I found the infographic at the bottom of this post highlighting content marketing throughout the marketing funnel from Smart Insights — which has some great templates and training (with membership), as well as free resources. I think the infographic contains some valuable ideas, but I also think there’s much-needed to optimize the content marketing funnel to ensure you match content throughout the customer journey, something often termed lead nurturing. So, here I go with my own ideas.
The marketing funnel
The notion of a marketing funnel dates from early in the history of marketing, although it was often called the sales funnel then and some leaders argue there’s no distinction between marketing and sales funnels while others contend the marketing funnel is no longer valid because the conversion process isn’t linear. Google prefers the term “conversion funnel”. To my way of thinking, these semantic differences don’t amount to much. So, I’m going to use the term marketing funnel here to represent all these terms.
A variety of interpretations and consumer stages make up the marketing funnels you’ll find across the internet and in textbooks, but I don’t find the difference makes much difference in choosing the appropriate marketing strategy at each stage. My own version of the marketing funnel is the one at the top of this post.
Generally, the marketing funnel reflects stages in the customer journey — from initial awareness of your brand to purchase. The marketing funnel gets its funnel shape because there’s a huge drop, with fewer prospects making it down to the next stage all along the funnel. Today, we commonly extend the marketing funnel to consider repeat purchases (and the factors contributing to such purchases) as well as other post-purchase behavior, including advocacy (often termed evangelism).
A modified marketing funnel
To be real, however, the entire image of marketing as a funnel where customers cleanly move from one stage to the next or drop out of the process is really a fantasy. In reality, consumers inch closer only to move back a step or drop off altogether rather than a linear process. Moreover, after purchase, buyers use the product, which is where they formulate critical attitudes, such as satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) that impact behaviors such as recommendations, that greatly impact your future success.
Thus, rather than a funnel, the customer journey, in reality, looks more like this, especially when on digital devices where search and analysis are simplified:
Does this more complex model of the customer journey impact communications? Not really. It’s still critical to develop a content marketing funnel where content matches those factors most salient in moving the prospective customer toward a purchase or, even further, toward making positive recommendations. The only difference wrought by this complex version of the customer journey involves expending additional resources to determine the exact pathway your prospective customer is on and predict their next likely step in the path. Once identified, you simply plug that information in as you build your content marketing funnel of messages.
Content marketing funnel
In my last post, I discussed why you need a variety of content types in your content marketing strategy to meet the needs of visitors at various stages in the marketing funnel. Be sure to read this earlier post to supplement the points I’m making on that topic today.
Today, I’d like to focus on inbound marketing that supports the content marketing funnel, as opposed to the actual content you create for different stages. So, without further ado, let’s head down the rabbit hole, or, in this case, the marketing funnel.
The consumer decision-making process is a little too rational for my tastes and I think we’re really dealing with the messy, complex pathway depicted in the image shown earlier. Notice, that model still employs notions of awareness, evaluation, intention, and conversion, so it makes sense to discuss content strategies appropriate for these stages, even though progress through these stages is a meander rather than a straight pathway.
I talk about the consumer decision-making process because it impacts how consumers move down the marketing funnel — in fact, it’s the engine driving consumers down the funnel. The consumer decision-making process starts with a consumer recognizing they have a problem, they then search for a solution, compare alternatives, and, finally, make a selection.
I would argue, and have repeatedly in some of the top marketing journals, that this rational process may describe some planned purchases — such as buying a new car or other high involvement purchase. But, many times we’re not actively aware we have a problem until someone provides a solution. Such was the case when Chrysler introduced the minivan — folks didn’t know they had a problem until they saw the solution.
Awareness starts the journey
In the digital age, where personal influence guides many decisions, we often discover a problem when a friend or other connection shares images about things they like. Even wearing a pair of jeans or shoes in a post about something totally different can stimulate a desire to also own them.
So, attracting attention at the awareness stage often means reaching people who aren’t looking for you. And, content marketing, because it’s the new SEO (search engine optimization), fills this need to help people discover you and your brands. The trick is to show up when your target audience (personas) searches for alternatives to your product.
Content marketing strategy for awareness
On Hausman Marketing Letter, I know my target customer often isn’t searching for a digital agency, they’re looking for information about doing digital marketing. So, that’s what I give them — although I end each post with a CTA (call to action) so they know I’m available if they want to hire someone to manage their digital marketing. Visitors also see a menu that takes them to a list of our services, should they want to consider hiring us.
And, that’s the key to constructing your content marketing funnel. Recognize that you need to draw in the right visitors, which often doesn’t mean trying to sell them first. It often means drawing them in for related content, such as a company drawing visitors with recipes using their products or contests or interactive elements.
Using this strategy, for some clients, we blog about their team, their start-up journey, or direct content efforts toward search intent — in other words, phrases users in our target personas likely use — such as vacation planning (if we offer a vacation venue), wedding planning (if we offer wedding services), or other terms users frequently look for that matches the products we offer. We’re gonna show up in your searches even when you’re not looking for us.
