Content Marketing and The Sales Funnel

It’s 7:30 on a Tuesday night at the start of summer in 2018. It’s been sunny and warm, and at this time 4.4 million blog posts have been written today alone. The amount of content that’s pouring into the internet is increasing on a daily basis, and it’s up to those of us in content marketing to make our content stand out. 

Producing unique content takes time, research, and energy. To set yourself apart from the millions of blog posts written each and every day, an investment into your content has to be made. If a significant amount of resources is going into content production — whether that’s through blogging, infographics, or email blasts — you want to make sure that it’s going to help customers convert. That conversion can be a product being purchased, collecting an email address, or even just spending a certain amount of time on your website.

How the Sales Funnel Relates to Content Marketing

This is where the sales funnel comes into play. ​​

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It doesn’t matter what you call the phases of the sales funnel – whichever names you use, it remains the process of moving customers from the top (being aware of your brand or product) to the bottom (your desired conversion). In this scenario, your content should be what accelerates your customer through this model. Your content is what smoothes out any rough edges your sales funnel may have because these rough edges are where customers may leave or forget about your product.

The best part about content and the sales funnel is that it’s applicable to all industries. Whether you’re a lawyer, marketer, ecommerce store, or manufacturer, there are a variety of ways to position your content in front of potential customers, pooling them at the top of your funnel. 

Content in the Discovery Phase

At the top of our sales funnel, we have the discovery phase. At this point, customers are just finding out about your brand or product (or may still not even know it). I’ve been to plenty of websites to seek answers to a question without knowing the brand behind the website or what their end goal was.

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This is why content at this point should be helpful and draw a large crowd. On our way down the sales funnel we’re inevitably going to lose customers, so the discovery phase should include the broadest, general content while still being well thought out.

My favorite type of content during this phase is a well-researched and well-written blog post. If you can find a piece of tangential content that may not directly relate to your product, but touches on your industry, that works great. Try pairing an infographic with blog posts at this phase as well — mainly because infographics are 3x more likely to be shared across social media channels.

Other common pieces of content we see during this phase are videos (and video ads) and podcasts, although that’s not to say there can’t be additional options.

Goals of the Discovery Phase

Just based on the definition of this part of the sales funnel, content for the discovery phase is a long term investment. We may not be converting customers directly with this piece of content, but it sets the foundation for the future.

It’s also important to note that content at this point should be free. Asking for an email address can be acceptable if necessary, but I would advocate against it. Customers don’t know (or trust) your brand at this point, so putting any barrier to entry here is going to dissuade people from even entering your funnel. Earning the trust of a visitor by answering a problem or giving information for free will go a long way.

  • Increasing traffic to your site while providing awareness about a solution for a problem. ​The main metrics we watch for this goal are website traffic (by all channels), social media engagement, time on site, the amount of inbound links (and in turn keyword rankings), and branded search volume (although this is usually a better KPI for deeper in the funnel).
  • Growing your retargeting lists. Through your retargeting list, we’ll be able to stay in front of potential customers to ensure they don’t leave your funnel.
  • An increase in social media engagement. If someone is engaging on social media, this is a sign that you’ve started to earn their trust.

It’s a rookie mistake to try and sell your product during the discovery phase. People don’t trust you yet, they’re JUST getting to know your brand. Instead, solve a problem and move customers onto the next part of the funnel – the consideration & evaluation phase.

Real World Example: Lakefront Brewery – Brewery Tour

Lakefront Brewery, in Milwaukee, WI, is not only known for their outstanding beers – they’re also known for their brewery tours. These tours go over the history of beer, the history of Milwaukee, and how Lakefront Brewery got started. The tour is led by charismatic presenters who make the crowd feel at home with participation – plus, they give you beer while you learn. This is an outside the box, real-world example of Discovery phase content.

*As a side note – I would also suggest adding a blog with content to the Lakefront Brewery website. Being industry leaders, they would be able to produce extremely well written content.

Content Goals For Consideration and Evaluation

The consideration and evaluation phase of our sales funnel is when customers may know about your brand or product, but still haven’t made a purchase. It’s at this point when the goal is to address any pain points customers frequently have. Overcoming these obstacles and showing that you’re an industry leader is crucial in earning trust.For this reason, lead magnets are a great form of content. Industry reports, educational resources, and new statistics all come in handy at this point in time. The most challenging hurdle to leap is that these pieces of content have to be innovative and industry-leading. You can’t just take what someone else has previously said and expect to get credit for that. Providing uniquely valuable content is what will earn you an email address or social follow.

Alternatively, if your content in the discovery phase is done well enough, you may already garner emails or social media follows. In that case, the goals are still the same – you may just have potential customers a little further down the funnel. Either way, they’re still evaluating you as a company and considering if they should give you money.

Goals of the Consideration and Evaluation Phase

Because we’re still moving customers down the funnel, we’re not expecting to see a lot of conversions at this point either. There will be some people who are willing to pay for your product or service immediately, but that won’t be the majority of visitors.

