How to Build a Content Marketing Funnel (& Make $$$!)
A content marketing funnel is a blueprint for developing a robust content strategy.
It directs your content marketing to ensure that you’re hitting the intended marks.
It can help you build a solid online presence and increase brand awareness.
But how exactly do content marketing funnels work? For answers, let’s dive right in!
What Is a Content Marketing Funnel?
People approach brands at different stages of the customer journey.
They typically aren't ready to make a purchase right away but rather go through a process.
The content marketing funnel is an image that shows how content affects customer engagement during that process. It depicts how different content types influence a prospective customer at each stage.
The funnel can guide you in setting clear, defined goals for each customer journey stage.
Then, you can determine how to best use content to achieve those goals.
Afterward, you plan and create your content accordingly. This content should attract your target audience, turn visitors into leads, and convert leads into customers.
Marketers cite these additional “funnels” too:
- Conversion funnel
- Marketing funnel
- Digital marketing funnel
- Purchasing funnel
- Sales funnel
- Content funnel
- Content marketing sales funnel
The lines dividing them are thin and often blurred. Some of these areas are starting to integrate as digital marketing evolves.
Depending on who you ask, these funnels work roughly the same way and accomplish the same goal.
As such, marketers often use these terms interchangeably.
Content Marketing Funnel Stages
The different funnel stages also hold varying titles. In general, there are three stages:
1. Top of Funnel (TOFU)
This stage is also termed the Awareness stage, the Attraction stage, and the Discovery stage.
At this stage, your content provides general information without plugging anything.
Your target market is the widest at this opening of the funnel. Here, thousands of different internet users meet your brand for the first time while scrolling or browsing.
They may or may not even be consciously aware of their pain points while web browsing. They could just be seeking entertainment or inspiration.
2. Middle of Funnel (MOFU)
This stage is also termed the Engagement stage, the Evaluation stage, and the Consideration stage.
At this stage, your content provides more specific information about your brand and gears more toward lead generation.
Your market is narrower at the consideration stage. People know their problems and are actively seeking solutions.
Continued interaction with your content is increasing their interest in your brand. As such, they're softened to lead generation efforts.
You’re establishing and growing a relationship with your audience. You’re building trust and providing info to help determine whether or not you have what they need.
So you’re qualifying potential leads while they’re qualifying your brand.
3. Bottom of Funnel (BOFU)
This stage is also known as the Delight stage, the Purchase stage, and the Decision stage. At this stage, your content is specific to your offerings.
You're focusing on personalization and lead conversion.
Your market is narrowest here, where people are ready to buy but haven’t decided whether they want to buy from you. You’re making the final push to convince them that they should.
A “fourth” stage, sometimes fused with BOFU and sometimes listed alone, is called the Retention stage. This one focuses on quality assurance and customer satisfaction.
Once you convert leads into customers, you want to “delight” them so that they stay loyal and refer others.
Marketing Types for Each Funnel Stage
Different marketing channels work well for different funnel stages. There are also many opportunities for overlap and cross-channel marketing.
Since each marketing type uses different types of content, you can use most of them for ALL stages of the funnel.
At each point of the funnel, consumer behavior will help you decide which marketing type to use. You want to meet your audience where they are with the content they are looking for.
Marketing types at this stage entertain, educate, and inspire:
- Blogging: Different blog types can cover various topics relevant to your niche.
- SEO: SEO-optimized content tends to rank higher in SERPs and get more digital engagement.
- Social media: 4.65 billion people worldwide use social media, a massive pool of prospects.
- Visuals: Visual content has a higher appeal, and the brain processes it more readily than text.
These marketing types thread into the ones for the next stage.
These marketing types offer educational and valuable content and keep prospects mindful of your brand:
- Blogging: A prospect is more open to long-form blog content at this stage if it provides value.
- Email marketing: People are more likely at this stage to give their email address to get more info or perks.
- Social media: Followers and subscribers have already opted in with your brand, so nurture that relationship.
Continue to thread the needle to the final stage.
These marketing types focus on deal-closing, appeasing customers, and leveraging follow-up email marketing:
- Retargeting: Produce content geared towards new and existing customers, not just prospects.
- Loyalty programs: Show appreciation for returning customers by offering rewards for brand loyalty.
- Exclusive deals: Create hype with exclusives, limited-time offers, early releases, or pre-sale offers.
These are the marketing types you'll use. Now for the specific content you need.
