How to use the content marketing funnel for better content

How to use the content marketing funnel for better content

8 minute read

How to use the content marketing funnel for better content

8 minute read

How to use the content marketing funnel for better content

Afoma Umesi

GatherContent Contributor, Writer
Content marketing is daunting. How do you decide which content to invest in? Which content marketing channels should you use? For which audience should you deploy certain kinds of content? And after all your hard work creating said content, how do you distribute it effectively?

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While we can increase your productivity, improve your content quality, and help you control your content compliance, we can’t solve all your content marketing problems.

However, we can provide some clarity about content marketing — starting with the content marketing funnel. What is it and how can you use it to create the content your audience needs while driving traffic and conversions?

We’ll show you.

What is a Content Marketing Funnel?

The content marketing funnel represents the stages a customer goes through from their first content exposure to conversion (e.g., submitting an email, signing up for a free trial, or making a purchase). Like the sales funnel, the content marketing funnel traces the buyer’s journey from awareness to a purchase decision.

There are three traditionally recognized stages of the content marketing funnel. Different experts have varying names for each stage, but generally, they’re identified by their relative position in the funnel.

content marketing funnel illustration
The content marketing funnel. Source (CoSchedule.com)

The stages of the content marketing funnel are:

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

Known as the Awareness or Discovery stage, the TOFU is the lead generation phase. As with a literal funnel, content marketing efforts at this stage are targeted towards capturing new and curious potential customers. TOFU content is often the first time potential customers hear about a product or service.

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

In the middle of the funnel, customers are tuned in and actively considering your product or service...hence why it’s termed the Evaluation or Consideration stage. Content for MOFU customers is geared toward providing in-depth product information, showing how your product outperforms competitors, and highlighting why customers should choose your product.

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

People at the bottom of the funnel are at the Decision or Purchase stage; they’re ready to buy. Whether they’re googling the “best product for X use case” or looking for comparison videos on YouTube, they’ll buy any product that satisfies their requirements. BOFU content should focus on reinforcing the idea that the customer is making the best choice and showing customers how to use a product effectively.

It sounds straightforward in theory, but how many times have you researched a tool only to purchase it six months later — or not even purchase at all? And how many times have you paid for a product with next to no research based on a word-of-mouth recommendation?

Good to Know: Buyers do not always follow a linear trajectory. Still, an effective content marketing strategy should prioritize content to meet potential buyers at their point of need.

Recommended Content Types by Marketing Funnel Stage

Choosing the right content type for each marketing funnel stage will help you make the most of the content marketing funnel.

Some kinds of content perform better for enhancing customer awareness and others are better for MOFU education, while some perform best at the tail-end of the buyer journey. However, there are no hard and fast rules.

Good to Know: How well a type of content performs at each stage of the content marketing funnel will differ based on your industry, target audience, product cost, number of stakeholders, and preferred marketing channels.

For example, most B2B blog content is geared toward customers at the top of the funnel, and because of the product cost, it may take longer for leads to convert. But for B2C audiences, customers can move pretty quickly from blog post to purchase.

With those caveats in mind, here are some recommended content types for each stage of the marketing funnel:

Effective TOFU Content Types

Most top-of-the-funnel content is geared toward building awareness by helping potential customers solve pressing problems. Some top choices include:

  • Blog Posts (How-to, Guides): These do well both in the top and bottom of the funnel. Educating your audience and providing value highlights your expertise and creates a memorable experience for leads.
  • Ads: Paid ads are an excellent way to grab attention both on search engine result pages (SERPs) and on web pages.
  • Infographics and checklists: These highly distributable media assets travel farther than your blog post may go and can be an effective way to make a strong first impression.
  • Ebooks and whitepapers: Ebooks are another kind of educational content particularly useful for diving into more complex topics. An ebook that tackles your audience's pain points can be an excellent lead-generation tool. The same applies to whitepapers that shed light on an issue facing your target audience.
  • How-to Videos: 79% of people say they’ve been convinced to buy or download a piece of software or app by watching a video. How-to videos are a great way to introduce your product.
  • Webinars: According to ON24, 76% of marketers say that webinars help them reach more leads. This content marketing approach harnesses the power of video marketing in a cost-effective way.
content marketing funnel - benefits of webinars
76% of marketers say webinars help them reach more leads. Source (ON24)