That doesn’t mean you can just talk about anything — your content must relate to your brand or your target market. In fact, Facebook is cracking down on spammy links from brand pages because they are annoying to users.
You want to attract attention at the awareness stage with additional digital efforts beyond your website. Building brand pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter amplify your content through social engagement and attract attention for the curated content you share. The trick with any content marketing, especially at the awareness stage, is providing value to readers, demonstrating your expertise, or other content that helps you show up and attract attention as users access their social platforms.
Finding your brand is only the first step in the process leading to purchase (hopefully). After a visit or exposure through social media, users have choices. They can leave, explore further, or, in rare cases of low-cost products, make a purchase. The trick at this stage is to ensure you can contact the visitor again. For instance, use an exit intention to offer visitors a chance (with an incentive — often called a lead magnet) to subscribe. Now, you can use email marketing, the most cost-effective digital marketing tool (see below) to create a content marketing funnel that nurtures them toward a purchase.
If the awareness came from social media, encourage visitors to connect to your account and engage with your online. Again, once connected, you increase the likelihood the visitor sees future content shared, a likelihood that increases when they engage with your brand through commenting, liking, and sharing.
Content marketing funnel for evaluation
At this stage, the key is to maintain contact, as mentioned above. As to content,
- share stories and reviews or any other content showing how your brand is better than competitors’ brands
- use explainer videos to demonstrate the ease of using and caring for your products
- offer solutions for problems that interfere with making a purchase, such as financing options, free trials, and expedited delivery
- user-generated content, such as posts showing how to use the product or suggestions for other uses
Decision-making or forming an intention to purchase
Decision-making is where the rubber meets the road. You must convince prospects your brand offers what they need at a great price and when they want the product. My last post talked about using influence at this stage and recommendations from friends/ family is one of the strongest motivators of purchase.
Therefore, user-generated content makes an especially good tool at the decision-making stage because it involves a friend’s endorsement of the product. As mentioned earlier, there’s overlap and these same content strategies also work at the evaluation stage as these two stages tend to bleed into each other.
Remarketing helps at the decision stage because sometimes all that’s missing is the motivation or time to order the product now. Remarketing involves installing a small pixel on a page. The pixel then follows the user as they browse online or use social media to prioritize ads from those brands that generated the pixel.
Remarketing works because reminding consumers they want your product (and giving them a little incentive — like a coupon) goes a long way toward closing the deal.
Another powerful tool aiding consumers at the decision-making stage is reputation. A brand develops a reputation (good or bad) based on a variety of factors. Here are just a few of them:
- product performance and quality
- superior customer service
- ability to generate positive reviews
- quickly handling negative reviews or comments
- generating consistent, high-value content
Interestingly, the purchase stage relies on traditional content marketing the least of any stage in the marketing funnel.
Once the decision is made, consummating a purchase relies on a firm’s ability to eliminate or reduce factors making it difficult for consumers to buy. A good example is Amazon’s 1-click purchase option. Amazon data showed a significant increase in shopping cart abandonment (a drop off between making the decision-making and purchase stages of the marketing funnel) for each click required to consummate the sale.
Here are some other factors that reflect a failure to launch for purchases:
- Poor user experience — pages that load slowly, the incorrect transition between pages
- Confusing or multiple CTA buttons
- CTA buttons difficult to identify
- Requiring registration when not critical for the sales process — ie. buying a plane ticket on Orbitz doesn’t require you to create an account
- Requiring excess information upon registration or ordering
- Not offering a variety of payment options
Advocacy likely pays higher dividends than any other stage in the marketing funnel even though it’s not part of most traditional marketing funnels. Here are benefits a brand gets from advocates:
- amplification of your marketing message by sharing, commenting, liking
- they answer customer questions when your customer reps are busy
- creation of user-generated content, such as Instagram posts using your product
- advocates counteract customer complaints by showing why problems encountered by users weren’t caused by the brand or offering problem solutions to remove frustration
- encouragement for others to purchase your brand
Content marketing funnel for advocacy
There are lots of ways to build influencer marketing campaigns but those take time and money. Your content can also build advocacy. For instance, a thank you email recognizing your contribution to the business success of your organization makes customers feel they’re valued. I once had a business include a handwritten note along with my purchase to thank me. I definitely bought more product from that company and recommend them to anyone who I think would benefit from the brand.
Content shared on social media by your buyers deserves a public thank you. The same thank you should happen when a visitor takes the time to comment on your website content. Recognition goes a long way toward building advocacy.
As you can see, your content marketing funnel follows where users are in their journey toward purchase of your brand. By knowing where each customer is in the journey and which specific products they found interesting, and using that information to guide content development, you optimize your market performance.
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