Content for Each Marketing Funnel Stage
Same as with the marketing types, different content types work best for each stage of the funnel.
Some work for all stages, with plenty of content overlapping and repurposing possibilities.
Content for the awareness stage
TOFU content drives traffic, grabs attention, and generates interest. It introduces the world to who you are, what you know, and what you’re about.
1. Blog post
Various blog post types can address pain points at different funnel stages.
Posts at the awareness stage cover general topics within the industry. Without promoting products, they increase brand awareness by drawing attention to niche subjects.
TOFU-level post types include:
- How-to posts
- List posts
- Opinion posts
Internal links, visuals, and social share buttons bridge readers from these posts to other funnel content.
2. Social media posts
Social media content can also apply to all funnel stages.
Social posts should contain content that followers find helpful, enjoyable, resonant, and relevant.
You can post:
- Web pages
- Blog posts
- Content and news from industry experts
- News, announcements, and updates for your brand
- Relevant shared posts
You can also crosspost across your different social media platforms.
3. White papers
White papers contain information that a prospect can't find elsewhere, emphasizing their value.
They may include statistical and analytical data, in-house expertise, or interviews with experts.
Examples of white papers include:
- Comprehensive subject guides
- Shareholder reports
- Industry reports
- Research studies
You can make your white papers public or gate them by requiring a form submission or joining the email list.
Checklists are handy guides that list actionable steps for a significant project or task.
They itemize steps for goals like selling your home, growing an indoor herb garden, monetizing your blog, or planning your wedding.
A checklist is informative, helpful, easily digestible, and highly shareable.
They're often condensed, summarized versions of longer-form blog content. You can attach one to a blog post, social media page, or landing page.
Make your checklist openly available or require an email address to “unlock” it.
5. Videos and podcasts
Video marketing has become increasingly popular. YouTube has even surpassed Google as the most visited website in the world.
So videos are excellent TOFU content, especially how-tos, step-by-steps, lists, and reactions.
Embed YouTube videos to web pages or blog posts or share them on social media.
You can embed short-form videos into landing pages if they’re relevant and enhance the user experience.
Podcasts are another popular form of content, both audio and video. Host episodes on various audio platforms, YouTube, or your website. Then share them on social media.
Video and podcast transcripts can also form blog posts and vice versa.
Like checklists, infographics are informative, easily digestible, and highly shareable.
They can be simplified, illustrated versions of your blog post or visualized depictions of complex data points.
Add infographics to blog posts, social media pages, or emails.
Make them available for downloadable either unconditionally or with an email address submission.
A newsletter introduces prospective customers to your brand and guides them through the content marketing funnel.
After subscribing to your email list, they can receive weekly or monthly correspondence.
Email newsletters can contain:
- First looks
eNewsletters carry tons of opportunities for sharing content at any stage of the funnel.
Take care not to spam your new prospect with emails that are too frequent or contain content they don’t want.
You don’t want them to unsubscribe as quickly as they subscribed.
eBooks contain a wealth of knowledge about a particular topic. They’re far more comprehensive than a blog post allows yet easier to digest than a white paper.
You can pack an eBook with educational content that a prospect can't find elsewhere.
Then a potential customer has an incentive to check it out and maybe even give you their email if it's gated content.
You don’t have to write the eBook from scratch, either. Consolidate prior relevant blog posts and content to start.
Then elaborate on each subject and add additional content.
The reverse is true as well — you can break an eBook down into lighter forms of content, such as blog posts.
Content for the consideration stage
MOFU content targets your potential leads, providing in-depth info and introducing your offerings.
1. Product comparison guides
Product comparisons help a prospect choose the best product for their specific needs. They provide all the facts they need to make an informed decision.
Blog posts and videos present this content well.
Your guide can compare different product options that you sell. But to serve your audience in the best way possible, you should also compare your products to alternatives from other brands.
Prospects need to see your products’ strengths and benefits, but they also need to see their shortcomings.
Unbiased comparisons against competitor products portray your brand as honest, trustworthy, and confident.
While you may lose the sale to a different brand’s product, you may still gain a lead.
You will have strengthened your reputation as a trusted authority and subject-matter expert.
2. Case studies
A case study details a problem solved for a customer with your product or service.
Case study blog posts can prove effective, but videos narrated by or featuring the customers are incredibly impactful.
Your case study should showcase quantifiable results as well as high-quality observations.
Give your audience concrete evidence of the benefits your products or services provide.
3. Lead Magnets
A few lead magnet possibilities were pointed out already with some of the TOFU content mentioned earlier.
