What Content Works Best for Each Level of the Marketing Sales Funnel?
The marketing sales funnel is both simple and confusing. It’s a basic concept to guide companies as they think about building relationships with potential customers. But in practice, people use different definitions and trip up on the different parts of the funnel.
When you map all of your content marketing to the funnel, things get trickier. Most content marketers, unlike sales reps, usually shy away from promotional ad copy that could scare their audience away. But at some point, they need to make that turn if they want a deal to close.
That means content marketing can’t just nudge readers through the funnel—it has to encourage them forward without hurting their experience. Mastering that balance is the key. When your audience is finished interacting with a piece of your content, you want them to walk away with new knowledge that impacts their professional or personal lives in a meaningful way.
What is the content marketing sales funnel?
Allow me a brief, colorful metaphor. One summer, I went to a water park with my sister and three cousins, and we spent an hour waiting in line for a huge waterslide. Once we were all in the inflatable rubber donut we were going to ride down in, a teenage park employee shoved us toward the mouth of the slide, which had a spout pouring water down into a dark tunnel. Thing is, five screaming children were too heavy for the donut, and we hadn’t built enough momentum to get going. We were wedged in at the top of the funnel, and water was pouring in rapidly. We were stuck, screaming for help underneath the spout that just kept shooting water in and making us heavier. Eventually, my cousins managed to climb out, sputtering and crying, and my sister and I shot down the slide backward like we had a rocket behind us. It wasn’t great.
Hopefully you’ve beaten me to my point, but in case you haven’t: You don’t want your audience to get stuck at the top of your funnel (or waterslide.) You also don’t want your audience speeding down without knowing what they’re getting in return.
A lot of things can spook or bore an audience. Your job as a marketer is to make sure they stay engaged and gradually progress down the funnel in a way that makes sense. You shouldn’t immediately start sending one-sheeters and demo request forms one day after someone signs up for your blog’s newsletter. Everyone has a finite number of minutes to spend looking at a screen each day. All of your content, regardless of where it sits in the funnel, should be useful, memorable, and interesting enough so your audience chooses to spend that time with you.
Though telling a good story is a strategy that applies to every point in the funnel, there are specific considerations to account for as your audiences moves closer to a purchase. With that in mind, here are the content formats most useful at each stage of the funnel.
Top of funnel: Content to build awareness
Top of funnel is the land of brand awareness and affinity. This space is typically reserved for blog posts, infographics, social posts, and e-books. You want to grab your target audience’s attention and hold it.
Marketers typically think of the top of the funnel as the place where they get to be most creative. In many cases, that holds true. You’re going for eye-catching, entertaining content that lands in the market with a bang, so you get to answer customer questions and help people without feeling obliged to push your product on anyone.
The metrics associated with awareness tend to be easy to measure as you build up momentum. You’re looking for clicks, views, shares, and time spent on site. In other words, your building the runway for revenue that comes further down the funnel.
Think of your top-of-funnel content as an entry point to the funnel. Where can you meet people who should be a part of your audience? And how can you make a memorable first impression that helps their lives?
At Contently, we launched our “Content Marketing Minute” video series in the beginning of 2018 that is a good example of top-funnel content. Every month, Joe Lazauskas, our director of strategy, would concisely explain a topic that comes up a lot when he advises our clients. He kept things simple enough so viewers of all marketings level could follow his logic. They’re in, they’re out, and they know something new about content marketing. They also know Contently gave that information to them.
Inspiring an audience to read more and subscribe is the key here. You want to tease your whole content program and make your brand look like a voice worth following. Once you’ve produced your first big rock pieces of content, focus on building a compendium of evergreen work that readers can get lost in.
Mid-funnel: Content to build consideration
This space, devoted to educating your audience on problems and challenges they can overcome with your product, is where your competitors begin to fall away. At some point, that trust you build in the top of the funnel has to translate to legitimate interest from buyers. So when you’re creating mid-funnel content, you’re typically working on case studies, product stories, and webinars.
At this stage, having a strong strategy for content distribution maximizes the impact of your content. In the top of the funnel, you were trying to hook attention. Here, however, you already have it. They saw your videos, they already like your voice, and reading or watching something else from your brand sounds intriguing. In that sense, connecting with the audience is a little simpler.
One of my favorite mid-funnel pieces of content we’ve produced is this short video case study about our client Eni, the global energy company. The case study covers the making of Eni’s 15-minute documentary about the way electrical power is changing the nation of Mozambique. There’s very little mention of Eni’s power systems in the doc because the technical jargon isn’t what their customers typically discuss. Even though the case study is ultimately about the way Contently and Eni worked together on the project, there’s still an engaging narrative for the audience to follow.
You don’t have to change much of your strategy as you create mid-funnel content—you’re just catching prospects at a different moment in their lives. Keep studying your target audience to understand what they like to engage with online, and keep making content that aligns with your brand’s values. Your content should still aim to engage, entertain, and inform as it promotes or advertises.
Bottom of funnel: Content to drive purchases
You’ve got your prospect’s email address from the e-book download form, they know how you’ve helped other people in similar situations, and your sales rep is ready to close a deal. Now what?
Those reps will need content to facilitate the conversations before a sale. They need content to reference during the phone call, and even more content to send in a follow-up thank you email. This is where the gloves come off and copy about your products and services takes center stage.
Ask your sales teams and your product teams what they want showcased in content. You’ll most likely end up creating everything from pitch decks and website copy to one-sheeters and help desk articles. All your content in this space should serve to either cinch the deal with prospects or inform and entice existing clients to renew and expand.
One important note on the bottom of the funnel is that good examples focus on problems and solutions more than just features. If you sell software, your gut instinct will tell you to just list all the features you’ve built. But you can still tell a story at the by framing your product information as one part of a cohesive whole. That way, your audience will come to view your offerings as a solution to a problem they have, rather than a menu they can pick and choose from.
We try to apply that principle to our own bottom-funnel assets, which can be printed out and distributed at events or shot over to potential clients as PDFs. Here’s an example of what we use to position Docalytics, a feature that helps customers manage and analyze all of their downloadable assets.
That overview should help clarify how content fits into different parts of the marketing sales funnel. How you tell your brand’s story is ultimately up to you, but remember that regardless of which stage you’re working on, your content needs to hold attention and tie to a clear action. If you do that, the funnel can be a helpful framework rather than a wonky waterslide that harms people along for the ride.