars, what they’re buying is going to solve their problems and provide value.
The content marketing funnel is just the tool your business needs to convey that value.
The content marketing funnel is a customer-centered campaign that uses targeted educational content at all points of the buyer’s journey to attract your ideal prospective customers, and move them along toward making a purchase.
It’s called a “funnel” because if you imagine the shape of a “V,” your prospects enter at the widest part or top and move along toward a narrower path, where only right-fit customers advance toward a purchase.
For businesses looking to implement a stronger online presence, using the content marketing funnel while building your overall inbound marketing strategy can help your team attract more leads, and increase conversion rates and sales.
By using this funnel in an audience-oriented way, your content creation team can more easily home in on the most important pieces of content they should be creating and why—so your marketing efforts are not only narrower in scope, but also more effective.
Think of the content marketing funnel as a guide to help organize your content marketing plan.
Understanding what type of content your buyers want and need at each stage of the funnel will help you develop a more effective content strategy. This is because you can create specific types of content that will better educate your prospects, depending on where they are in the buyer’s journey (the research helps potential buyers perform, leading up to their purchase).
Knowing what your customers look for at each phase will help your team create content that the buyer actually wants to consume.
As you continue your own educational journey learning about the content marketing funnel, keep in mind the names of the stages might change depending on who is presenting the information, but they all have the same concepts in mind.
In general, the three phases of the content marketing funnel are:
Discovery phase or top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content: Aimed to lure in leads who are first searching for information about how to solve their pain points. (HubSpot calls this the “awareness” phase.)
Consideration phase or middle-of-the-funnel (MOFU) content: Helps prospects weigh their options and figure out which choice is the best solution to their problem. (HubSpot also calls this the “consideration” phase.)
Purchase phase or bottom-of-the-funnel (BOFU) content: Aids prospects in deciding whether to make their purchase and from which company. (HubSpot refers to this as the “decision” phase.)
Let’s break down these phases and dig into which specific types of content you can create that will help your buyers at each.
The first stage in the content marketing funnel is when a lead has just started to search for a solution to the issue they’re trying to solve. This is where—if you create content around their questions and interests—they will discover your brand and begin to learn how your products or services might help solve their issue (though keep in mind buyers can find you at any part of the content marketing funnel).
These are the 87% of shoppers who begin their search online and are searching for answers to questions such as, “How do I build a greenhouse?” or “Where are the best places for a summer vacation?” These prospects don’t yet know you sell gardening supplies or travel services, respectively, but in their search, if you’ve created enough content to answer all their questions, they’re more likely to find you.
This beginning phase is usually where you should create the most content, as there are more prospects to sort through, and you can cast a wider net. Just make sure it’s appropriately targeted for your ideal customer. Too wide here could bring in a lot of bad fits.
Buyers in the awareness phase are typically looking for content that provides lots of education, data-driven information, and any other general advice.
The most effective types of content for leads at the awareness or top-of-the-funnel phase:
Blog articles at this phase should address every potential question your customers are asking while they are newly exploring their main pain points.
When Marcus Sheridan, IMPACT partner and author of They Ask, You Answer, nearly lost his swimming pool company, River Pools and Spas, to the 2008 recession, he tried publishing as much educational material around fiberglass pools as he could. This quickly proved worth the effort, as his company’s web traffic, leads, and sales skyrocketed.
What questions should you be answering?
You need to figure that out based on understanding your ideal customers, as they vary from business to business. Use very top-level questions people unfamiliar with these subjects would ask, such as The Big 5.
Make a list of every top-level question about your products and services—and include questions your sales team is asked. Each question should be fleshed out into its own article or combined into one all-inclusive guide, as River Pools and Spas does in “Everything you need to know about fiberglass pools.”
An awesome way to provide lots of value to your potential buyers, ebooks can be along the lines of your blog articles in the content they cover, but they should be longer and more in-depth.
Consider “gating” this content by requiring an email address or piece of information for your prospects to access them. This will enter the person in your database as a lead, giving you the opportunity to reach out to them later.
Ebooks can be a combination of blog articles or other content you’re repurposing or have written for your audience directly. Try to keep it lengthy (aim for 20 or more pages, especially if the ebook will be gated content), but above all, make sure it adds value to your potential customer’s experience.
According to Wyzowl, 84% of people asked in their survey revealed they bought a product or service after watching a company’s video. Video is certainly an effective means to reach prospects, as more and more people turn to video streaming services such as YouTube to learn all sorts of information.
One of my favorite examples of these educational, awareness-stage videos is made by Floret, which has great video tutorial courses about how to grow a cut-flower garden.
Because they quickly sell out of flower seeds and bulbs, and many of their online workshops have waiting lists, they’re an excellent example of creating content that drives awareness.
Here is an example of the value prospects get by signing up for a free video course on how to start seeds.
By providing these educational videos in exchange for a name and email address, the company begins by teaching prospects something valuable. The idea is to then engage them further with more information later in the funnel. But Floret initially offers a lot, including an overview of seed starting, detailed plans for creating your seed-starting area, and even printable lists, tips, and instructions.
I love the idea of using checklists as a piece of content in the awareness phase, as they can be so useful for visual learners like me. They are a great way to convey a lot of information quickly, forcing you to be concise but clear and direct with your message.
Checklists can be useful for repurposing blog articles or other longer-form content into a condensed resource your prospects can print out and take with them as they continue their educational search. With a checklist, you’re helping your prospects tick off all the boxes and get things done while reminding them about your brand.
