The average person consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchase decision.
We’re not wired to buy something the first time we see it—especially if we can’t work out why we need it.
Aside from the odd impulse buy (we’ve all been there), the purchasing process starts before a shopper even realizes they have a problem.
This subconscious adventure is our brain’s way of justifying a purchase and validating a good decision. We don’t want to regret our latest buy, so we research—and we research hard—before we go all in.
It’s no surprise then that content plays a huge part in the buying process.
As marketers and content strategists, understanding which types of content work best at each stage is key to delivering value and creating a robust content marketing strategy.
What is the content marketing funnel?
Without content, a traditional sales funnel is … well, incredibly bare and boring.
It’s unlikely that anyone will buy your product because they don’t know why they need it or how it will help them.
When we talk about a content marketing funnel, we’re talking about the process that consumers go through before they buy a product—in terms of the content that guides them through that process.
Each step of the journey should serve up content that targets consumers’ specific needs at that exact moment in time. The aim is to gently nudge them through the funnel and convert them into customers using different types of targeted content.
There are three critical stages in the content marketing funnel:
- Top-of-the-Funnel (TOFU): This is where you’ll see the most leads. They are problem-oblivious and usually aren’t ready to make a purchase right away.
- Middle-of-the-Funnel (MOFU): Leads enter this stage of the funnel when they become problem-aware. They’re usually shopping around for solutions and may be considering your problem or service as one of those solutions. This stage will likely see higher conversion rates than the former.
- Bottom-of-the-Funnel (BOFU): Leads that make it here are the real deal. They’ve got their wallet in hand, and they’re ready to buy—hopefully from you.
To add another layer to the party, you’ll often see four action-powered words running alongside the core “OFU” stages:
These are a loose indication of the goal for each stage. While it’s essential to keep a smile on your audience’s face throughout the entire funnel, “delight” comes in at the end when a customer has made a purchase and turns into a potential loyal, long-term brand advocate.
How to Build a High-Converting Content Marketing Funnel
The hardest part about building a successful content marketing funnel is knowing what type of content best fits each stage.
Solve this by digging into what your customers need at each point:
- What information do they need to realize they have a problem?
- What information do they need to consider your product or service as a solution?
- What information do they need to finalize their decision to purchase from you?
While the answers to these questions might vary from brand to brand, the ultimate structure is the same. (Us humans can be complicated creatures, but we’re also very predictable.)
Let’s unpack the appropriate content for each stage of the buyer’s journey—a.k.a. content marketing funnel. (Tip: Don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content below; our guide to repurposing content and our “nose-to-tail” method can help you use content more than once.)
1. TOFU Content
I waste hours trying to find articles because I always forget to save them. It’s a problem I have yet to solve.
If I came across a blog post that laid out why I was wasting so much time going back to find articles I didn’t save, I’d probably feel really, really seen. I’d want to find out more. I’d want to know how I could stop this ridiculous problem that sometimes takes hours out of my day.
And, voila, I’ve just entered the top of the funnel of a brand that can solve my problem.
Content at this stage should attract problem-oblivious consumers or people who are semi-aware that they might need help. As such, it needs to educate them on this problem, validate (and sometimes exacerbate) it, and start guiding them towards a potential solution.
TOFU content is usually very searchable and very public, as it’s essentially the way new prospects find you.
Best Content for TOFU
Create blog posts inspired by customer pain points and fueled with SEO to target the terms your customers are searching for. This will boost your rankings on search engines and help your content get discovered. Moreover, making your blog posts shareable with juicy stats, relatable anecdotes, and powerful examples will get more eyeballs on your brand.
Best of all, blogging is the perfect way to showcase your expertise, tell your story, and start introducing your product as a solution.
Lokalise publishes tons of TOFU blog posts to attract new readers.
Social Media Content
The world and her dog are on social media, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to attract potential customers if you regularly post informative, high-quality content on social media. Social media only works as TOFU content, however, if you’re posting on the correct channels.
For example, a B2B SaaS tool will likely find better success on LinkedIn or Twitter than an e-commerce company targeting new mothers (which may be better suited for Instagram or Facebook). This is another example of where that initial audience research comes in handy.
SEMRush runs weekly Twitter chats to attract new prospects in their industry.
One of my favorite examples of TOFU content is Dropbox’s explainer video from 2007. Back then, cloud storage wasn’t a thing, and most people were happy to use a USB stick to transfer files or—gasp!—email documents to themselves.
Dropbox had their work cut out explaining that there was a better way to do things and positioning themselves as a solution, but they did it with a straightforward, illustrated video.
