When you tell your friends about the sandwich you just inhaled from Lenny’s, you might describe the bread. You might even describe the fixings that enhanced your experience. Yet what defines the quality and character of your meal is not the carbohydrates that hold it together or the sauces that dress its sides. The sandwich derives its name, flavor, and reputation by its middle section: the meat.1
The middle portion of the buyer’s journey is equally as important in defining a brand’s longevity and the success of its content marketing strategy, but many content marketers either devalue this middle process or fail to invest in its maturation.
As content marketers, we are aware of the big statistics that drive our industry. Inbound marketing gets 54 percent more leads into the sales funnel than traditional marketing, and, accordingly, 78 percent of CMOs see custom content as the future of marketing. This year, nearly a quarter of organizations designated over half of their marketing budget to content.
Only 6 percent of B2B marketers, however, rate their content marketing strategy as “highly effective,” according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B content marketing report. This should alert us to a break in the path between content creation and conversion. While leads pour in with successful top-funnel campaigns, return on that investment is falling short.
To echo the great words of Joseph Tribbiani, “You’re wasting good pastrami!“—and dropping the meat.
What is mid-funnel content?
Mid-funnel content bridges this gap between initial intrigue (top-funnel) and the final sale (bottom-funnel). It is the beef of the conversion funnel that holds together its outer compadres.
Generally, mid-funnel content is most important to B2B companies. That’s because B2B sales cycles are generally more complex, which means that you need to spend more time building and nurturing relationships with prospects. Mid-funnel content for B2C companies, by contrast, is focused more on customer-relationship management, which we’ll discuss in another piece soon.
How do you know if you’re producing the right mid-funnel content? Let’s first distinguish where mid-funnel prospects come from and what our goals are when they get there.
Mid-funnel folks are either leads that have trickled down from your compelling top-funnel content or remain in your system as potential repeat buyers. Accordingly, the goal of mid-funnel content is to guide your prospect through the buyer’s journey, providing material that will help them evaluate your brand and develop an affinity for it over your competitors. The magic happens by deepening the connection made in the top of the funnel with content that is specific to different segments of your overall audience.
While the content approach will be different depending on where in the spectrum they fall, the principle remains the same. Mid-funnel content must:
1) Nurture leads, drawing them to an eventual purchase. (Hello, ROI!)
2) Educate current and potential customers on the factors that differentiate your brand.
3) Continually inspire an emotional connection with unique audience segments to establish brand loyalty and create brand advocates.
Mid-funnel content is persuasive, educational, and targeted. Aimed at people already in your CRM system, mid-funnel content delivers the right content to the right people at the right time, usually with the help of marketing automation technology. (More on that in a minute.) While top-funnel content should be optimized for broad reach among your target audience, mid-funnel content should be intentionally crafted to speak to the needs of those closer to buying your product.
The easiest and most effective way to nurture your mid-funnel email strategy is through segmentation. Age, gender, and geography are all valuable segments, but behavior-driven groups carry the most potential to connect in a relevant and valuable way with individual users. Newsletter subscribers will follow a different path than those who entered your system through a YouTube how-to campaign, and will thus expect different material. Similarly, podcast subscribers will respond differently to product and service offers than the avid longform reader.
What is at the heart of these unique segmentation patterns? Determining who you are talking to, where they came from, and what they are seeking, and being able to deliver targeted material at the optimal time for the purpose of engagement. (Remember, there are people on the other end of those Gmail and Outlook accounts.)
Mid-funnel content may take any (or more) of the following forms:
This mid-funnel format often takes a psychological, action-oriented approach. For instance, CoSchedule, a WordPress editorial calendar plug-in, tracks the behavior of its audience and segments individuals based on their engagement within emails and on the site. In the email below, CoSchedule acknowledges my recent lack of activity and responds by nurturing our relationship with information on new features and courses that relate to my role as an editorial manager. This is a strong of example of the role of mid-funnel content as an engaging, educational tool.
E-books can be a great way to generate top-funnel leads. They can also serve to deepen the relationship between you and your audience by providing rich information on a particular topic. HubSpot is a pro at this strategy. Its persuasive, data-heavy e-books are not only embedded in blog posts, but also incorporated into the brand’s newsletter. As a mid-funnel tool, the focus is not on acquiring leads, but on assisting the buyer in his or her evaluation process.
Case studies are an easy way to show, not tell, prospects exactly what you do through the eyes of the consumer. NuSpark, a lead-generation tool, uses on-site case studies to clearly state a client’s problems, NuSpark’s solution, and the overall result. The impact? The company demonstrates the power of its tools through a user’s lens. Case studies are incredibly useful for content marketers as they can be repurposed into many formats, like blog posts, social media material, newsletter highlights, testimonials, and more.
A fact sheet is a concise way to say to your prospects, “Here’s what you should know about the biggest problem in your industry and here’s why we are best suited to address it.” Here, HP’s fact sheet demonstrates industry leadership by identifying a “state of the industry” issue and providing data on why its solution has an advantage over competitors. Simple and to-the-point, it directs the reader during a key moment in their purchase journey.
A white paper typically looks like a longform fact sheet or an e-book on statistical steroids. Call me crazy, but the NCIA has nailed its white papers on evolving cannabis policy, providing data and actionable how-to’s for its entrepreneurial audience.
