The Content Marketing Funnel: From Cold Prospect to Customer

Achieving your aims online is almost impossible if you don’t have a strategy to build around – this is where the content marketing funnel comes in.

A content marketing funnel should act as a guideline for everything you do online when it comes to turning cold visitors (people who have never heard of you) into customers with content.

Whether you’re just starting out or have been building businesses online for 20 years, the content marketing funnel is something that should be used by all digital entrepreneurs.

What is a Content Marketing Funnel?

A content marketing funnel is a strategic three step system that makes cold prospects aware of a brand and its solutions, converts these new audience members into leads and finally, makes these people customers.

The process looks and acts like a ‘funnel’, directing and ‘filtering’ prospects towards a product purchase.

funnel buyer journey

Why Use a Content Marketing Funnel?

The single hardest thing you can do online is to convert a cold audience member into a customer – the content marketing funnel is designed to make this process as easy, streamlined and frictionless as possible.

The internet has given rise to the age of ‘content’. An era where we’re able to find almost any answer, discover any solutions and make considered purchases independently.

This has changed the role of ‘sales’, particularly online – where most people are increasingly reluctant to be sold to.

Content gives marketers the opportunity to direct and influence audience’s indirectly – paving the way for systems like content marketing funnels to form the basis of many brand’s online strategy.

And it’s how most of the web are now building their businesses.

A Three Step Process

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the term ‘content marketing’.

The majority of these myths lie around what’s involved in content marketing and the ‘aim of the content game’.

Content marketing is NOT blogging, podcasting, posting on social media or publishing videos.

This stuff is just content.

content marketing example blog

If you’re involved in a business that publishes content like this, it does NOT mean that you’re undertaking a content marketing strategy or process – it might just mean that you’re creating content.

The sole aim of content marketing is to continually build on your relationship with audiences and prospects in an attempt to generate movement and influence them to take action.

In the case of a content marketing funnel, this can be demonstrated by the three stages involved in the funnel.

As a prospect enters the funnel (by engaging with your content or visiting your website) it’s a content marketers sole objective to build on that relationship and move them towards the next stage of the funnel.

How To Make a Content Marketing Funnel

what is content marketing

Making a successful content marketing funnel is a fine art.

First you must understand each stage of the funnel and the type of content it requires (this is the easy part), then you must link them together.

This might sound simple, but it can be a tricky process (that requires plenty of analysis and tweeking).

For example, turning website traffic into leads is the link between awareness and lead capture content – and although it’s pretty straightforward to generate those leads, capturing them in high numbers with highly qualified results is a much more complex task.

In order for you to understand how to build out your content marketing funnel, let’s take a closer look at the 3 steps involved in, their independent aims and some of the content utilised at each step.

Step 1: Awareness & Audience Building

Aim: To use content to make more of your target market aware of your brand and its solutions and collect data to learn more about your audience.

Examples of Content Used: Social media posts, social media stories, blogs, podcasts, videos, images.

The Fundamentals

writing content

Although this stage might sound fairly simple, it actually requires the most work and effort.

Building out this stage in your content marketing funnel requires the creation of highly relevant, valuable and shareable content, alongside the ability to market it directly to your target audience.

This means that you need to know:

  • What you market want to learn
  • Where your target market hang out
  • What medium your market prefer (e.g. video, audio or written)
  • A schedule for your content’s publication
  • Where and how your industry leaders are marketing their content (at this stage)

As you’d imagine, this requires research. Do NOT skimp on research – it will give your content marketing efforts direction (and save you lots of money later on!).

The Process

If you’re new to content marketing, I’d suggest picking the medium that feels most natural to you.

Choose written, audio or video content and start reating stuff that will help your audience solve problems that are related to your brand’s industry.

Break this content into small pieces and share these on social media.

white space in blogging

Provide value to your audience on social media as well as your own website (it’s crucial that you publish on your own website btw).

And make sure that you have a tracking code or pixel installed from advertising platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google. It will come in handy later on in your content marketing funnel.

Step 2: Lead Capture 

Aim: To use content to turn visitors who have become aware of your business into qualified leads.

Examples of Content Used: Lead Magnets e.g. eBooks, cheat-sheets and planners. Free trials, discount offers, newsletters

The Fundamentals

ebooks content marketing

The awareness and audience building stage (before this) requires constant effort, in the lead capture stage it’s time to make that hard work pay off.

It’s our job, as content marketers, to make sure that those blogs, videos and social media posts are not published for no reason – we need to turn that effort into tangible and trackable results.

We do this by offering super-high value content (or offers) to our visitors in exchange for their contact details. This process converts these visitors into leads. 

But these aren’t the contact details of any old leads – these are the same people who have qualified themselves as interested in your industry by downloading a relevant lead magnet.

facebook audiences ebook

For example, would somebody who wasn’t interested in travel download an ebook entitled: ‘The 10 Best Budget Holiday Destinations in Europe’?