Best Types of MOFU Content

MOFU content should build trust and help leads see what your product can accomplish for them. They’ll be doing deep research into your offering and comparing it with alternatives. Use these content types to keep them engaged:

  • Case Studies: Besides blog posts, case studies are one of the top kinds of MOFU content. 52% of buyers rated case studies and other vendor-focused content as very important in their purchase decision.
  • Social Media Posts: After the initial connection, social media is a great tool for staying connected to leads and keeping your product fresh in their minds.
  • Email Newsletters: Few channels work as well for nurturing warm leads as email marketing does. That’s why it’s crucial to get qualified leads to sign up to your mailing list at the first contact and send follow-up emails to help them learn more about your product.
  • Product Overviews: When leads are actively considering your product, they’ll be reading about it. Ensure that your product overview is a healthy balance of features and benefits. Too much focus on features and you’ll alienate the buyer, but if you focus too much on “benefits,” you’ll leave readers confused about what your product actually does.
  • Comparison Guides: Show buyers how your product compares with competitors. This portrays you as transparent and confident in your product.

Top Choices for BOFU Content

BOFU content should drive customers to make purchases. Every piece of content you create for this audience should answer any final questions and make them feel ready to commit. Here are some great BOFU content choices:

  • Customer Success Stories: 95% of people say that reviews influence their purchasing decisions. Testimonials are powerful BOFU content. Reviews, customer success stories, and case studies (again) are especially effective.
  • Free Trials: Free trials are nearly irresistible for customers who are curious about a product but not ready to commit.
  • Live Demos: Especially for B2B audiences, live demos are priceless for seeing how a product works in real life. The GatherContent team has a homepage call-to-action to help potential customers book a demo to show how the product works.
Our homepage uses an effective BOFU CTA if we do say so ourselves

How Content Strategists Think of Content Within the Content Marketing Funnel

Content strategists are constantly thinking of ways to make content more effective. If you’re having trouble finding the right type of content for each stage of the funnel, here’s what some experts recommend:

More angle, fewer channels

Try using the same marketing channel in different ways. Content strategist Kayla Voigt says that sometimes finding the best content for each stage of the funnel is “less about the format and more about the angle.”

Voight says,

"Take the humble blog post: You can write 1,000 words on the state of the industry today (top of the funnel), discuss key challenges your persona often faces (middle of the funnel), or walk through specific new features and why they matter (bottom of the funnel) all in the same format."
Kayla Voigt
Content Strategist

Think about customer retention

Although there are three traditional stages of the funnel, every content marketer wants to retain customers — not lose them after one purchase. Plan content for customer retention. Liz Beechinor, founder and president of Coefficient Marketing says the content should help customers to “optimize their use of your product/service, so they don't have to look elsewhere.

Beechinor suggests using

"Email communications about new features, partnerships, announcements, customized reports and ROI summaries to show them the before and after of using your product/service."
Liz Beechinor
Founder & President, Coefficient Marketing

Start with one funnel at a time

If you’re truly overwhelmed, Beechinor says it’s best to start with 1-2 stages of the content marketing funnel first. Choose content types that will drive the most impact based on company goals. You can also repurpose the same content in multiple formats across the funnel to reduce the content creation burden.

According to Beechinor, "if you’re a new company, it’s best to focus on TOFU and MOFU content to engage your audience and drive sales. If you're an established company (5-10 years in) and struggling with retention, focus on BOFU and Retention content."