Videos can be a great way to bring a problem to life, mainly if the solution is complex or new.
Podcasts introduce your brand to an entirely new audience. They humanize your brand, build trust, boost brand awareness, and position you as an industry expert.
Omniscient Digital’s podcast, The Long Game, is geared towards other content marketing strategists and professionals.
2. MOFU Content
If you’ve ever read a blog post, liked what you’ve seen, signed up for a freebie, received a sequence of emails, and then bought something, you’ve officially been engaged and traveled through the middle of the funnel.
At this point in the content marketing funnel, leads are aware they have a problem (because you’ve discussed it in a blog post, on your podcast, on social media, or in a video). They are now exploring possible solutions.
Your goal here is to keep leads engaged with exciting content while positioning yourself as the best possible solution.
Basically, throw remarkable stuff at them while positing the content for optimal lead generation (e.g., gating content with email capture forms or demo requests).
Best Content for MOFU
Ebooks and Whitepapers
Ebooks and whitepapers provide additional context to a TOFU blog post and go into more detail. It’s here that you can swoop in with your solution. If you also get an email address in exchange for the downloadable, you can start the nurturing process with your subscribers.
Intercom has a range of downloadable ebooks to choose from.
During the MOFU stage, leads will be looking for content that helps them evaluate you and your products while simultaneously building trust.
Case studies show what’s possible through past customer achievements. Content baked with social proof like this will set you apart from your competitors and instill buyer confidence.
Wunderkind invites leads to download case studies to continue their journey through the funnel.
Email courses continue to share your expertise long after a lead has left your site. Every time you pop up in their inbox, they’re reminded about their problem and your solution. You’ll stay front of mind until a lead is ready to buy.
Buffer has an entire page listing free email courses.
Webinars give prospects a chance to get to know your brand personality while positioning you as an expert on a topic. They’re also the perfect conversion tools because you can lead naturally into a product pitch at the end.
Mindshare hosts regular joint-venture webinars.
3. BOFU Content
The bottom of the funnel is a great place for prospects to be. They’re aware they have a problem, they know what solutions are available to them, and now they simply need to choose which one to go for.
Your job at this stage is to showcase the potential of your product, as well as its benefits and use cases.
Imagine you’re going head-to-head with your competitors and consider the information customers need to know to push them to buy your product over your competitors.
Best Content for BOFU
Compare the different features and pricing of your product versus a competitor’s in a virtual duel that should ultimately bring your product out on top.
Gorgias compares its product with its largest competitor, Zendesk.
Feature testimonials from real customers to show the benefits and use cases of your product. Leverage happy customers as “influencers” and leverage their success stories featuring your product or service.
Help Scout has success stories in both written and video format.
Encourage BOFU leads to grab a demo session where your team can show them the ropes and answer any questions they might have.
Zendesk drives prospects to a demo landing page.
Let prospects dive head-first into your product with a free trial. This gives them the chance to see if your product is the right fit for them and witness its features in action.
Harpoon encourages leads to grab a free trial.
4. Delight Content
The customer journey doesn’t stop once a lead becomes a paying customer.
In fact, existing customers are your most important buyers. They spend more, convert quicker, and they recommend your product (hello, free marketing).
Think about what content they might need to stick around.
Content That Delights
Email Marketing Sequences
Share fresh content, highlight customer success stories, and provide personalized tips geared towards existing customers.
Reward loyal customers who continue to come back with discounts, freebies, and exclusive content.
Bring in industry experts to run hands-on workshops or sign up an existing customer to give a walkthrough of how they use your product. Helping your customers get the most from your product can do wonders for retention.
We might be living in a virtual world right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t run online events catered to your existing customers. Plan conferences, seminars, and live events and share knowledge, prizes, and exclusive offers.
Help existing customers make the most of their purchases with a knowledge base packed full of how-to guides and step-by-step tutorials.
Profitwell’s knowledge base offers hundreds of resources.
Your Content Marketing Funnel
Creating a successful content marketing funnel is one of the most important things you can do for your brand and its customers. Providing qualified leads with the right information at the right time is invaluable for getting them to hop off the fence and make a purchase.
Here’s a recap of what content works well at different stages of the funnel:
- TOFU: Blog posts, social media content, videos, podcasts
- MOFU: Ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, email courses, webinars
- BOFU: Competitive comparisons, customer stories, demos, free trials
- Delight: Email marketing sequences, reward programs, workshops, events, knowledge bases
Are you struggling to put your content marketing funnel together? Our content strategy course will give you the framework you need to succeed.