You’ve got an amazing brand, a product that’s second to none, and some fantastic content to back it up. What’s missing?
Oh, yeah. The customers. See, no matter how fab your content is, if it isn’t getting seen by the right people, it’s not going to deliver results.
That’s why you need a content marketing funnel. That’s also, coincidentally (or not), why we’ve created a free content funnel template, so you can use it to plan your strategy for world domination…or at least, content domination.
Download your template now, and then read on to find out how to use it!
What Is the Content Marketing Funnel?
The content marketing funnel isn’t really all that different from the sales funnel, the lead gen funnel, or the SEO funnel. It follows the steps of the buyer’s journey, from the awareness stage near the top, through consideration and then down to the decision-making stage at the bottom. This is the journey your customers will take as they learn about your brand and become aware of the solutions you can provide them (through your content) before deciding whether or not to make a purchase.
As you see above, different content formats align with the different stages of the content marketing funnel. This fulfills the user intent at each stage and delivers the information they most want/need at that time.
In some content funnels, you’ll also see an added stage at the bottom for post-purchase audiences. These users have already converted to customers but still require some nurturing to get them to return and refer others.
So, why is a content marketing funnel a must-have?
Selling Is Getting Harder
Making a sale is the ultimate goal for most brands (better yet, making lots of them). But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to turn visitors, leads, or target audiences into conversions. Why?
It’s not a surprise that money is usually the biggest factor. Here we see that the most significant challenge to making sales is outperforming the competition.
It’s true that in this digital age, the competition is fierce, especially for SaaS brands and startups. So how does a brand like yours set itself apart?
Content is the big differentiator. Content shows your brand’s personality, builds trust and authority, and convinces your audience that you’re a reliable source of information.
But if you’re struggling to create content that connects with the audience at each stage of the funnel, you’ll find they quickly fall out. That’s why we’re here today — to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What Are the Stages of the Content Marketing Funnel?
Just as with most other funnels (sales, SEO, lead gen, etc.), the content marketing funnel follows the path of the buyer’s journey, from the time a prospect first becomes aware of the brand through their consideration process until they’re ready to purchase. The content funnel also leaves some room at the bottom for post-purchase customers, who will hopefully return to the funnel as a repeat buyer or refer in new prospects.
Let’s dive deeper into each stage of the funnel and explore the types of content that align with them.
Top of the Funnel - Awareness
At this point, prospects are just entering the funnel and learning about your brand. This is the discovery phase when new prospects are the most malleable and impressionable. They don’t yet have a firm impression of your brand, so you have the opportunity now to influence how they perceive you and evoke particular feelings you want associated with your brand. This is a crucial stage in building trust and reputation because you know what they say about first impressions.
What Type of Content Should You Create for the Awareness Stage of the Funnel?
You don’t want to overwhelm your audience at this point. Getting too technical or going overboard with the hard selling is bound to result in catastrophe. Your audience doesn’t really know you yet — you’re the guest they’ve just been introduced to at the party. They’re polite but guarded. They don’t want much more than small talk and pleasantries at this point. But don’t worry — give them what they need now, and they’ll be ready to get closer in due time.
Wondering what kind of content equates to party chit-chat? Here you go:
Over half of consumers think brands should include video content on their websites. But at this stage, you don’t want it to be too focused on the product or too sales-y. Instead, choose a fairly broad topic your brand can be an authority in, and create a video that’s both entertaining and informative.
Let’s say you’re a tech brand that makes productivity and time-tracking apps. For a TOFU video, instead of creating “How to Get the Most Out of X Brand App with 7 Insider Tips,” you’d want to go a little more general, with something like “Top 11 Ways to be Productive Before Lunchtime.”
Paid ads are a really great and reliable way to eyes on your content. Yes, paid ads can be pricey, but they’re also extremely effective. For TOFU ads, you won’t want your messaging or offer to come across too pushy or aggressive, so instead, focus on a more general brand awareness campaign or promote an engaging piece of content.
