Follow the Funnel: A Guide to Successful Content Marketing

Content Marketing for the Sales Funnel

Content marketing is fun. Yes, it can be difficult, but getting to put ideas together in creative ways on a regular basis and call it “work” is probably one of the best perks of marketing.

Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to fail at it. So many of us just want to start writing and putting ideas into create formats. We often forget content marketing (much like all marketing), has one overall goal – increasing revenue. Building blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, infographics and other content types all refer back to a successful content marketing strategy. And all successful strategies are directly related to the sales funnel.

A visual representation of snaring new customers, the sales funnel refers to the linear process of increasing brand awareness, providing insightful information to these prospective customers and gaining conversions.

Successful content marketers build content for each these steps, turning their content into useful tools and resources that convince prospective customers to convert. By always referring to the sales funnel for ideas, insights and target audience needs, writers ensure they remain focused on building their brand’s customer base.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to target key audiences within the three major stages of your sales funnel when building your content marketing plan:

AWARENESS STAGE

Pulling key audiences into the top of the funnel can often feel like the most daunting task of content marketing. I often find myself lost in thought, asking myself questions like, “What does my ideal customer want to know? What is her biggest problem, and how can I solve it? What is keeping him from moving forward, and how can I knock down barriers for him?” By figuring out what’s holding target audiences back, we can move onto the next step – building content to propel them forward.

Provide Answers

Everyone has problems, and everyone is looking for a solution. For this stage in the sales funnel, aim to create content packed with useful information. Focus on entertaining audiences while sharing helpful knowledge and establishing thought leadership. This isn’t the time to jump into a sales pitch on your products or services. Convey your level of expertise while hinting at having much more to share.

Best Content Types

Any way you can share valuable information at a high level is ideal. I prefer blogs, guest posts, infographics, sharable presentations, webinars and podcasts. How-to guides and visual content packed with statistics work wonders.

Funnel Them In

Unfortunately, once you finally complete your creative piece, you’re nowhere near the finish line. Many content marketers rely on the mantra of “write and they will come.” Unfortunately, writing is only half the battle. Putting finished pieces in front of the best audiences is another story.

Preparing your piece for those using search engines to find information is never a bad idea. Unfortunately, it’s a move that puts you at their mercy – you have to wait until they search. Spend some time optimizing your content with long-tail keywords to enhance your content for those searchers. Your real focus, however, should be on putting your work directly in front of those you’d like to convert.

This means shopping your content to influencers and publishers in your key verticals and markets. Social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter, creates opportunities to reach these people. Email newsletters or guest post opportunities for relevant organizations can also put your content directly in front of target audiences.

Remember, this isn’t the time to sell your products and services. It’s the time to serve a specific need and put your brand name out there.

Measuring Awareness

Need to evaluate (or prove!) your awareness content marketing is working? Social tools, such as Muckrack’s Who Shared feature allows you to track how many people have shared your piece on various social media. You can also use Google Analytics to track traffic to specific content on your site. If you’ve guest-posted or created content for a vertical’s newsletter, ask for numbers on how well your work did. How many opens did the email get? What’s the click-through-rate for your specific piece? How much traffic did your guest post generate for your media partner?

Lead Them Further Down the Funnel

Now that you’ve shared some valuable information, your next mission within this stage is to convince them to stick around for more and keep your brand top-of-mind. At some point during their consumption of your content, ask these audiences to opt-in to receive more information. This can be as simple as a call-to-action with a link to your email signup page or a more complicated popup form forcing them to make a decision then and there.

Don’t forget to appropriately tag these new prospects in your CRM system. You want to remember how they found your brand.

INTEREST & EVALUATION STAGE

Now the real work begins. Once you’ve earned their attention, the next crucial step is to pull these target audience members further into the funnel by positioning your brand as a solution to their unique problems. With every piece of content marketing you serve them, they’re assessing your brand. You need to prove your products and/or services measure up.

Fill a Need

In the awareness stage, your goal is to provide useful information and answer questions without an obvious agenda to sell anything. In the interest and evaluation stage however, it’s time to show how your products or services fill a specific need for your audiences. Focus on proving how your brand can make their lives easier.

