The Content Marketing Funnel: When to Use Different Types of Content

This post originally appeared on Single Grain, a growth marketing agency focused on scaling customer acquisition.

The Content Marketing Funnel

It’s 2017. Do you know where your content is?

Today, nearly 88% of B2B marketers are creating custom content marketing and 76% of marketers plan to produce more content in the future. But many digital marketers are lost when it comes to making a distinction between content that works, and content that doesn’t make an impact.

The traditional sales funnel has been changing to a content marketing funnel, which many brands are still doing their best to figure out. Marketers are now able to support sales in an unprecedented way by targeting each part of the funnel with unique, stage-specific content types that help qualify, nurture, and convert leads into paying customers. Strategic use of content opens up a world of opportunities.

In our experience, lots of companies don’t know how content marketing comes together, and they ask questions like:

  • How many blog posts should I write?
  • How often should I be tweeting every day?
  • Is there a specific percentage of my budget that I should be spending on video?
  • Do I really need to write whitepapers and e-books?

What these companies fail to understand is that content creation, when done correctly, isn’t a race against the competition. It’s more like a spectator sport, one in which you watch your leads get closer and closer. In this framework, every piece of content you create is an opportunity to bring a new lead closer to a sale or to inspire an existing customer to take action.

Is content volume important? Absolutely. But content synergy is far more important. In other words, there’s no point in creating 100 blog posts if you’re just going to send all your readers to your homepage.

If you struggle to come up with relevant and interesting material, want new ways to repurpose your curated content, or want to learn how different types of content target different parts of the funnel, this blog post is key to creating an effective content marketing strategy.

What Is the Content Marketing Funnel?

Picture the wide top of a funnel. This is where a large number of people might become aware of your products or services. All these people are your leads, or potential customers. As they move through your funnel towards the much narrower neck, many will drop off. A much smaller number of leads will actually make it through the entire funnel.

The purpose of the funnel is to convert as many leads as possible into actual customers who are willing to pay for your products or services.

The traditional sales funnel has three broad stages:

  1. Awareness – when a lead first discovers your brand
  2. Evaluation – when a qualified lead (or prospect) decides to find out whether your product or service is the right fit or not
  3. Purchase – when the prospect gathers the last bit of information they need before deciding to buy and becomes a customer (the stage every business wants to achieve!)

Content Marketing Funnel

Image Source

The generic content marketing funnel is similar, but has a fourth broad stage:

  • Attract – when a lead first discovers your brand
  • Convert – when a lead likes what they see and becomes a prospect
  • Close – when a prospect makes a commitment and becomes a customer
  • Delight – when a loyal customer is so satisfied that they become a brand advocate

The great thing about content marketing is that it can help your business reach users at any stage of this funnel, whether they’re at the top or floating somewhere in the middle. And as leads continue to interact with your business, and your business produces more quality content, you’ll widen the neck of the funnel.

What Content Type Goes Where?

Now for the burning question every marketer wants answered: What kind of content belongs at which stage?

Here’s the expanded four-stage content marketing funnel with different examples of content that is ideal for each of the four stages:

  • Attract
    • Ads
    • Landing Pages
    • Website
    • Videos (Explainer or Product Demo)
    • Infographics
    • Handy Checklists
  • Convert
    • Social Media
    • Blog Posts (How Tos or Guides)
    • Whitepapers/E-books
    • Case Studies
    • Webinars
  • Close
    • Ratings & Reviews
    • Questionnaires
    • Self-Assessments
    • E-mails
  • Delight
    • Surveys
    • Special Offers
    • Contests & Giveaways
    • E-mails
    • Social Media
    • Blog Posts
    • Whitepapers/E-books

We want to be very clear that this is just our map for content types—there is no real consensus on what types of content work best in each stage because it depends a lot on your sales cycle, your industry, and your audience. There is also a lot of overlap between content types and stages.

That being said, this is the best we’ve figured out for now, and it holds true for the vast majority of companies with successful content marketing campaigns.

Let’s learn more about each type of content, and why it works in its respective stage of the funnel using the startup company Canary, “a complete security system in a single device”, as a case study.

Content for Attracting Leads

Content Marketing FunnelThis is the landing page that users see when they go to the Canary website. One of the first things that you’ll notice is how simple it is, with more negative space than text.

