How to create amazing content that drives serious leads
24th November 2020
It’s fair to say that marketers need to understand the marketing funnel more accurately as a content marketing funnel in the current-day situation.
Marketers have long respected the concept of a marketing funnel because it is a strategic way of understanding how to turn a prospect into a customer. Like the funnel’s shape suggests, you move individuals downwards through different stages in a consecutive way.
Typically these stages are: Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action. The traditional marketing funnel is still helpful for understanding the overall goals of marketing. However, it needs changing in the contemporary arena.
It’s fair to say that the ‘funnel’ is no longer a distinct funnel shape with multiple prospects feeding through to each stage consecutively (with understandable attrition along the way). Instead, the modern marketing funnel is no longer bound by consecutive action. The audience, and prospects, can bounce from one thing to another, ultimately hitting the target much like a ball in a pinball machine.
Leads can now enter the marketing journey at any stage. They aren’t so predictable. It’s omnichannel. So content at every point needs to be up to the job. Our attention now needs to shift to a content marketing funnel.
Essentially, a content marketing funnel is not dissimilar to an old-school marketing funnel, but the emphasis is different. Now, the focus is on the role of content at each and every stage.
In a traditional marketing funnel, the content at each stage was really quite distinct, and heavily weighted to the top of the funnel. It would look something like this:
Awareness: Content is provided with the aim of educating and piquing curiosity. It’s about figuring out what your audience wants and giving it to them. You’re aiming to generate interest. So it’s things like blogs, long-form content, guides, podcasts and videos. There’s no blunt salesmanship, just raising awareness. If it goes viral, fabulous.
Interest: Your audience is getting to understand the lay of the land and your content now begins to position you as the solution. So content now turns to things like product demos, case studies and informative product descriptions. The volume on salesmanship is gently turned up.
Action: Now is time to get the audience to make its move. They need to see the paid ad with the right discount at the right moment.
Desire: It’s time to get your audience to really want you. It’s time for the content to convey unique value propositions. Here content tends to turn to testimonials and reviews.
With a shift to understanding the more contemporary content marketing funnel, we haven’t entirely lost this structure. The difference is that your audience can easily come in at a lower stage, e.g. desire, yet ping back to awareness, before dropping back down to action.
This is notable enough when we are talking about B2C. Look at the B2B content marketing funnel and the picture is painted in technicolour.
B2B buyers consume, on average, 13 pieces of different content, before deciding who to buy from or partner with. You aren’t going to serve their needs if you stick rigidly to the framework of a traditional marketing funnel.
Instead, your content needs to spread across the funnel and prove useful at every stage. You need to consider your B2B content marketing funnel as a cylinder, with valuable and varied content at every location, enabling the audience to move around it, yet still ultimately drop down onto your target.
In short, when using a content marketing funnel, every individual piece of content needs to have the potential to pull the audience down towards the sales stage. Each piece of content is an opportunity and should be viewed as such.
In order to understand how the content pulls the users down towards the sale, it is helpful to look at the funnel in three parts: top, middle and bottom.
Your goal at the top of the funnel is to attract leads. SEO is your friend here, and you need to be building the brand through spectacular content, and ultimately capturing some valuable contact details.
In many ways this is the stage of excitement. Your audience is discovering your brand and it should make them curious, excited and engaged. You want your audience to become aware of your brand. The focus isn’t on selling.
When it comes to the specific types of content to include at the top of the funnel, it will depend on what your audience wants. Research and analysis is needed to identify what type of content your audience engages with, and this should form the foundation of your content strategy at this stage.
That said, there are generally some common elements to this stage of content. It is inherently educational and is therefore, by nature, usually longer. It tends to include meaty blog posts, detailed guides and advice pieces, long-form content of various forms such as white papers, chunky videos and informative webinars. Your goal is to show yourself as the authority, or the thought-leader, in your specific niche.
The common element to each of these pieces of content should be to obtain contact details. This is why you are often asked for your details in exchange for these valuable pieces of content.
Within the content itself, it should be easy for the audience to ping over to another piece of content, ideally in the middle stage of the funnel. So there may be a clear call to action (CTA) to a landing page. But remember, this stage isn’t about the hard sell.
A problem that is now arising at this stage is the paid ad. Your audience interacts with a certain piece of top funnel content and then is instantly inundated with your paid ad on every platform or website they wander onto. This can come across as a hard sell at exactly the wrong point. It’s difficult to get paid ads to work well with your wider content strategy in terms of a funnel approach.
The middle stage of the funnel is all about nurturing. You want to make your audience feel understood and like you are the solution to their problem. You’re starting to think about actually acquiring these individuals as customers, but you’re still not selling too hard.
In the middle of the content marketing funnel, you need to provide content that actually aligns the audience with your brand. The audience is more thoughtful and reflective now. They are considering you at a deeper level.
This means that your content needs to be somewhat more direct. You need to be speaking to them in a way that they can take away the concept that you can help them. They need to start building some trust in you and your brand. As such, a lot of the content at this stage should be about differentiating yourself from your competitors whilst offering authentic value.