The better our offers to leads at this stage in our content marketing funnel, the more likely they are to convert into customers in the next stage of our funnel.

These ‘likely to buy’ leads are known as ‘qualified leads’.

Our aim is not to generate as many leads as possible, it’s to generate as many ‘qualified leads’ as possible.

The Process

Categorise, tag and personalise your lead capture efforts for every visitor.

If you’re covering a variety of sub-topics (in your content) within a broader industry labelled topic, e.g. Content marketing as a sub-topic of Digital Marketing – make relevant offers to every sub-topic.

For instance, a content marketing lead magnet to those people who engage and read from your content marketing sub-topic, and a Facebook ads lead magnet to those who engage with Facebook ad content.

facebook ad copy ebook

Ensure that your lead magnet connects the dots between your products and your customer’s knowledge goals.

There is no use offering a lead magnet that has nothing to do with your business’s product offerings, and there is no point offering a lead magnet that doesn’t provide value to your target market.

Offer your target market your lead magnets in a variety of placements, e.g. retargeted ads (by using the data from your tracking code), pop-ups, locked content, native ads, pinned posts – and optimise your focus on the most successful.

Step 3: Conversion

Aim: To use content to convert our qualified leads into paying customers.

Examples of Content Used: Reviews, testimonials, spec sheets, product demos, brochures, sales copy, email drip campaigns.

The Fundamentals

This stage in your content marketing funnel requires the least amount of effort in terms of content creation, but provides the greatest rewards.

Everything in the content marketing funnel up until this point has been aimed around giving stuff away to your target audience, at this point, we’re going to make that pay.

In order for us to do that, we’re going to ensure that our leads are continually engaged and reminded of our brand, whilst showing them offers that are tailored to their needs.

We can keep our leads engaged by sending them content from our Awareness and Audience building stage, posting them a regular newsletter or actively having conversations with them as often as possible.

These sorts of tactics keep leads opening your emails and make your brand first-to-mind when thinking about purchasing from your industry.

email open rate

Whilst constantly re-engaging your qualified leads with existing content, you can make them relevant offers.

The best way for you to ensure that these offers are relevant, is by tagging them by interests, actions and behaviours in your CRM (aka email software).

This means adding tags to different leads depending on what emails they opened and engaged with and what lead magnet they exchanged their contact details for.

For example, if a lead has exchanged their contact details for an ebook about Facebook ads, I don’t want to make them offers about content marketing. I want to make them Facebook ad relevant offers, because I know that’s an area that they’re actively interested in.

The Process 

The majority of your conversion content is going to come the way of writing emails.

That means engaging existing leads, re-engaging those who are losing interest (and have stopped opening emails) and driving leads to landing pages for relevant offers.

landing page relevant content marketing offer

If you have a high-ticket offer/product/service, you’ll struggle to sell directly to leads online and may have to use landing pages to pitch sales calls, meetings, events or webinars.

This is because when a product is of a higher price, prospects want to know more about it, see it for themselves or get to know the people they’re buying from a little more.

That’s fine – your content has put you in a position where all you have to do is ‘put the ball over the line’.

The rest of your content will be built out on landing pages – my best piece of advice here is to use your existing customers to create this content.

Trust is fundamental when it comes to a prospect buying from a company for the first time – show that others have bought from you and enjoyed the experience.

You can use things like reviews, testimonials, social media posts/shares and other social proof signals to demonstrate this.

Finally, make the process of a lead converting to a customer as frictionless as possible – this might mean leading with your lowest priced products first to build that trust and maximise every customer’s value.

This is called a value ladder, you can find out more about that too!

The very last thing you can do is to shortcut the entire system by using custom audiences (captured from your website’s pixel) to present relevant offers to lookalike audiences.

I’d suggest testing your lead magnet offers against your relevant product offers to these ‘lookalike audiences’ and optimising for your best performing.

Conclusion

Building out a content marketing funnel takes time and practice, but when you have one that works, all you need to do is keep feeding the funnel with more awareness content.

Things like tags, retargeted ads, lookalike audiences, pop-ups, emails and drip campaigns can all be automated after they’ve been created.

We’ve built a business on these principles (in just a few years) and it’s still growing!

If you’re just starting out, build out that awareness and audience building stage first, learn from your audience’s behaviours and use those decisions to drive your lead capture and conversion tactics.

Want more content marketing advice or strategies? Check out our most popular content marketing articles: 

Director of Content at Einstein Marketer
Josh is an award winning content marketer and the Director of Content at Einstein Marketer, previously working as a content manager, freelance copywriter and marketer. He writes, edits, proofs and strategises content for Einstein Marketer's agency and their clients, sharing the most successful tactics and strategies with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links (above) so he can get back to writing as himself.

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