Because it’s holiday season right now, a “12 Days of Canary” pop-up appears asking for visitors’ e-mail address to get updates about holiday deals.

Content Marketing Funnel

This is effective for existing customers who may be coming back for more, or new leads who will make a decision based on the idea of a good deal. It’s straight to the point and quickly guides prospects to where they would be most interested in going.

And if the prospect scrolls down a little further…

Content Marketing Funnel

Again, there is not much text, but there is a call-to-action to learn more about a collaboration between State Farm and Canary to support first responders, such as arson investigators and training dogs. People who have State Farm Insurance will see an opportunity to save money on insurance, and others will see a company that cares about the men and women who protect us all.

Learn more: 10 Tips for Landing Page Optimization

For completely unqualified prospects who know absolutely nothing about your brand or product, the best types of content are simple landing pages, short introductory or product videos, and infographics. In other words: there should be as little written content as possible.

Keep in mind that no one cares about your company yet. Unqualified leads either don’t know who you are or have never seen any of your stuff. So you need to catch their attention with more riveting types of content.

Video often produces higher search engine optimization and stronger engagement and boosts the chance of a sale by 64–85%. In fact, by 2017, 74% of all web traffic will come from video. Video is also mobile-friendly, which means it puts you in front of the 31 million people who plug into the web via mobile device every day (and that’s just in the U.S.!). Since Canary offers a complete security system that you can access when away from home via an app, it’s essential that they make sure their content is mobile friendly.

A large portion of Canary’s business is selling security cameras, so it’s important that they showcase the high-quality footage that their products can deliver. Their Instagram, with over 5,000 followers, consists mainly of animal videos captured by their security cameras. Prospects can laugh at cute dogs and cats, and see how effective Canary’s product is at the same time.

Content Marketing Funnel

Once you’ve captured the attention of your leads, the best way to capitalize on this is by steering these potential customers toward qualifying facts or figures and by getting them to start asking themselves whether they should make a purchase. This can be achieved through the smart use of infographics.

All businesses can benefit from incorporating infographics into their marketing strategy. Just look at these stats:

  • For B2B content marketing, infographics saw the largest increase from 51% in 2014 to 62% in 2015
  • Infographics get 3 times more social media likes and shares than all other types of content
  • 65% of senior marketing executives say that visual content is key to illustrating their brand story

Also called “data visualization,” infographics meet at the intersection of information, illustration, and design to present data that might otherwise be bland and boring in an engaging way.

Content Marketing Funnel

Image Source

And, as with videos, infographics are perfect for mobile devices. When there are 44 million more active mobile subscriptions in the world than there are people, ensuring that your content is mobile friendly is something that you can’t afford to neglect.

Content for Converting Prospects

Your leads have now seen your landing page, found your social media accounts, laughed at your viral videos, and probably looked over a few of your compelling and impeccably designed infographics. And they’re ready for more.

One of the first things a prospect will want to know after deciding that a product or service might be useful is whether they can trust the brand behind it. The best way to build that trust is by establishing domain expertise as a helpful thought leader. And helpful leaders usually offer free advice.

That’s why Canary offers plenty of helpful information across all their marketing channels, starting with a multifaceted blog:

Content Marketing Funnel

Learn more: How to Write Blog Posts that Actually Convert Readers into Customers

But how will Canary’s prospects find their blog posts? Will they have to visit their website to see what’s new? Nope, that’s where social media kicks in.

92% of marketers stated that a social media strategy was vital for their business because it creates a sense of community engagement. By creating regularly updated content channels on the social platforms where your target audience regularly hangs out, you provide your prospects with easy access to your advice. You also give them a chance to see what other prospects and customers are saying.

A prospect can instantly scan through dozens of eye-catching pics, announcements, and satisfied customer comments. Social media is the quickest, surest way of getting prospects and customers to engage and eventually become brand evangelists (which is why it shows up in the “Delight” stage as well).

Content Marketing Funnel

The ideal social media strategy includes regularly updating all your business’s social media accounts to maintain a strong and consistent presence on all platforms and catering to your followers as needed. Canary’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are all regularly updated with content that is both informative and lighthearted, but still relevant to their brand. They also have their own hashtag, #caughtbycanary, for customers to locate and share snippets of footage caught by their Canary cameras.