Landing pages are important to both lead gen and SEO, but they also hinge on content — both the content on the page itself and the content you’re offering for download. This is where anyone clicking on your paid ads will end up, so you want to make sure the messaging is consistent and the offer is the same as what was promised.
Infographics really pack a punch, as they deliver a ton of information in a short, snackable package. Infographics are perfect for TOFU content, as they’re easily scannable and shareable. They aren’t sales-driven, but they’re eye-catching and intriguing to a wide audience. It’s a perfect way to introduce your brand as an authority on whatever subject matter you provide.
Ebooks aren’t always an easy sell at this stage because they’re long and ask a lot of time and focus from your audience. They also usually ask for contact information in exchange for the download. Make sure TOFU ebooks are on a broad topic and provide plenty of valuable (but not overwhelming) information. Thought leader content is great to include at this stage, as it really helps build your brand authority.
Surveys are quick, engaging, and build a relationship with your audience. They can provide you with valuable feedback you can then use to create even better content to meet their needs.
You might package up a how-to guide as an ebook, depending on length, but the general concept is roughly the same — create a valuable resource on a topic your audience is interested in knowing more about. Provide them with information they need to solve a problem without demanding anything in return.
The biggest rule of social media is that your brand needs to be where your audience is hanging out. And most audiences are hanging out on their favorite platforms. This will depend on your audience (e.g., B2B crowds spending time on LinkedIn), but you want to be sure you have a presence on their chosen social spaces and that you’re regularly posting content and engaging with them there.
Checklists are both fun and useful tools. They’re easy to create, and while they don’t get too in-depth, they still provide something that’s valuable to your audience. Once they’ve been able to complete the checklist and feel the satisfaction of a job well done, they may be more likely to move on to the next stage of the funnel.
Podcasts are both entertaining and enlightening. Even with ads or brand mentions, podcasts are still pretty light fare for TOFU audiences. They can listen passively while doing other things and still gain a better awareness and appreciation of your brand — or they can listen attentively and get hooked on your amazing content.
Example of Top of the Funnel Content
A little silly, a little…sexy? Whatever your opinions on Deadpool and/or Ryan Reynolds, this social post promoting the movie was just all in good fun. No, it wasn’t going to change the world, but it did let audiences know that this film was going to have a sense of humor. Note that there are no links to showtimes or ticket sales — just good ol’ brand awareness.
Also, they created a Tinder profile. For Deadpool. We’ll bet he got a lot of right swipes.
Metrics to Measure ROI of TOFU Content
Content results can be hard to measure because they aren’t always in the form of sales, especially not at the top of the funnel. But there are some metrics you should be tracking to keep an eye on performance, including:
- Social media likes, shares, and engagement
- Social followers
- Blog subscribers
- Traffic to site/pageviews
- Time spent on page
- Video views
Middle of the Funnel - Consideration
Time to move on to the next stage in the content marketing funnel — the Consideration stage at the middle of the funnel. This is where your audience becomes aware they have a problem, and they understand that there are products and brands (like yours) that can offer a solution. The big question they need to answer for themselves: Which solution is the best?
What Type of Content Should You Create for the Consideration Stage of the Funnel?
Content at this stage can introduce more branding, with you positioning your brand as a leader and expert on the subject matter. You still don’t want to be overly aggressive with the sales pitches, but you can certainly start to let them know that your products are the best at meeting needs like theirs and relieving their pain points.
Here are the best content types for MOFU prospects:
Free Downloadable Assets Such as Templates and Samples
You’ll definitely want to do more exploration of gated content at this stage. Your audience should be warmed up and primed to give their contact information for something of real value. And that something can be a free tool or template they can use to solve a problem and get a taste of what it might be like to use your brand.
White papers give you the opportunity to go a little more in-depth and deliver a ton of useful information. Plus, B2B audiences especially love this type of content and are likely to hand over their personal details to get it. White papers focus on data, research, and information and position your brand as an authority.