Millennial Homeowner is an example of a website that is full of helpful tips, articles, mortgage tools, and checklists.
As their name suggests, they aim to educate millennial homebuyers, and this checklist to help house hunters. It’s simple, but for people unfamiliar with the house-buying process, it’s also extremely useful.
The more I learn about them, the more I am becoming a fan of infographics. This shouldn't be a surprise because I'm a visual learner, but I think it has more to do with how our brains work these days.
With our attention spans ever waning (in fact, we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish), infographics are a quick and easy way to help prospects digest more information in a shorter time frame.
Similar to checklists, you can consolidate other longer content to either sum up what you’ve presented in text or present new ideas. Try to make them fun and engaging, with lots of helpful facts and statistics.
This article by Column Five has incredible examples, even animated ones. These are the perfect way to create content for your prospects that is educational, visually appealing, easy to digest, and fun.
Once a prospect is aware of your products and services—and has an idea of how they might help them—they are in the consideration phase. This is when people ask more purchase-focused questions, and compare and weigh their options.
For example, now that your prospect knows their headaches could be from eye strain and you can help them find a cute pair of reading glasses, chances are that before they buy from you, they will research a bit more to see how your products stack up to either more of your other products or other brands’.
In short, this is where your buyers research lots of comparisons.
Do they like the frames you have or are there other options? What’s the difference between wireframes and plastic? Is one cheaper or more breakable than the other?
This type of content should help your prospects understand all the ins and outs of their potential choices, and what makes those choices a good or bad fit.
Here’s what to consider as you think about each piece of content you create for your consideration-phase prospects.
Comparison guides and articles
This content should help your customers understand all the similarities and differences between their choices. This is where you talk about pros and cons, brand comparison, and comparisons by category.
The key here is to be extremely candid about your products and services, including potential issues. Being honest about all the positive things in addition to the negative will make your company stand out as being trustworthy—and make customers feel you have their best interest at heart and feel more comfortable buying from you.
For example, you might write a comparison article exploring the best eyeglass brands. Talk about what all the different brands have to offer—any information that helps your customer think about which choice is best for them and how they can make their decision.
Once prospects have found you and have signed up, your newsletter can be a valuable way to not only keep in touch but also continue sharing educational materials that pull the prospect down the funnel.
This is the perfect opportunity to share all the great middle-of-the-funnel content you’re creating. One of my favorite newsletters is from Magic Hour Teas. They use the platform to share upcoming products and collaborations, in addition to product information and how-tos (like how to make lattes and cocktails with their teas).
Here is an example of a recent newsletter they sent about joining them for a live tea ceremony, where the owner brews tea and chats with various guests. It’s a great way to introduce your products and pique interest while keeping people engaged.
Keeping in line with the educational content, webinars are a great way for your subject matter experts to get out there and share valuable insight about your products and services. This is because it’s a place where you can host important conversations surrounding your offerings and industry.
Webinars can be the perfect platform for hosting cross-branded content to boost your audience’s understanding for making better purchasing decisions. (You could even invite someone from another company who is relevant in the industry to join you.) Even though these events are technically “live,” you can record them and upload them to your website or YouTube channel to get a better lifetime value.
Be sure to optimize these for search once you upload, so you can garner organic traffic and leads long after your event airs.
As prospects are comparing their options, it can be extremely useful for them to see how your company is helping others achieve similar goals. With case studies, you can showcase how a sticky problem was eliminated or smoothed over when your business stepped in to help. These pieces of content can reinforce your authority and credibility in your industry.
Last but not least, when your potential customers hit the decision phase, they are gathering all the final information needed to make their purchase. They feel more confident in choosing which solutions fit them best.
The information they now seek is how to purchase and what it means to become a customer. This means trials, demos, consultations, and any incentive to buy or join a membership, like coupons or other offers.
Live trials and demos
If your business offers a membership or subscription service where customers engage in a long-term commitment, the BOFU content your prospects are interested in includes trial offers so they can test the products before they buy. Demos can also be useful in helping them learn how to properly use and get the most out of your products and services.
Make sure your trial effectively highlights the value of your product to prospects and, even more importantly, make it clear that value will increase when they pay for your services.
Think about the types of content that show prospects how to get a free consultation with one of your sales team members. It’s helpful when someone is ready to buy to have access to someone who can walk them through the process, whether virtually or in person.
Offer to meet with them and discuss their options, free of charge. Aim to help, not to sell, so your prospects feel comfortable disclosing their problems and exploring solutions with you.
This late in the game, they should have everything they need to make a final decision, but you’re there to help them understand the process of how to go about doing it.
Use the content marketing funnel to grow your business
Now that you know all the components of a content marketing funnel and how they work, start brainstorming all the ways your business can use content to reach its customers.
As you bring everything together, each buyer’s journey will look different from the next. Someone might discover your site through a blog article, keep in touch with your newsletter, and decide to buy from you after testing your products with a free trial. Another might find you via video, review one of your case studies, and decide to buy from you based on a customer’s testimonial.
The possibilities are endless.
When you develop your content marketing strategy, make sure these different components link or sync up somehow so your prospect’s path toward making a purchase is clear and easy to follow.
Also, keep in mind you can really use any of these pieces of content at different parts of the funnel, as long as they pertain to the audience you’re aiming for.
If you’re looking to learn more, here are helpful resources:
We hope you find these useful as you plan your content marketing strategy!
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