By now you are familiar with the notion that content is being produced at an alarming rate; in fact, it is being produced so fast that it is causing some to augur a massive wave of content shock, or the related content apocalypse as visitors increasingly become numb to this type of marketing. Content marketing, it is thought, is going to become cost-prohibitive, putting an end to content marketing.
As Geoff Livingston writes (before doing some shotgun-style myth busting) the content zombie apocalypse is the scenario in which digital marketers have "spammed the world with a ceaseless stream of bad posts, bad emails, bad white papers, and bad videos. Perfectly good marketers and writers have been bitten, turning into undead content machines. oozing black goop all over the interwebs."
Despite Livingston's humorous tone, the fact is that digital marketers are in a difficult position. Not only are content marketers forced to create content on a regular basis, but it has to be the easily discussed and difficult to produce "great content." In order to compete for attention online, your business must produce engaging content. In order to complete your business goals, your business must to produces leads, sales, and conversions.
Creating an Engaging Content Funnel
According to research conducted by the Content Marketing Institute, 59% of respondents to their survey felt that creating engaging content was a challenge.
The content your business might be producing, and certainly doesn't want to produce more of, is known as CRaP. CRap, as Sonia Simone writes, is "Content Regurgitated as Product." The experience of consuming CRaP is all-too-familiar:
Think about most of what you click on that’s shared on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. Was it worth your time to read? Barely. Do you need any more of it? Not really.
In place of CRaP, Simone suggests creating "rain maker" content, which she defines as content created "to serve a business purpose in attracting a larger prospect base, bringing in leads, nurturing and educating those leads, and paving the way for a sale."
This is the type of content your business probably initially set out to create, and wants to create more of.
But how do you do it? When do you do it?
The short answer is to create content that corresponds to various stages of the customer journey, utilizing a funnel.
Top of the Funnel (TOFU)
Examples of Content Types:
- Content Curation
- Social Shares
- Unique Page Views
- Organic Search Visits
It is important to keep in mind that as many as 96% of first time visitors to your site are not going to buy anything from you. But that doesn’t mean that the first visit isn’t extremely important.
In order to get people to eventually buy from you, their experience with content at the top of the funnel needs to be entertaining or useful, and also easy to share. By and large, most of the TOFU content is going to reside on your blog.
While the CDC has a page dedicated to the Zombie Apocalypse, it doesn't have one for the content marketing zombie apocalypse. Nonetheless, a business can learn a lot from what the CDC did at the top of the funnel in order to turn their otherwise unremarkable content about emergency preparedness into engaging content.
Lists, content curation, infographics, or blogging about industry-related events are great ways to introduce your business to the wider community. The CDC's center for Preparedness uses their Zombie Blog in just this way, bravely departing from blogging about emergency preparedness, stricto sensu.
So how do you get someone to move from the top of the funnel after consuming and sharing some of your content?
The short answer is to create content that is going to direct visitors towards a goal. Again, this is why having a content strategy is so important. Aimlessly creating content results in a haphazardly assembled digital funnel. It’s like walking across a bridge missing boards in crucial spots. No one is going to cross that bridge to your goal, especially when your competitors are creating smooth, golden brick roads to help usher their visitors to specific final destinations.
Tip: Don’t forget to re-purpose your content. After you have completed a series of blog posts, create a short video for each one, and use Wistia to embed them within each post. You might also consider turning the infographic into a SlideShare presentation. Repurposing content is going to allow you to reach more people who engage with different media. Don’t restrict your content to just writing.
Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)
Examples of Content Types:
- White Papers
- Industry Reports
- Sign Ups & Form-Fills
- New follows on social media channels
Here it is important to create targeted information to supply prospects with more information about your product or service. This is your chance to show potential customers how your product specifically answers their questions or addresses the pain points they are trying to solve.
While the CDC campaign was primarily focused at the top of the funnel, with a few minor tweaks it could easily nudge visitors towards the middle of the funnel.
For example, if the CDC wished to start gathering a list of interested educators to alert for future campaigns or special, in-person preparedness training, they could have added a simple button requesting an email in exchange for the lesson plans and activities.
Tip: As trust in your brand increases, you should see a corresponding increase in direct traffic and return visitors. A good middle of the funnel will also have people consuming more of your content, so check to see that the average pages per visit is also growing.
Prospects that have progressed to this point in the funnel have arrived at that all-important point in the journey at which they move further away from visitor and closer to customer. So what are some things your funnel should offer next?
Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)
Examples of Content Types:
- 30 Day Free Trials
- Coupons, Demos
- Purchase Value
- Scheduled Consultations
A product demo, for example, is a great piece of bottom of the funnel content. Your expert and knowledgeable staff can demonstrate every feature (including some a first time user might not be aware of) and also answer any questions people might have.
Sticking with the CDC's emergency preparedness example, a great conversion here would be live, in-person emergency training at schools or other public institutions.
Departing from the CDC example, coupon deals, like those offered via Snapchat marketing, are another great way to move people to action. Adding a sense of urgency to a discount is a great way to help nudge people towards action.
Diversify Your Content Types
It should be clear from the list above that no single piece of content is doing all the work all the way through the digital marketing funnel. While this might seem obvious, without a content strategy businesses tend to focus only on infographics, or blog posts, or videos and rarely consider the benefits of utilizing different types of content at different stages of the customer journey.
A Quick Content Funnel
To wrap up, here is a quick example of what a content funnel might look like.
The first phase of your content campaign might be to create a list post or infographic to gain visibility for your firm.
A second part of the top of the funnel content might be a series of blog posts contextually related to your list post or infographic. These blog posts should, in turn, slowly begin to move visitors towards a whitepaper. Blog posts would link to each other (and to your deeper services or product pages), and a few of them would feature prominent call to actions for a whitepaper download.
Create a thorough whitepaper highlighting the results of utilizing your product to solve a problem. The whitepaper might contain an exclusive offer at the conclusion, or a request to sign up for a live demo.
A live demo of your product where your experts are able to showcase your it.
The online path to purchase is much more elegant and complex now that there is so much information to consume before anyone opens a wallet and enters a credit card number. Excluding PPC tactics, there is rarely (almost never) going to be a scenario where utilizing content marketing creates a situation in which someone alights onto your webpage and moments later completes a conversion. Do you know how many visits it takes for your business to convert? Hint: the answer is probably not 1.
Plugging the Holes
Now that you have some ideas for what types of content should be populating the top, middle, and bottom of your digital funnel, you can check to see how to plug the leaks. In consulting this list, you might realize that multiple pieces are missing from various stages of your digital sales funnel. You might also notice that your funnel is already robust, but there are certain pieces of under performing content. Here, you might need to further refine or enhance various pieces of existing content.
Have you used a funnel to help guide your marketing strategy before? What were the results? Let me know in the comments!