A great social media strategy is important at any stage of the funnel, but the content you share will shift depending on who you’re trying to reach and where they are in the journey. Social selling is a key tactic for many brands, and this is where they can really connect with and engage their audience as they get closer to the bottom of the funnel and closer to conversion.
Another motivating asset for the B2B crowd, case studies give your audience an inside look at the kind of experience they might have with your brand. As they learn another customer’s story, they can picture themselves in the same scenario. Case studies also work to build brand authority and reputation.
After the big shift to mostly virtual events in the last couple years, webinars have become even more popular — primarily with B2B, but also with some B2C audiences. You can really create a sense of urgency with a live webinar, or you can get more signups with a pre-recorded event. Even better, you can do both to maximize your potential audience.
Nothing really beats the ROI of email marketing. And in the middle of the funnel, it can be especially effective, as you’ll be delivering the content they really want directly to their inbox. At this stage, you can send exclusive content downloads, limited offers and deals, or testimonial videos. Best of all, email marketing is easily automated, so you can save time and achieve your goal of moving leads down the funnel.
Reviews are usually thought to be more important in the post-purchase phase, but you can also put them to good use in the middle of the funnel. Take some time to check out your competitors’ reviews, which will help you fill in gaps you might have missed. If their product, service, or content leaves something to be desired, you now have the opportunity to step up and do it better.
A comparison page tells your audience at-a-glance why you’re the better choice than your competition. This is a high-level, easy-to-read page that should be designed to communicate your USP and value prop quickly and easily. Just be cautious when creating a comparison page — it needs to be accurate and obvious in the reasons your audience should choose your brand.
Much of what we’ve listed above can be designed as gated content. Gated content is highly effective at this stage in the funnel after you’ve made your audience aware of your brand and built trust with them. They’ll be much more likely to give something (their info) in order to get something (your content). But you have to be sure what you’re offering is extremely relevant and highly valuable, or else they won’t come back for more.
Examples of Middle of the Funnel Content Done Right
Podia, a website-building platform, has put enormous effort into building out their MOFU content across a ton of comparison pages. They have simple side-by-side comparisons of 48 competitors across their industry. But they also pack their pages with additional content, including videos, testimonials, and FAQs.
Metrics to Measure MOFU Content
At this stage of the funnel, you really want to look at the numbers through a lead gen lens. That can help you score prospects and nurture them with the right content to continue moving them down the funnel. To make sure they’re on track, you’ll want to measure:
- Leads generated
- Number of qualified leads
- Form fills
Bottom of the Funnel - Conversion
Good news! You’ve got your audience to the bottom of the funnel and the end is in sight. Now what? Well, first of all, understand that this is nowhere near “the end.” This is the critical point at which your prospects make a decision. So if you don’t give them what they need, the journey is over. But if you do, and if they decide you’re the brand for them, that journey is just beginning. Content at this stage should be product-led and provide real insights and examples of using your brand.
What Type of Content Should You Create for the Conversion Stage of the Funnel?
Bottom of the funnel is when you can really become a cheerleader for your brand. And the content you provide should back up the reasons why you’re the best choice for your audience. It should also focus on making the decision, purchase, and onboarding process as simple and seamless as possible.
Types of content at this stage include:
You want to give your prospects an authentic user experience, so they can see how your product works and how it will work for them. A live demo or free trial is a great way to do just that. Trials are effective, but they keep some distance between your audience and your brand. Live demos work to build the relationship and may keep them on the hook.
Paid Social Media
Again, you should have a social media strategy for all stages of the funnel, but when you hit the bottom, you can really be bold with making offers they can’t resist. To do that, you may want to consider paid social ads, which can be highly targeted to users in the decision stage.
Coupons and Discounts
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned coupon. Discounts, especially those that are personalized or exclusive, are really motivating for prospects in the decision stage. They’re even better if you make them time-sensitive, so you can create a sense of FOMO if they don’t take advantage within a certain window.
Similar to the middle of the funnel, comparison pages are equally as effective at the bottom. While your audience has likely already done the research between you and your competitors, checking out a quick, scannable comparison page might be the last brief reminder they need to push them to make a decision (in your favor).