Consider starting with BOFU content

Despite the illustration of the content marketing funnel, content marketing isn’t so linear. SEO & SEM consultant Kim Herrington says,

"Unless you’re making a big play in SEO overall, can confidently say that your website will rank, and you’re dedicated to raising brand awareness as your main business goal, you should be focused on other stages for the majority of your content creation."
Kim Herrington
SEO & SEM consultant

Herrington recommends starting with BOFU content and working up to awareness in most cases because there’s less content about those two stages to compete with. This gives you a better chance of gaining traffic as well as increasing your conversion rates when you do get traffic streaming in.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes

A key to making the most of the content marketing funnel is putting yourself in the customer’s shoes throughout their journey. Content strategist Jasmine Williams says it’s important to consider the buyer’s emotional needs as well. This should influence the tone and angle of your writing.

“For example,” Jasmine states,

"at the Consideration/MOFU stage, customers might be feeling lost, confused, stressed, and even overwhelmed as they try to assess what solution would be the best fit for them. So, if you can, make sure you're addressing not just addressing customer pain points, but also their emotional state as well."
Jasmine Williams
Content Strategist

Talk to customers and customer-facing teams

There’s only so much information a buyer persona can provide about the buyer. So talk with team members — such as sales and customer service — who actually know the customers. Or, consider running a survey to learn more about your target audience. What stops them from buying? How can your content target those pain points?

Use your analytics

One last thing? Keep track of what’s working. According to Eric Ang, a digital marketing expert, “a common mistake content marketers can make is failing to appropriately analyze their prospects’ online behavior during the first and second part of the funnel.”

Use your analytics and metrics like traffic, conversion rates, bounce rate, time on page, and backlinks to ensure your audience is enjoying your content. This information will also help you determine which stages of the marketing funnel to double down your efforts on.

Centralize Your Content Marketing (Funnel)

Content marketing is a long game, and understanding the content marketing funnel is essential to reaching your content goals. Choose content that satisfies your customer’s needs from the get-go by putting yourself in their shoes, talking to customer-facing teams, and using analytics well.

When you’ve decided which stage of the funnel to focus on, make sure you’re centralizing your content creation by using a tool like GatherContent. With GatherContent, you can conceptualize and create all kinds of marketing content in one hub—while keeping all your team members in the loop.

While we can increase your productivity, improve your content quality, and help you control your content compliance, we can’t solve all your content marketing problems.

However, we can provide some clarity about content marketing — starting with the content marketing funnel. What is it and how can you use it to create the content your audience needs while driving traffic and conversions?

We’ll show you.

What is a Content Marketing Funnel?

The content marketing funnel represents the stages a customer goes through from their first content exposure to conversion (e.g., submitting an email, signing up for a free trial, or making a purchase). Like the sales funnel, the content marketing funnel traces the buyer’s journey from awareness to a purchase decision.

There are three traditionally recognized stages of the content marketing funnel. Different experts have varying names for each stage, but generally, they’re identified by their relative position in the funnel.

content marketing funnel illustration
The content marketing funnel. Source (CoSchedule.com)

The stages of the content marketing funnel are:

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

Known as the Awareness or Discovery stage, the TOFU is the lead generation phase. As with a literal funnel, content marketing efforts at this stage are targeted towards capturing new and curious potential customers. TOFU content is often the first time potential customers hear about a product or service.

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

In the middle of the funnel, customers are tuned in and actively considering your product or service...hence why it’s termed the Evaluation or Consideration stage. Content for MOFU customers is geared toward providing in-depth product information, showing how your product outperforms competitors, and highlighting why customers should choose your product.

Bottom of the funnel (BOFU)

People at the bottom of the funnel are at the Decision or Purchase stage; they’re ready to buy. Whether they’re googling the “best product for X use case” or looking for comparison videos on YouTube, they’ll buy any product that satisfies their requirements. BOFU content should focus on reinforcing the idea that the customer is making the best choice and showing customers how to use a product effectively.

It sounds straightforward in theory, but how many times have you researched a tool only to purchase it six months later — or not even purchase at all? And how many times have you paid for a product with next to no research based on a word-of-mouth recommendation?

