A million years ago, marketing was the same for everyone.
Whether you were ready to buy or not, TV commercials would interrupt your favorite shows. Newspaper and magazine ads would pepper the articles people would actually read. Junk mail would be full of coupons for all sorts of goods and services (regardless of whether they were relevant to you).
But the age of digital media — and the advent of inbound marketing — has changed all that. A beginner runner who’s just becoming aware that they need a new pair of running shoes is not convinced by the same kind of content that an experienced marathoner needs as they train for their next World Major.
This is where the marketing funnel comes in. And if you tailor your content to where in the funnel they are on their buyer’s journey, you’ll have a higher likelihood of turning them into customers.
But what, exactly, is the marketing funnel? And how do you write content for each of its stages?
What Is the Content Marketing Funnel?
Think about the shape of a funnel. The top end is wide, while the middle portion narrows significantly, all the way to the bottom, where both sides almost meet, like an upside down triangle.
The marketing funnel is shaped the same way:
- The top of the funnel includes the earliest stages of marketing, aka, the stage where you attract customers. They may not have been aware of your goods or services, and all of a sudden, they go, oh, heeeeeey! This company looks interesting.
- The middle stage refers to when you engage prospects. This is when the conversation starts — maybe they’ve subscribed to your newsletter or asked questions on social media. You’ve captured their attention and they are figuring out whether you can give them what they need.
- The bottom of the funnel is when prospects are in the deciding stage. At this point, they are most likely to be convinced to make a purchase of your goods or services.
Since each stage entails a different moment in the buyer’s journey, they each require different types of content to move the prospect along and turn them to leads, then to customers.
Aligning Content Marketing With the Buyer's Journey
You can map out content touchpoints throughout each stage of the buyer's journey by creating content specific to each stage. Mapping your content to each stage consists of:
- Top of the funnel content that addresses those in the awareness stage of their journey. These are people who are looking for resources, education, and insights that help them address unique pain points.
- Middle of the funnel content covering more in-depth research for those in the consideration stage. They're trying to determine if your products or services will fit their needs.
- Bottom of the funnel content centered on telling prospects exactly how your products or services fit them. This involves targeting people in the decision stage in hopes of turning them into customers.
Let's dive deeper into each type of content.
What Is Top of the Funnel Content?
The goal of top of the funnel content (TOFU) is to attract and educate prospects, not only on what you have to offer, but on related topics as well.
You’re not pushing them to buy something from you. You’re looking for ways to answer their questions. They’re starting to do research, and you want to show them that you have all the answers they’re looking for.
TOFU Content Types and Examples
You can help your target audience find answers with any of the following formats:
1. Blog Posts
A blog (a combination of the term web log) is a part of your website that is updated regularly with helpful information.
For example, let’s say you own a gym. Obviously, you want people to become members. However, your blogs should not be designed to get them to sign up. They should be tailored to provide related, helpful content, such as:
- The Health Benefits of Working Out Regularly
- How Protein Helps You Build Muscle
- Plant Based Whole Foods Recipes With Lots of Protein
- What Are The Best Foods To Fuel Your Workout?
- How To Manage Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?
- The Relationship Between Sleep and Muscle Recovery
You get the drift. Polly Prospect searches Google, and one of your blogs pops up in the search engine results page (SERP). Help her. Give her info.
At this point, it’s not about you. It’s about helping them. The more you pop up on SERPs, the more you establish yourself as an authority in a given subject. And when you become an authority in a field, people start to trust you.
An ebook is a great way to answer your lead’s burning questions and demonstrate expertise in a relatable way. Despite the profusion of mobile technology, text isn’t dead – but it has to be truly informative and engaging to get attention from decision makers hard-pressed for reading time.
To be effective, an ebook needs a few things in its favor:
A hook based on a lead’s most important questions, pain points, or business concerns.
A layout with professional elements, including a good cover, design, and typography.
A clear call to action (CTA) to move leads forward to the next stage in the process.
When planning an ebook, take it as seriously as you would if your work was going to find its way to library shelves. Deliver real value by attacking an in-depth topic with a substantial number of pages – but not so much that you stray from the point or the reader loses interest.
What’s the difference between a “guide” and an ebook?
You can develop guides in a number of different formats, not all of them text-focused. The purpose of a guide is to deliver background information your prospect needs to start them on the road to choosing your solution.
And, depending on your industry and offering, it can take a variety of forms.
For example, you could have a research report that brings together a number of infographics. You could communicate with a handful of short videos that help prospects address a key business problem.
Whatever you choose, remember – the medium is the message.
You should select a format that helps you get your point across quickly and efficiently. Although blog posts can make for great guides, many decision makers are visual learners. Think about your customer persona, how your content will be used, and where it will be consumed.
4. How-To Content
“How-to” content is less broad than an ebook or general topic guide. It provides your readers with step-by-step instructions. By the end, they should achieve something with a minimum amount of fuss and effort. A good how-to gives the prospect a sense of accomplishment and a better understanding of how to finish something successfully.
If how-to content is accurate and easy to follow, then the format might not seem to matter. Still, users want to feel like they’ve gotten something substantial in return for their email address ... and you are collecting email addresses, aren’t you?
With that in mind, a how-to usually makes a bigger splash in one of two formats:
Short videos in which each step takes less than two minutes to accomplish.
A long-form infographic supported by a blog post for the deeper details.
People generally have an easier time following instructions that are visually interesting. Additionally, information supported by an image is more likely to be remembered.
If you go for a how-to video, be especially careful to make sure your presenter moves through the points at the right rate – not too fast and not too slow – and avoids going into too much detail. You don’t want to confuse your reader and make them pause and play repeatedly.