Content at this stage speaks volumes about what you can do. So here you’ll see case studies that demonstrate how you have met the needs of others, informative how-to guides and content which really reveals the nature of your product or service, demo videos, short courses, or opportunities that make it very clear how your product works in practice and comprehensive product or service descriptions. It will also include email marketing using leads captured earlier.
The content here tends to be shorter than in the upper stages of funnel because it’s about illustrating succinctly why you are to be trusted to solve the customer’s problem.
The overall goal here is to capture intent. This is a notoriously difficult step for marketers because it’s difficult to measure. This is about what’s going on in the background that you can’t actually see so easily.
It is perfectly normal and to be expected that there is attrition between the higher levels of the funnel and here. Whilst the aim is to pull down as much of your audience as you can, you are unlikely to be able to create a completely cylindrical funnel. There will be fewer hits at this stage.
Your content so far has wooed your audience. Now it’s time to seal the deal. It’s time to shift the viewers of your content from an ‘audience’ into individual customers. This means you can turn up the volume on the sales-approach. However, bear in mind that the extent to which you do this will depend on the specific nature of your niche.
We are now talking about conversion. At this point, you know that those who are engaging with your content are interested, they are nearly there. What they need now is to be nudged over the finish line with one last moment of awe.
So, your content now is things like landing pages that lead to a free trial, set-up guides that make them want to get going and testimonials and reviews that make them desperate not to miss out. Here you also want product descriptions that are informative and enticing enabling the reader to see clear value-added. An often overlooked area of content at this stage is a fabulous, streamlined, efficient and functional sales process that puts trust at its centre.
Whilst it is important to break down the nature of content in the different parts of the funnel, it is also vital to take a clear overall approach to all content at all stages. This ties everything together and ensures that you have a workable, suitable for today, content marketing funnel which allows your audience to ping around it without getting lost, instead of a traditional marketing funnel which loses them because they enter it at the ‘wrong’ stage.
Part of understanding the value of content across the whole marketing funnel is understanding that traditionally most content marketing efforts sat squarely in the top level of the funnel. Now that isn’t enough - your content needs to be on point and valuable across the whole funnel - hence calling it a content marketing funnel.
Start by thinking about the potential journey that your audience may take. Ask yourself, what are the important milestones and touchpoints? It will differ, and omnichannel opportunities will ping them around, but fundamentally, make sure that you know what the core customer journeys are. Help to shape this and make it predictable, through the way you structure and strategize content.
Analysis of your funnel is vital for it to be refined and successful. Not only do you need to understand the metrics of each piece of content, you need to see how that sits alongside the other content around it. This is where you can understand how the user got to this piece of content and where they tend to go next, as well as how long it takes them to travel along. It also enables you to see where you lose leads, so that you can hopefully plug those gaps. This is a complex endeavour, and you won’t be able to see it all, but you can certainly use tracking to gain valuable insight.
Lead scoring ranks prospects according to where they are in terms of converting. It’s a way of seeing where the most value lies and so making further decisions accordingly. It’s a way of using your metric-based insight to identify when a lead is ‘hot’ and ripe for the sales team to take intent-driven action such as reaching out, or placing an offer in just the right place. A core part of this process requires you to understand which pieces of content actively drive sales leads so that they can be attributed the highest point score.
Luckily, we’ve already thought about the key stages of the marketing funnel, and developed ContentCal around where your focuses should be.
At each stage of the marketing funnel, you’ll want to plan your content so that it accurately reflects what you’re trying to achieve - whether it’s reaching people, nurturing them, or converting them into solid leads.
A great way to collaborate on ideas of how to do this is to use Contributions. Contributions allows you to set up forms which can then be distributed to your team, and they can submit their thoughts, which will then all be collated in one place. You can then easily communicate and decide what the best course of action is. It might be useful for you to have one for each stage of the marketing funnel.
When you then begin to create your content based on this feedback, our collaboration tools make it a lot easier to be taken on the same journey your potential clients will be.
For example, using Approval Flows is a great way to keep team conversations going, allowing feedback and comments before anything is published. There will also be one final sign off by an appointed person when you’re ready to go.
If you want to simplify things even further, split your planning channels out into different parts of the marketing funnel, so everyone can get a clear sense of where each piece of content belongs and what its purpose is. This means that other teams can also look at this and see the reasoning behind your content.
It’s easy to see this as an overwhelmingly enormous task, and it is. This is why it needs to be broken down and constantly reviewed over time.
Firstly, accept the importance of the contemporary marketing funnel and how it differs from the past. Content is now important throughout the full funnel and not simply at the top in a piecemeal and ad hoc fashion.
Then start with the most basic and simplest journey that a user can take from the top of the funnel to the bottom. Whatever drives leads in the quickest way, focus your attention there and then move on to where that takes them, such as high-intent landing pages with outstanding SEO.
Once you’ve got this under control you can begin to build the funnel outwards, remembering that ideally you’re aiming for a cylinder shape. So if you add more at the top, also add more at the middle and the bottom. Continue to analyse and review and this will enable you to refine your tunnel.
Ultimately, your funnel should actually be able to become a perpetual loop, feeding conversions back in at the top.
A content marketing funnel has incredible potential when managed strategically, but it does take conscious effort.