  • Email & Lead List Growth. If you can obtain a visitor’s email address in return for the piece of content your providing, that’s ideal. It qualifies that visitor as someone who is interested in a certain industry enough to let you send messages directly to them. That’s a potential customer who has a higher-than-average purchase intent.
  • Retargeting List Growth​. Paid advertising (search & display) is up 44% since 2014, and remarketing plays a large role in that. Keeping your brand or product in front of these visitors is going to be crucial (to a certain extent – this is why you can set a max impression cap). They’ve shown interest, now make sure they don’t forget about you.

The take away from this phase of the funnel is you want to acquire a list of potential customers. A few KPI’s to keep track of here are the number of email addresses (or leads) in your list, the size of your retargeting audience, and the open rate of your emails/social media engagement rate if you’re at that point. 

Depending on your content at this point in time and where you expect your customers to be, you can start to include CTA’s to see if you can produce conversions at the end of these. Regardless of that, you should be providing value without forcing a sale at this point in time.

Real World Example – Lakefront Brewery – Bus Ads

After the Lakefront Brewery tour, you leave with an excitement for beer. The buzz does help –  but after learning about the brewery process and how beer came to Milwaukee, you feel accomplished.

What Lakefront Brewery does after this is ingenious – they have their billboard plastered across the city buses, which acts as a real-world Display Advertisement. Whether you’re walking through the city, bar hopping, or enjoying the Lakefront, you’re reminded of the hour you spent with them and the experience they provided on a daily basis. Being a well-known attraction, they’re using the residents of the city of Milwaukee, as well as anyone visiting, as their ‘retargeting audience’.

Finally, the Conversion Phase

Finally – time to make some real money on our content marketing! We’ve put in a lot of time, effort and resources into making this whole ‘content creation’ thing work. The best part – if we’ve done our job right, people will be cruising through our sales funnel on their way to seamlessly making a conversion.

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It’s finally our time to get customers over that last hump – offering product demos, spec guides, comparison sheets, webinars, testimonials and coupon codes can all be extremely valuable (and fun!) pieces of content that can push your customer over the finish line.

Goals of the Conversion Phase

  • Nurture the customer into converting. At this point, customers know (and hopefully trust) your brand, your unique selling proposition, and how you can help them overcome their problem. It’s time to offer an easy-to-use sales system to offer a seamless experience. We don’t want any reason for them to back off at this point.
  • Continue to grow your retargeting list. Keep building audiences – this time an audience of converting customers. We may not have an idea of how we’re going to use or market to that list at this point in time, but it’s definitely not going to hurt to have and it can save a ton of time in the future.
  • Increase customer retention & frequency​. By making sure your customer is happy with their purchase, it will make them more likely to come back again later or refer a friend.

The main metric to keep an eye on at this point in time? Sales, of course. Other than that, I would continue to monitor social channels to make sure customers know how to use your product, email open rates, coupon code use rates and lifetime value of customers.

Something to keep in mind – it’s great to use an offer people can’t pass up. 

“85% Off – Today Only!”

“$15.00 for the next 24 hours!”

Your customer has made it this far, it’s time to close the deal.

Real World Example – Lakefront Brewery – Beer Finder

Finally, Lakefront Brewery offers a few different pieces of interactive content for conversions.

  1. “Beer Finder” – It’s simple! All you do is enter your address and the Lakefront Brewery website will tell you the closest grocery, convenience, or liquor store that sells their beer.
  2. “The Tour” – a page on the Lakefront website showing pictures of happy – or drunk – customers (serving as testimonials), a full schedule of available tours, and the ability to sign up online.

There is no friction in this funnel. The hurdles are taken away, and you have no reason not to turn into a converting (paying) customer.

Your Funnel Isn’t Over Yet – It’s Retention Time!

Just when you thought your content strategy was over, we hit you with the final piece of the puzzle – retention.

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The good news? The heavy lifting is over. You’ve nurtured your customer down your sales funnel, from just discovering your brand, to helping them solve problems or understand insights, to paying you their hard earned money for your product. The final step is to make sure they’re happy.

Some of our favorite types of content for this are surveys, social media follow ups (this can also help personalize your brand and give it a real voice!), how-to guides, and personalized thank you emails. The goal here is to make sure your customers are satisfied. I’m not just talking about ‘that worked well’ satisfied, I’m aiming for ‘That experience was amazing, I need to tell someone about it’ satisfied.

Real World Example – Big Surprise – Lakefront Brewery

​Finally, the end of the Lakefront Brewery tour has:

  1. A tip jar. What better way to understand how the tour goes?
  2. A comment sheet.  A real life, physical piece of content that, if online, could be emailed to customers.
  3. Real people to answer questions. Often times owners and workers at Lakefront Brewery are walking around, talking to people finishing these tours. No need to ask questions online when you have the owner standing in front of you!

 Lakefront also has a strong and active social media presence, covering all of their bases.

Word of mouth is a strong sales tool that is very hard to come by. At this point, though, it’s up to you to make your customer want to talk about you.

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