Good to Know: Buyers do not always follow a linear trajectory. Still, an effective content marketing strategy should prioritize content to meet potential buyers at their point of need.

Recommended Content Types by Marketing Funnel Stage

Choosing the right content type for each marketing funnel stage will help you make the most of the content marketing funnel.

Some kinds of content perform better for enhancing customer awareness and others are better for MOFU education, while some perform best at the tail-end of the buyer journey. However, there are no hard and fast rules.

Good to Know: How well a type of content performs at each stage of the content marketing funnel will differ based on your industry, target audience, product cost, number of stakeholders, and preferred marketing channels.

For example, most B2B blog content is geared toward customers at the top of the funnel, and because of the product cost, it may take longer for leads to convert. But for B2C audiences, customers can move pretty quickly from blog post to purchase.

With those caveats in mind, here are some recommended content types for each stage of the marketing funnel:

Effective TOFU Content Types

Most top-of-the-funnel content is geared toward building awareness by helping potential customers solve pressing problems. Some top choices include:

  • Blog Posts (How-to, Guides): These do well both in the top and bottom of the funnel. Educating your audience and providing value highlights your expertise and creates a memorable experience for leads.
  • Ads: Paid ads are an excellent way to grab attention both on search engine result pages (SERPs) and on web pages.
  • Infographics and checklists: These highly distributable media assets travel farther than your blog post may go and can be an effective way to make a strong first impression.
  • Ebooks and whitepapers: Ebooks are another kind of educational content particularly useful for diving into more complex topics. An ebook that tackles your audience's pain points can be an excellent lead-generation tool. The same applies to whitepapers that shed light on an issue facing your target audience.
  • How-to Videos: 79% of people say they’ve been convinced to buy or download a piece of software or app by watching a video. How-to videos are a great way to introduce your product.
  • Webinars: According to ON24, 76% of marketers say that webinars help them reach more leads. This content marketing approach harnesses the power of video marketing in a cost-effective way.
content marketing funnel - benefits of webinars
76% of marketers say webinars help them reach more leads. Source (ON24)

Best Types of MOFU Content

MOFU content should build trust and help leads see what your product can accomplish for them. They’ll be doing deep research into your offering and comparing it with alternatives. Use these content types to keep them engaged:

  • Case Studies: Besides blog posts, case studies are one of the top kinds of MOFU content. 52% of buyers rated case studies and other vendor-focused content as very important in their purchase decision.
  • Social Media Posts: After the initial connection, social media is a great tool for staying connected to leads and keeping your product fresh in their minds.
  • Email Newsletters: Few channels work as well for nurturing warm leads as email marketing does. That’s why it’s crucial to get qualified leads to sign up to your mailing list at the first contact and send follow-up emails to help them learn more about your product.
  • Product Overviews: When leads are actively considering your product, they’ll be reading about it. Ensure that your product overview is a healthy balance of features and benefits. Too much focus on features and you’ll alienate the buyer, but if you focus too much on “benefits,” you’ll leave readers confused about what your product actually does.
  • Comparison Guides: Show buyers how your product compares with competitors. This portrays you as transparent and confident in your product.

Top Choices for BOFU Content

BOFU content should drive customers to make purchases. Every piece of content you create for this audience should answer any final questions and make them feel ready to commit. Here are some great BOFU content choices:

  • Customer Success Stories: 95% of people say that reviews influence their purchasing decisions. Testimonials are powerful BOFU content. Reviews, customer success stories, and case studies (again) are especially effective.
  • Free Trials: Free trials are nearly irresistible for customers who are curious about a product but not ready to commit.
  • Live Demos: Especially for B2B audiences, live demos are priceless for seeing how a product works in real life. The GatherContent team has a homepage call-to-action to help potential customers book a demo to show how the product works.
Our homepage uses an effective BOFU CTA if we do say so ourselves

How Content Strategists Think of Content Within the Content Marketing Funnel

Content strategists are constantly thinking of ways to make content more effective. If you’re having trouble finding the right type of content for each stage of the funnel, here’s what some experts recommend:

More angle, fewer channels

Try using the same marketing channel in different ways. Content strategist Kayla Voigt says that sometimes finding the best content for each stage of the funnel is “less about the format and more about the angle.”

