The top of the funnel is the very beginning of the process when a customer is just realizing they have a problem that needs solving and begins to look for solutions. This is also known as the “discovery” or “awareness” phase. For example, let’s say that a marketing manager needs better analytics tools for the company’s marketing campaigns. This may become obvious when the CEO asks for the ROI on a specific campaign, and, although some data is available, the stats could be better, or there may need to be an easier way to show or share that data.
You job is to first understand the prospect’s pain point and what is triggering the need. Next, you need to create content that helps educate the prospect and provide high-value resources. Here are examples of a few different types of content that are effective for this stage of the game:
- White papers. At this point in the buyer’s journey, the prospect is seeking data and information that will help them make a decision. White papers are the perfect type of content because in them you can address the problem, present general solutions, and then dive into your brand’s specific solution. Prospects want facts and research, and white papers fill that need.
- Blog posts. Blog posts can also be valuable at this stage, especially long-form content. You can address the prospect’s pain point and offer tactics and strategies for meeting the challenge. At the end of the content you can provide a call to action, encouraging the prospect to download a gated white paper or eBook on the same topic in exchange for a name and email address. Gated content allows you to capture leads so you’re able to continue to educate them with more relevant and nurture them through the sales cycle.
This type of content allows for a deep dive into the customer’s problem and lets you present facts and research. Quotes from influencers can be included, with their best tips on solving the pain point. At the same time, they add credibility to your brand and content.
After creating the right content, what should you do next? Start by using the right metrics, which allow you to understand which content is effective — and which isn’t. Here are a few to watch.
- Number of sessions: How many sessions has a single prospect had with your content? Is the targeted content driving prospects to your site and enticing them to return for more? Determine each prospect’s number of sessions so you can better understand engagement.
- Old visitors vs. new visitors: How many of the visitors to your content are old vs. new visitors? Both types are good, but a high number of new visitors means that your content is drawing new interest from prospects.
- Engagement: When you send out that new white paper, e-book, or blog post, are prospects clicking the link or opening the email? Engagement is critical to nurturing prospects through the buyer journey, so this metric is critical. ‘
- Leads/Won Opportunities/Closed Deals Generated: Use analytics tools to help you see how your content is actually impacting the bottom line. This information can inform the production of content on similar subject matter, but perhaps in a different format. For example, turn that high-performing eBook into an infographic or series of blog posts.
You’ve defined the prospect’s pain point and created targeted content that helps them better understand that pain point. What comes next? After the discovery stage, the customer moves into the “consideration” stage. Here they have some basic facts, but they’re looking at specific companies and asking, “Who can help me solve this problem best?”
The prospect has defined their problem, done some research, and is now evaluating specific companies and specific solutions. They are one step closer to purchase but first need to understand a little more about their choices. The goal at the middle of the funnel should be to help buyers understand why your solution is best. Here a few types of content that help you accomplish this goal.
Case studies: Prospects want to imagine what using your product would be like, so it’s helpful to publish stories about past clients achieving great results. Select stories that fit a variety of customer personas and will resonate with your prospects, and videos are especially powerful here.
Comparison posts or webpages: Blog posts are effective for this stage as well, but the type of content you create is different from the first stage. Write posts or landing pages comparing the different categories of products the prospect may be considering. For example, a customer in the market for a smartphone may be deciding between an Android and an iPhone. At the middle stage, a great post for this prospect would be: “Android vs. iPhone: Which is best for your business?”
Production demonstrations: The prospect not only wants to understand the benefits of the product — they want to better understand how to use it. They may be worried that the solution is complicated or won’t solve their exact problem. Create content that shows exactly how the product works using video or another interactive method, which can help overcome objections and move prospects to the next stage of the sales cycle. These are also terrific assets to gate for lead collection.
As with the awareness stage, it’s important to measure the right metrics. At this point, you should be monitoring returning visitors. For example, is one group of prospects returning more frequently than another? Understand why. For product demonstrations, measure those captured leads, which should be consistently growing over time.
Now the prospect has considered all the potential solutions and is ready to validate whether the product or solution is worth purchasing. You’ve talked about the value of the product and how it makes the task easier. At this point, they want information about what things look like if they decide to take the final plunge and move forward with your organization. The prospect is teetering on the edge of purchase, and they crave the right information to push them over that edge. So what type of content works well at this stage? Here are a few suggestions.
Trial downloads: Trials can be extremely effective at this point because once you can get the prospect to try your product, it’s much easier to convert them in the future. Offer free or low-cost trials to encourage the prospect to move closer to closing the sale and create content to promote those trials.
Live demos: During the middle of the funnel, you may have created on-demand video content that highlighted the benefits of the product. At this phase, however, the buyer is more serious, and a live demo is more engaging, allowing you to answer questions and address concerns in real time.
Content that shares favorable analyst reviews: People often trust 3rd party reviews to solidify their choice and/or to make the case to a budget holder, perhaps. If you’ve got great reviews, flaunt them! It’s also important to have these assets readily available to your sales team.
Content that promotes a free audit: For some products and services, it’s possible to offer a free audit or review. If this fits with your business, create content that highlights the benefits of a free audit and how the prospect can take advantage of the offer. This could be a blog post, short video, or infographic packed with stats relevant to the pain point and how an audit would help.
Once you create content for this stage in the buying cycle, it’s important to measure the results to better understand the content’s effectiveness. You can then pivot and make changes as needed. Here are a couple of metrics to watch.
Lifetime value of a customer: The longer a customer stays with your business, the more valuable they become as you make continual offers, upsells, and cross-sells of related products. Measure the lifetime value of new customers generated by content marketing efforts.
Customer acquisition: Creating content that is aligned with each stage of the buyer’s journey requires time, money, and resources. All that hard work comes with a price tag, and you want to ensure that customer acquisition rates meet expectations.
But in the end, every sales funnel is unique and shaped by the buyer journey. You can apply a general framework for aligning content at every stage, but when you truly understand your audience and develop a funnel that is tightly focused on their needs and backed with a documented content marketing strategy, you’ll better understand your customers, drive greater engagement, and experience higher conversions and lasting results.
Have you aligned your content marketing strategy with the buyer journey? If so, please share your results.