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How to build an effective content marketing funnel

Your company has a great product or helpful service, a spiffy new website and various social media accounts. The "million dollar question": How do I turn it into a sales success? How do I gently and strategically introduce customers to my products and services?
For this, you need a well-structured content marketing funnel.

What is a content marketing funnel?

A content marketing funnel is a model for visualizing what content does what to potential customers and when, i.e. at which point in the customer journey you should pull which ace out of your sleeve to turn prospects into paying and hopefully loyal customers. The content marketing funnel is usually part of a larger content marketing strategy and consists of three stages:

  1. Top of the Funnel (TOFU): Attract attention
  2. Middle of the Funnel (MOFU): Generating Leads
  3. Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU): Conversions

Different content is important in each phase:

Top of the funnel edge (TOFU): arouse interest

The upper part of the funnel is the starting point of the customer journey and full of people. Many are neither prospects nor customers by then, which means that you as a company must first draw attention to yourself and your products or services.

The best funnel edge content to get people to "jump in the funnel" is content that adds value without pitching the product.
Solving a problem is one of the easiest (and most satisfying) ways to attract attention. With educational and valuable content, you can solve a problem at no cost to the potential customer. He will remember it later before making a purchase decision.
Therefore, tutorials, landing pages on your topic, checklists or infographics, but also webinars and white papers are among the best TOFU content: For example, home improvement stores often offer DIY tutorials, travel companies entice customers with informative landing pages about a region or packing lists, and food manufacturers could use recipes or infographics about the nutritional value or vitamin content of different foods to generate interest and prove their own expertise. This builds trust and increases the likelihood that readers/viewers will turn to your company as an expert when they need to solve a problem or satisfy a need.
Key metrics for success at this first stage are visitor numbers and dwell time on websites, likes, comments and mentions on social media, a bounce rate that is as low as possible, and subscriptions to newsletters or social media channels.

This graphic from online marketing platform Semrush clearly summarizes what content works best in TOFU and what you use to measure it:

That leaves the problem of how potential customers first become aware of your tutorial or infographic: Here, organic search is the main channel to find tutorials, infographics, checklists, videos and e-books on a topic. So you need to make sure your content ranks well in search engines by doing good SEO work - and of course help it along a bit with performance marketing measures.
Social media and email marketing are also touchpoints to attract customers at the beginning of the funnel. To capture potential customers at this stage, focus on informing, adding value, and generating interest in your brand.

You won't make sales with TOFU content yet, but you can present your brand as authentic, offer a solution to a problem, generate interest, and briefly mention your product or service. The emphasis here is on "briefly" because at the edge of the funnel, interest is not yet on the product. You position yourself and your company as a knowledgeable expert, create trust, and sprinkle your product in as if it were incidental.

Middle of the funnel (MOFU): keep it in line

In the middle-of-the-funnel phase, there are already somewhat fewer people left. All those for whom your product was not right after all for some reason have already jumped off here. Those who are still in the funnel now are therefore much more promising than the mass of people at the edge of the funnel: they are likely to engage with your content if you manage to encourage them accordingly. In the middle of the funnel, the best way to keep potential customers engaged is to emphasize how your product or service makes the customer's life easier.

Again, most traffic still comes from organic search. MOFU content is usually measured by conversion rates and the number of leads.

Instructions and "how-to guides" are still the content most likely to be successful in the middle of the funnel. However, product overviews and case studies now rank directly behind them. That is, the how-to guide or tutorial explains "HOW do I solve my problem?", and the product description or case study provides the answer to the question: "WHAT do I solve my problem and HOW" - namely with YOUR product, not with any other that performs the same function.

Once potential customers have taken the bait and become leads, you need to keep them interested with the right content: lead nurturing. The content that catches the most in the middle of the funnel with interested leads is success stories, followed by or combined with product overviews. Free, useful giveaways, such as product samples or a downloadable whitepaper that provides interesting data and lets your brand shine as an expert, are especially good for this. Free webinars full of useful information are also an opportunity for brand and product to stick in the minds of leads. This is a chance to clearly demonstrate how exactly your product solves problems or makes life more beautiful.

Since the leads are already interested at this stage, the task now is to deepen their interest and also to keep reminding the undecideds about the product and your brand. Therefore, email marketing is the tool of choice in the middle of the funnel, followed by social media marketing:

At the bottom of the funnel (BOFU): driving conversions forward

The bottom of the funnel is your finish line; if you have the right content ready here, you'll turn leads into real, paying customers. Meanwhile, only the most interested leads are left, but they are also the most likely to buy once they get there.

On the way to the purchase decision, you no longer need to convince people about the product, but about buying yours and not the competition's. Customer comments, comparisons to competitor products and product demonstrations are the best methods here. At this point, light "bragging" is perfectly permissible.

Very specific information about your product or service is also helpful:
How does the product work exactly? What is its service life? What do I need to know to use it?
What exactly does the service entail? For how long? Is there a subscription model? And so on.

In addition to detailed product overviews, customer reviews and still success stories are of particular importance at the funnel floor, because satisfied customers create trust and convince others: 93% of customers make their purchase decision based on reviews. (Source: Semrush).

Here, too, email marketing is ahead of the game. At the bottom of the funnel, however, paid advertising is also more worthwhile than in the other phases, in order to stay very close to the customer until conversion.
Success at the bottom of the funnel is of course measured in paying customers, sales, and ROI of content marketing.

Since email works best at this point, you could, for example, send a follow-up email to customers who attended a webinar and link to a product demo there. At the end of the email, an X-day free trial or a heavily discounted first year is also a good option to convert leads into paying customers.

Of course, small companies need different funnel content than large ones, and startups need different funnel content than established traditional companies. But they all need:

  • An understanding of your target audience's goals, challenges, desires and pain points.
  • An understanding of your target audience's current customer journey.
  • Clear content marketing goals and KPIs (if I don't know what I'm trying to achieve, I don't know what success is).
  • Know where the competitors stand.
  • A content marketing strategy that takes into account all of the above.

So start by determining what content you want to create for each stage of the customer journey, from brand awareness to purchase decision, starting at the edge of the funnel.

And: Sort out quickly if something is not working. To find out what could work better, data-based buyer personas are helpful. With them, you get to know your customers' pain points, wishes, and challenges at a glance and can adapt your funnel content perfectly to them.

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