Integrated email campaigns
Email campaigns can (and should) be more strategic than a weekly newsletter blast—they’re the bread and butter of the mid-funnel process. In addition to its longform weekly newsletter, Safari, an education reader service, distributes “Popforms,” which deliver weekly questions to team leaders and their members to help facilitate productive one-on-one meetings. The goal here is to provide an additional source of utility, strengthening the connection between prospect and brand.
Rather intuitively, ROI calculators allow prospects to plug in website and company information to determine the necessary investment to reach set goals.
Keep in mind that this list is neither exhaustive nor precise. Exactly what your content looks like will depend on how different segments fit into your overall sales goals. The short answer to mid-funnel content creation is that there is no universal content template. Mid-funnel strategy is successful by the nature of its specificity, creativity and case-specific data.
How do content marketers organize and monetize this specificity?
Too often, once marketers acquire leads after investing in top-funnel content, they hit their general audience with unspecific or final-sell material. Without paying attention to audience behavior and tailoring a relevant message, the relationship between prospect and seller is cheapened.
An unspecific mid-funnel conversation (i.e., blast) goes something like this:
Brand: “You know you want this.”
Recipient: “You don’t know me. (Bye, Felicia.)”
Mid-funnel prospects are humans, and, naturally, they want a degree of familiarity once the relationship has been initiated. That means you have to engage in a thoughtful and direct manner that is specific to them.
That’s where automation comes in.
Superior marketers adapt their mid-funnel strategy to provide authentic content to distinct groups and individuals. Automation—particularly of email—simplifies this segmentation, personalizing information during this critical stage in relationship-building.
At the heart of these segmentation patterns is a greater understanding of the motivation behind the behavior (i.e., desires) of your customers. Conceptualizing these actions—and the people behind them—will allow you to map and deliver content to tilt purchase decisions in your favor and create brand loyalists.
As articulated by Neil Patel, content marketing wizard and co-founder of Kissmetrics, Quick Sprout, and Crazy Egg, it’s vital to “visualize what’s going on so you can sketch out specific sequences that users are taking to becoming paying customers.”
I’ll admit, when I first heard the term “automation,” I immediately thought it would be cold and robotic. The opposite is the case. Tools like drip programs, lists, tags, and rules in Pardot, and smart lists and snippets in Marketo, make it easy to organize segments of your audience to speak to them in a targeted and engaging way. Act-On goes a step further, allowing marketers to sort by company attribute (title, department, location), behavior, or timeframe.
Meaningful data supports automation’s role in fueling the mid-funnel portion of your content strategy. Automated emails have a 119 percent higher open rate than broadcast emails; nurtured leads make 47 percent bigger purchases. Businesses are catching on fast, as 84 percent of top-performing companies either are or are planning to use marketing automation by the end of 2015 .
For further examples of what to do and not to do in the automated mid-funnel, just look in your inbox. You’ll quickly be able to differentiate the companies that have effectively automated you into their systems—and responded to your behavior—from those that have you on blast.
Groove, my marketing spirit animal, is exemplary with its mid-funnel email campaigns, as are Dropbox and Marketing Sherpa. In each case, notice onboarding emails that inspire a double opt-in, follow-ups with new perks when engagement is low, personal 1:1 recommendations based on email or site interaction, and—here’s the kicker—humanized, engaging language.
If automated mid-funnel content bridges the gap between intrigue and sale, how do we measure the impact of this content’s success?
Like creation and distribution strategy, the metrics used for mid-funnel measurement depend on your goals. If the goal of a mid-funnel campaign is to offer an upgraded service or a certification, the newsletter subscriber who always opens your email but never clicks on a link will hold a different value than the subscriber who went to your blog from the email, read the entire article, and downloaded an e-book on the same topic that corresponds to your improved service.
While the leads may have originated from the same newsletter list, it makes sense to assign different values to these people based on their actions. This numerical assignment represents different proximities to a potential sale.
Marketo, Oracle, Act-On, and Salesforce each have CRM mechanisms to help assign value to prospects based on their one-to-one and/or segmented engagement. Organized as a numerical system, the lead-scoring process lets you assign points to prospects depending on a number of variables (age, gender, demographic, behavior), resulting in an evolving number for each audience member.
The result is twofold. In addition to determining the proximity of a prospect to a final sale at a given point in time (when and how are they likely to make a purchase?), lead scoring allows you to track touch points to help you start to determine the ROI on specific pieces of content. (For a more detailed breakdown, see Sam Slaughter’s guide here.) The key here is that the more you understand your segmented lists, personalized emails, and the behavior of these groups, the easier it is to pinpoint valuable metrics and determine attribution.
While there are no golden rules in mid-funnel marketing, here’s a recap of what you need to know. (Use it as a checklist, print out for your fridge, and ponder it over a sandwich.)
1. Align mid-funnel goals with overall sales targets. Marketing and sales should always be simpatico: Marketing spoon-feeds ripe leads to sales, while sales returns the favor with valuable insight.
2. Take advantage of automation tools and email campaigns. Remember the power of segmentation, personalization, and behavior-driven lists. As long as segmentation is thoughtful and intentional, a diverse array of leads will remain valuable for long periods of time.
3. Track how people in your mid-funnel engage with you and reach out to them in real time. This involves marketing and sales collaboration. Use sophisticated, actionable metrics that make sense for your overall goals. You need to understand how well your audience knows what differentiates your brand and what drives them down the conversion funnel. And don’t underestimate content engagement metrics.
Forward thinking: Integrate mid-funnel content with social. Both mid-funnel and social strategy ties into brand authority, trustworthiness, and recognition.
Now, go forth. Channel your inner Joey Tribbiani. Get after that meat.