Making each prospect feel seen and valued has a tremendous impact on the decision they make. Creating customized offers just for them is a great motivator. But if that level of personalization isn’t realistic, you may also want to create a customer loyalty program that incentivizes them to make a purchase.
Similar to a comparison page, a pricing page boils it all down to cost vs. value. But instead of comparing your brand with competitors, you’re comparing your own different pricing tiers. This lets prospects know exactly what they’re getting for their money. They’ll see any freemium versions you offer stacked up alongside your base package and upgraded packages. There, they can see what they get at every level and what value will be added if they upgrade.
Example of Bottom of the Funnel Content
SendinBlue is an email platform with a very clear and easy-to-understand pricing page. You see exactly what you’ll get at every tier, and you can then see the added value every time you upgrade. You’ll note the brand has marked a particular tier as most popular, which is a signal to the audience that this is what others are choosing. You’ll also see that every time you go up to a different tier, they offer “everything in [the previous package]” PLUS…and then a list of all the extra value.
Metrics to Measure BOFU Content
It gets simpler to measure the success of your BOFU content, as this is really all about closing deals and making sales. However, exactly what you measure might differ depending on how your business is set up. Make sure you’re tracking:
- Sales-qualified leads: If you hand off your leads to sales to finalize the deal, you’ll want to measure how many SQLs you’re sending them.
- Purchases or sales: How many conversions are being made by the sales team.
Don't Forget About the Post-Purchase Customer
But wait — there’s more! You can’t get prospects all the way through your funnel and then just let them languish. The post-purchase phase is possibly even more critical to your success than the decision phase.
The true key to growth is nurturing buyers to become repeat customers and then eventually referring customers. This will help you establish a referral program that will turn every customer into an exponential number of new buyers.
What Type of Content Should You Create for the Post-Purchase Stage of the Funnel?
Your customers are already deeply familiar with your brand, so what do they need to keep coming back for more? Most of the time, what they really want is a great deal.
But that’s not all. They might also be responsive to leaving you a review, or they might want additional information on the product or service they’ve purchased.
Here are some of the top content types for the post-purchase stage:
Depending on the type of product you offer, your audience may need ongoing support. Make sure they can easily access everything they need to make their experience delightful.
Video content is effective at every stage of the funnel, but it may be most useful at this stage, where customers need to see how to get the most out of your product. A how-to video is extremely effective and offers valuable information.
Customer Onboarding Materials
Some products or services come with a fairly steep learning curve. But you can get over that hump when you offer content that helps them have a smooth and seamless onboarding experience.
If you’ve worked to delight your customers, they’re going to be your biggest fans and supporters — which means they also want to be the first to hear about new features and upgrades.
Mapping Content to Each Stage of the Funnel
You’ll have an audience in every stage of the funnel at any given time, so you want to ensure you’ve got content that covers it all. You may find that you need more of a particular type of content (TOFU vs. BOFU, for example) to get leads and continue moving them down the funnel. That will be unique for every brand, and it will take some trial and error to find the right balance.
To help plan your content so you can be sure you have what you need for every stage, you’ll want a content marketing funnel template. A tool like this will help you break down all of your content assets and map them to where they should be distributed in the buyer’s journey.
And if you’re looking for a great, easy-to-use template, today’s your lucky day. Read on to find out how to get it.
Focus on Educating Your Audience Above Everything Else
Content is more than just words or numbers — it’s information. It’s emotion. It’s a relationship. And it’s something your audience truly wants. But it’s up to you to determine what type of content they want and when they need it delivered.
Make it easier on yourself with a free content marketing funnel template from FPS — our gift to you (and part of our own content marketing strategy). All you need to do is download the template, then customize the content assets with your own, and place them where they need to go in the funnel. This makes planning your content strategy simple and straightforward (and, dare we say, fun?).
If you find along the way that you need a little extra support, we’ve got an entire team of content mavens and masters ready to jump in. All you have to do is ask. So contact us today and let’s talk!