Content Marketing Funnel

You should also have a clear FAQ page on your website to answer the most relevant and common questions they are likely to have before committing to your product or service. Canary includes a section called FAQs: Before You Buy:

Content Marketing Funnel

Once you’ve demonstrated your helpfulness and expertise without strings, a prospect is going to be far more comfortable with and serious about your brand. But there are still a few more steps they must take before they commit to making a purchase.

You have to convince them that buying from you is the smart thing to do. This usually means providing more qualifying information to assuage their fears. But this information can’t be an infographic. These prospects aren’t leads anymore, and they’re going to start scrutinizing everything a little more closely. In other words, now’s the time to offer long-form, in-depth content like whitepapers, e-books, and even informative webinars.

Learn more: The Ultimate Recipe for Effective Customer Lead Generation

Content for Closing Customers

Savvy brands like Canary understand that all marketing is in service of the “Close” and “Delight” stages. And, whenever possible, closing should be a repeat stage. Once a customer pays for their first product, the goal is to make them pay for another product or service, and become a recurring customer.

And the absolute easiest way to close a prospect is through ratings, reviews, testimonials, and case studies. In fact, 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

For a company that sells security technology and home protection, stories about the prevention of break-ins and other crimes can be powerful testimonials. And this is some of the content that Canary features on their blog:

Content Marketing Funnel

Everyone dreads the idea of someone breaking into their home to steal their possessions while they’re away or threaten their family’s safety if they’re at home. The headline alone targets that feeling and captures the reader’s attention.

But even if a prospect never makes it to their blog, Canary has another big promotion stamped on their landing page:

Content Marketing Funnel

Names like Forbes and Time Magazine appear, but Oprah takes the spotlight. The “Oprah Effect” can launch even a small, struggling company into stardom after an appearance on her show. Even if your product hasn’t been promoted by Oprah, word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers on social media, Amazon, or Yelp are more than enough.

For prospects that need a bit more convincing to close, you can also use strategic questionnaires and self-assessments. These help “nudge” prospects over the edge into customer territory by showing them just how much they need your help. They also help save you time by qualifying prospects even further, so you can get on the phone with the ones you’re most likely to close.

And if there are prospects you just can’t crack the first time around, you can always get them the next time there’s an opportunity. That’s why it’s so important to set up and maintain an e-mail newsletter. 91% of consumers check their e-mail daily, and 72% of consumers prefer to receive commercial communication via e-mail.

Content for Delighting Customers

E-mail is also the primary method for keeping in touch with existing customers. It’s how you continue to offer one-time customers helpful, resourceful content to keep the relationship fresh and relevant (until you have a promotion or upsell).

In fact, the “Delight” stage is a lot like what it takes to keep any relationship going. It’s not enough to attract, date, and enter into an official relationship with someone special. If you want to keep their affection, you need to remind them that you care with gifts and shows of affection.

  • Surveys
  • E-mails
  • Social Media
  • Blogging
  • Whitepapers/e-books

For businesses producing content, this means that you should regularly check in via e-mail with announcements, discounts, and surveys. You should also share (through both social media and e-mail) any new blog posts or whitepapers and e-books that are relevant to your existing customers.

Canary sends its subscribers regular e-mails that contain news and other relevant updates on the company and its products.

By sharing top-of-the-funnel attract and convert content to customers, the content marketing funnel comes full circle. Customers who become e-mail subscribers are essentially passed through a second funnel: the e-mail marketing funnel (supplemented by social media), which eventually turns them into loyal customers and promoters.

Learn more: 5 Case Studies of Successful Marketing Funnels

What Does Your Content Marketing Funnel Look Like?

It goes without saying that Canary’s content marketing strategy isn’t going to work for all companies.

But the beauty of the content marketing funnel is that it can be adapted to any business, no matter what you’re selling. A tech startup and a mid-market retailer may target different parts of the funnel with different types of content, but the general strategy will remain the same.

Use this example of a content marketing funnel as a template and an inspiration for your own content marketing strategy.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on how your brand uses different types of content for the different parts of the funnel. Let us know in the comments below!

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