Voight says,

"Take the humble blog post: You can write 1,000 words on the state of the industry today (top of the funnel), discuss key challenges your persona often faces (middle of the funnel), or walk through specific new features and why they matter (bottom of the funnel) all in the same format."
Kayla Voigt
Content Strategist

Think about customer retention

Although there are three traditional stages of the funnel, every content marketer wants to retain customers — not lose them after one purchase. Plan content for customer retention. Liz Beechinor, founder and president of Coefficient Marketing says the content should help customers to “optimize their use of your product/service, so they don't have to look elsewhere.

Beechinor suggests using

"Email communications about new features, partnerships, announcements, customized reports and ROI summaries to show them the before and after of using your product/service."
Liz Beechinor
Founder & President, Coefficient Marketing

Start with one funnel at a time

If you’re truly overwhelmed, Beechinor says it’s best to start with 1-2 stages of the content marketing funnel first. Choose content types that will drive the most impact based on company goals. You can also repurpose the same content in multiple formats across the funnel to reduce the content creation burden.

According to Beechinor, "if you’re a new company, it’s best to focus on TOFU and MOFU content to engage your audience and drive sales. If you're an established company (5-10 years in) and struggling with retention, focus on BOFU and Retention content."

Consider starting with BOFU content

Despite the illustration of the content marketing funnel, content marketing isn’t so linear. SEO & SEM consultant Kim Herrington says,

"Unless you’re making a big play in SEO overall, can confidently say that your website will rank, and you’re dedicated to raising brand awareness as your main business goal, you should be focused on other stages for the majority of your content creation."
Kim Herrington
SEO & SEM consultant

Herrington recommends starting with BOFU content and working up to awareness in most cases because there’s less content about those two stages to compete with. This gives you a better chance of gaining traffic as well as increasing your conversion rates when you do get traffic streaming in.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes

A key to making the most of the content marketing funnel is putting yourself in the customer’s shoes throughout their journey. Content strategist Jasmine Williams says it’s important to consider the buyer’s emotional needs as well. This should influence the tone and angle of your writing.

“For example,” Jasmine states,

"at the Consideration/MOFU stage, customers might be feeling lost, confused, stressed, and even overwhelmed as they try to assess what solution would be the best fit for them. So, if you can, make sure you're addressing not just addressing customer pain points, but also their emotional state as well."
Jasmine Williams
Content Strategist

Talk to customers and customer-facing teams

There’s only so much information a buyer persona can provide about the buyer. So talk with team members — such as sales and customer service — who actually know the customers. Or, consider running a survey to learn more about your target audience. What stops them from buying? How can your content target those pain points?

Use your analytics

One last thing? Keep track of what’s working. According to Eric Ang, a digital marketing expert, “a common mistake content marketers can make is failing to appropriately analyze their prospects’ online behavior during the first and second part of the funnel.”

Use your analytics and metrics like traffic, conversion rates, bounce rate, time on page, and backlinks to ensure your audience is enjoying your content. This information will also help you determine which stages of the marketing funnel to double down your efforts on.

Centralize Your Content Marketing (Funnel)

Content marketing is a long game, and understanding the content marketing funnel is essential to reaching your content goals. Choose content that satisfies your customer’s needs from the get-go by putting yourself in their shoes, talking to customer-facing teams, and using analytics well.

When you’ve decided which stage of the funnel to focus on, make sure you’re centralizing your content creation by using a tool like GatherContent. With GatherContent, you can conceptualize and create all kinds of marketing content in one hub—while keeping all your team members in the loop.

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