Best Content Types

Provide more in-depth information during this stage. Build white papers, ebooks, case studies, detailed how-to guides and product demonstrations positioning your brand as a game-changer.

Because these audiences opted-in to receive information, I prefer using email marketing to share this content. You’ve made these audience members work for this information, so reward them with insights you wouldn’t necessarily share with everyone else. Focus on value.

Funnel Them Further In

The goal of content at this stage is to convince already-engaged audiences to purchase your products and services. Helpful information and sales pitches merge here. Share your unique value proposition, and tell them why your brand is the best solution for their needs.

Showing social proof through testimonials sprinkled throughout this content can be very effective during this stage. After all, these audiences are researching. They want evidence your products and services have worked for others and will work for them.

To ensure you’re building meaningful and regular touchpoints, segment these audiences and build a content calendar mirroring your overall business objectives and content marketing goals. For some brands, contacting warm leads once a week is overkill; for others, once a day isn’t even enough.

Don’t forget to consider your typical sales cycle and seasonal trends when building this calendar. It’s four days before Christmas, and my email box is crammed with retail emails. The services-based companies have gone eerily quiet though. They know my attention is fixed on the holidays and aren’t wasting their time building content I’ll ignore. They’re preparing for a blitz in January.

Measuring Engagement and Content Success

Unlike content created for the awareness stage, in most cases, your work for the interest and evaluation stage should be kept closer to home. By housing all content on your website or through heavily-monitored channels like email marketing, you can easily track how well each piece does.

Pay close attention to movement throughout your website. How often does a specific piece get visited? How many visitors are repeat visitors versus new ones? How long to do they stay on the page? Do they bounce immediately, or do they visit a service or product page?

Don’t forget to review your email marketing efforts. Open rate and clicks are a great place to start, but you should also implement a strategy to track those who do make the jump from your email content to your website. I also highly suggest subject line A/B testing.

PURCHASE STAGE

You’ve proven you’re an authority on your key audiences’ problems, and have shown why you’re an excellent choice. Now you just need to close that hot lead. They’re ready to buy. Why should they pick you?

Provide Incentives

Determining when someone has shifted from the interest and evaluation to the purchase stage is not always easy. I look for audience members who consistently return for more information but still haven’t converted. These are people who continue to request information from the sales team or always click through emails to the website but still haven’t purchased anything. It’s time to make that choice an easy one.

Provide incentives that make a purchase a no-brainer. These includes sales, discounts, deals and free trials to convince them to stop analyzing their options and convert.

I like to make these time-sensitive to increase the level of urgency. Good for three days only discount codes, one-day only sales and holiday-focused deals force them to act quickly. Make them feel as if they can’t afford to miss out.

Best Content Types

These content types should showcase your deals best. Email marketing does well, because you can very tightly target audience members based on their specific wants and needs. Have a target who needs an oil change and brake repairs but can’t afford both at once? It’s time to send him a deal on a buy one service, get one half off.

This is where constant communication with the sales team becomes crucial. They must be passing on key information like this to your marketing team so that you can build unique content for these prospective customers.

Of course, this in-depth content marketing isn’t cost-effective for all brands. For costly service-based purchases, hot leads may require quite a bit of nurturing. If you work in retail, however, a constant flow of coupon codes and sales notifications appropriate for many audience members make be the best route to take.

Always try take into account their needs and habits though. For example, if your CRM shows that a specific customer prefers to shop in-store, push in-store only coupons. If they constantly convert after clicking through a link on your Instagram account, show your appreciation with a deal for Instagram fans only. There’s a million ways to make your hot leads feel special. The content type matters less than the content itself.

Measuring Your Content Marketing’s Effectiveness

This one’s easy – Did they purchase something after consuming your content? If not, it’s time to hit the drawing board again.

Don’t forget the power of asking these hot leads why they haven’t converted. What’s holding them back? This information not only shows you care about your prospective customers; it also provides you with key insights on how to alleviate their fears around a purchase.

Follow the Funnel

Using your sales funnel as a guide to building your content marketing strategy translates into relevant, successful content. Ensure you focus on target audience needs and closing deals by creating content for these three stages within the funnel.

Have a question about building a content marketing strategy? I’d love to hear it. Drop me a line today.