Lead magnets, or "gated content," are freebies given in exchange for info from the prospect.
You can just ask them to subscribe to your newsletter. But you can also have them complete a mini questionnaire so you can collect demographic info or preferences.
The freebie is typically something useful, valuable, actionable, and informative. MOFU lead magnets can include calculators, toolkits, or sample offerings.
You can place lead magnet offers on social media, blogs, landing pages, or web pages.
Prospects can keep these resources even if they don't convert, another example of serving your audience first.
4. How-to guides
An example of a TOFU how-to guide is “how to fly a kite.” An example of a MOFU how-to guide is “how to build a kite.”
The latter may link to your eCommerce store for any required crafts materials.
Or it may link to your already-built kites for sale for prospects who prefer to have the work done for them.
MOFU how-to guides gear toward more targeted content. These guides may also include downloadable worksheets and templates as lead magnets.
5. Demo videos
When a prospect is considering your product, a demo video is an excellent way to showcase its function and benefits. Similar reviews and reaction videos are all over YouTube.
If your product provides a benefit over time, such as a skincare product, you can use time-lapse videos to prove its compounding effects.
Webinars and Livestreams are perfect ways to demo a product and then host live Q&As afterward. You can address questions and concerns right away rather than having people wait for an email or comment response.
Content for the decision stage
BOFU content provides what’s needed to secure a sale with a potential customer who knows what they want but hasn’t yet chosen where to get it.
Easing the price burden with a coupon can turn a "maybe" into a "yes."
Limited-time-only discounts or free shipping offers can further assuage a potential customer to buy.
Including a gift or limited free trial of another offering with purchase can also encourage a sale.
Free one-on-one phone or video consultations can address any final reservations a prospect may have before buying.
The duration will depend on your industry, the product or service in question, and how much time you need to address questions or concerns. You may need as little as 15 minutes or as long as an hour.
Once again, even at this BOFU stage, the top priority is providing value to your audience.
Even if the lead doesn't convert, they should still leave a consultation with extra knowledge, clarity, and insight.
Customer success stories are far more persuasive than the subjective voice of a brand. So a testimonial from an existing customer is invaluable.
Testimonials come in many forms:
- User-generated content on social media
- Quotes in your emails or on your website
- Customer reviews
- Video testimonials
- Case studies
You mainly want to convey that others have reaped benefits from your offerings and are now loyal, happy customers.
4. Live trials
Opportunities to “try before you buy” assuage concerns a prospect may have of experiencing buyer’s remorse.
Offer a free trial or demo of your offerings so that they can test drive before pulling out of the lot for good.
Webinars, mini-courses, and Q&As also help to ease concerns and build confidence in the buyer's mind.
Bonus: Content to keep them coming back
After you win a customer over, you enter the “retention stage.” Content that takes care of new and existing customers keeps them loyal and compels them to refer others to your brand.
1. Customer service content
Once a new customer has made a purchase, help them optimize the use of their purchase with the following educational content:
- FAQ page
- Knowledge Base or Help Desk content
- Community help forum
- Assembly, set-up, or troubleshooting videos
If all else fails, make sure your customer support agents are easily reachable via phone, email, or live chat.
2. Follow-up email outreach
After a sale, there are a few different ways you can follow up with your new customer via email:
- Product rating and review: Ask for a rating and review after about a week or so and address any early problems.
- Customer satisfaction survey: Ask them to complete a survey to give feedback on their experience with your brand.
- Email series: Send automated thank-you emails following each purchase. Program a new customer email series that follows up every few weeks:
- Special message: Email a special message or e-card for their birthday and on holidays.
The sale is just the start of a new phase of your relationship with a new customer.
Ensure you nurture that relationship.
(Pro Tip: Make your follow-up outreach easier with our list of email marketing tools! We can also show you how to build an email marketing funnel!)
Create a High-Value Content Marketing Funnel Strategy
Now, you can use the concept of a content marketing funnel to perfect your content marketing strategy.
Remember to focus on serving your target audience. At every stage, your content should provide benefits and garner results.
With the content marketing funnel as your guide,
that will grow your brand awareness, boost traffic, increase conversions, and satisfy your target audience again and again.
Tiffany Lewis is a SmartBlogger-certified Content Marketer and budding freelance writer. She writes about Faith, Family, Furbabies, and Wellness. Yes, the broken alliteration in that sentence bothers her. Find her on LinkedIn.