5. Email Sequences
Email sequences are popular for onboarding new prospects because they provide a seamless connection between consuming your content and taking action on it. Each email in a sequence should build trust, inspire interest in what’s to come, and try to encourage prospects to take that next step.
Email sequences can be stretched out over any period of time, and your strategy will depend on what audience you wish to reach. A short sequence unfolding over five or seven days provides closure and a sense of reward, but a longer one can foster trust if the user keeps up.
You should also consider how many emails your sequence should contain. It usually takes about six emails to get some sort of response from a prospect – whether positive or negative – so pre-plan what messages you will send at what time to create the best flow.
What Is Middle of the Funnel Content?
While top of the funnel content lets prospects know that you know what you’re talking about and using it to help them, the goal of middle of the funnel content (MOFU) is to help individuals engage and evaluate the benefits of what you have to offer over your competitors.
But it’s not just a matter of saying “our product is better than theirs.” This is where you nurture your leads. The goal is to earn their business when they’re ready. You read that right. They’re interested, but they’re not ready.
MOFU Content Types and Examples
This is where the courtship begins. And how can you win their hearts? With free, more in-depth content, such as:
A whitepaper consists of detailed research and information on a topic. This is your chance to establish just what a best-in-class solution looks like and why prospects should stick with yours.
B2B decision makers in particular appreciate lengthy, well-designed whitepapers with strong citations and plenty of quotes from industry thought leaders.
To create an effective whitepaper, follow these few tips:
Write in a professional yet conversational tone.
Use a catchy title to grab the reader’s attention.
Include the most relevant facts to support your claims.
Always proofread before publishing.
The key is to be persuasive and authoritative when providing solutions to their pain points. It’s a lot easier to convince people to buy a product when you back up your claims with data instead of just your subjective opinion on why the product is so good.
2. Case Studies
A case study is a special kind of research report that focuses on how your solution transformed business at a client company. It brings readers on a journey from the initial problem through the implementation of a solution and the results.
Case studies show why and how your solution is better, integrating testimonials from the business stakeholders affected.
It’s important to note the length of your case study. While it’s great you included detail after detail to prove your success story, leave that in a whitepaper.
A case study should touch on the main points – the problem, the solution, and the results – to showcase how you were able to help a client. Some of the best case studies can fit onto a single page.
A webinar is a (generally) live event where subscribers sign up to get specific training or information, usually in a 30- to 90-minute presentation of sorts.
The best way to make a webinar compelling enough for people to show up for the live event is to make sure there is plenty of time at the end for a Q&A with a real expert – someone your subscribers will be interested in talking with.
For example, if you sell solar panels and you’ve noticed several interested people hesitate over the price, conduct a webinar explaining how panels save you money in the long run, when you take into account monthly energy savings.
You can also include additional benefits, such as sustainability or independence from traditional power sources. They’re a good way to overcome prospects’ hesitations or to give them additional information to guide them through their decision making process.
4. Social Media Posts
Social media offers a goldmine of opportunities to nurture your leads. It’s an excellent way to engage directly with people who are commenting, asking questions, and sharing your posts. It’s also pleasantly surprising for them to see that you take them seriously enough to address all of their concerns.
However, make sure to choose your social media platforms according to who’s your target audience. Baby boomers tend to prefer Facebook, while millennials flock to Instagram, and Gen Z is more enamored with TikTok and Snapchat.
What Is Bottom of the Funnel Content?
Bottom of the funnel content means the lead is close to the finish line. From this point forward, you’re communicating with the goal of closing that deal or making that sale.
To help influence their decision to choose you, it's important to share and provide valuable BOFU content.
BOFU Content Types and Examples
The best types of bottom of the funnel content are:
1. Assessments and Consultations
The purpose of BOFU content is to turn a one-way relationship into a conversation — one that ultimately ends in a sale. You can call it many different things, but all kinds of consultations have the same goal: To get more details on the prospect’s problems and figure out if you have the best solution.
Incorporating assessments and consultations into your marketing strategy can help better position you as an industry expert and showcase how your company provides viable solutions to help solve a prospect’s challenges.
Make sure you share enough valuable feedback to your prospects during a consultation, highlighting both strong points and weak areas for improvement. By addressing their needs, you’ll be able to share how your business could be a right fit for them, encouraging them to choose you.
2. On-Site Demos
If you have a software product or a piece of specialized equipment, nothing beats an on-site visit. Prospects get to see what you do, how you do it, and imagine your solution in their own space.
Plus, they will have an opportunity to physically meet the team they’d be working with and get to know the company culture a little better. A strong company culture could heavily impact their final decision, so always put your best foot forward when introducing prospects to your business
A prospect may be almost convinced to buy your product or service, but still need an extra push to help them make a decision. Offering video tutorials helps them understand every feature.
This can be how to assemble a product, how to have correct form when using gym equipment, or how to migrate an existing website to HubSpot. Showing them that you are ready, willing, and able to do some hand holding to make them feel comfortable with what you’re selling will increase confidence to make the purchase.
4. Smart Content
Some softwares allow you to display different types of content depending on the viewer category. This means that what the reader sees will depend on where in the lifecycle stage they’re in.
You can also automate marketing based on certain criteria. This enables your team to create a robust content library, then automatically send helpful content assets for specific segments of your database at various stages of their journey. Delivering helpful content at each stage nurtures people toward becoming your next happy customer.
Leverage Content Marketing to Drive Revenue
An inbound marketing strategy includes a full-scale embrace of funnel-focused content. With a full deck of TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU content, you'll attract more leads — and convert more paying customers as a result!