Lead generation is the end goal of most inbound marketing strategies. But your content can’t convert or qualify leads without the awareness of an invested audience. Content marketing is about building relationships — across all marketing funnel stages. This takes time. Prompt visitors forward with a steady diet of content that follows them through their buyer’s journey from discovery to sale.
There’s a bit of a paradox at work in the content marketing funnel. On the one hand, many companies see content marketing mainly as a tool “to generate leads and sales of our existing products.” Consider how 70% of industrial marketers were evaluated on lead generation in 2017, but only 48% had progress measured by web traffic or other metrics at the “awareness” level. The numbers don’t lie: leads are what matter.
On the other hand, the top of the funnel is marketing’s specialty. And it should be. This harrowing report by McKinsey advises marketers to stop focusing so much on lower-funnel loyalty and closing sales. Instead, they recommend loading those resources into top-of-funnel awareness and consideration efforts. This is, in part, because customers in our digital age tend to research constantly and behave rather fly-by-night with their brand loyalty:
McKinsey’s research showed a strong relationship between companies that focused on the initial consideration stages and the total market share of those companies. Their takeaway? Customers are easy come, easy go in many industries. The best approach is to go heavy on ToFu (no, not the soy derivative...the top level of the marketing funnel: Top of Funnel!) to keep attracting fresh traffic and visitors.
So which is it? Do we focus on expanding our audience, or on converting leads and proving ROI? How can we please leadership while also heeding the research?
The answer is to do both — and everything in between.
In reality, content marketing needs to prioritize all stages of the funnel to provide a smooth buyer’s journey from awareness to sale. Here are 7 compelling reasons you should embrace full-funnel marketing:
1. The Buying Process Has Changed
Prospects today go through most of their buyer’s journey online and on their own.
- 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making a purchase.
- Over two-thirds of the whole buyer’s journey is now done digitally.
- The average B2B buyer is more than 70% of the way through their decision-making process before they ever engage a sales rep.
This has thrown a smoke bomb onto the line between the marketing and sales departments. In the old days, marketing would build brand awareness; then sales would get in touch to close the deal. Now, marketing is involved up and down the funnel. Customers primarily consume information from the internet rather than from salespeople. There’s just more demand for self-service content at every stage of the purchase decision than there used to be.
2. One Size Doesn’t Fit All
You can’t make the mistake of producing one-dimensional content that only answers FAQs in bite-sized articles, or only captures leads with gated reports. Your prospects engage with marketing content through search engines and email subscriptions at every stage of their buyer’s journey, and they’ll need something different at each step of the way.
Since you can’t predict exactly where or when they’ll first encounter your company (or your content), you’ve got two choices: have something for everyone, or leave warm leads on the table. It’s time to close the loop with a full-funnel pipeline. Help prospects find answers to their questions across all marketing funnel stages.
3. Your Competition is Doing It
The Content Marketing Institute put out a report titled B2C Content Marketing 2019: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends that harbored a few interesting statistics:
- 56% of B2C marketers craft content based on marketing funnel stages
- 79% successfully use content to create brand awareness
- 57% successfully use content to generate leads
- 81% create content that builds loyalty with existing clients/customers
The lesson of the numbers? Your competition is using content for all marketing funnel stages, first to last, top to bottom. If the majority of respondents are creating content for brand awareness, lead generation, and customer loyalty — so should you.
4. You Need Traffic
Leads might be the name of the game, but you can’t qualify leads unless you get their attention in the first place. Helpful, educational ToFu content develops an audience for your brand and establishes you as a thought leader. Reach and authority will create curiosity and trust over time until strangers are ready to convert into leads. If you ignore the early marketing funnel stages, however, you’ll never build traffic.
Infographics, by the way, are a tremendous opportunity for traffic-oriented content. The DemandGen Report has shown that an infographic improves website traffic by 12%. Forbes reports that the search volume for infographics on Google increased by more than 800% in just a few years.
5. You Need Leads
Contrary to a common misconception, content marketing isn’t a purely top-of-funnel strategy. Once you’ve got traffic, you need to start converting visitors into contacts. One great way to do this is with mid-and-lower funnel marketing content that’s gated to capture contact information and build a database for lead nurturing.
Not every website visitor is ready to hand over their contact information, though — you’ve got to make sure these mid-funnel content offers are targeted at leads who’ve already progressed past the awareness stage of their decision.
6. Lead Nurturing Is About Progression
Leads aren’t doing you any good if they’re just treading water until they tire out. However, 50% of qualified leads aren’t ready to make a purchase right after they convert. You’ve got to move them further towards a sale.
That means you can’t keep sending out the same kinds of content, targeted at the same marketing funnel stages, and expect your leads to progress and convert (buy). Once leads move past the decision stage that your content has already addressed, they need a call to action with some next steps and new content.
7. Sales Enablement Boosts Growth
The lowest reaches of the marketing funnel stages used to be the realm of sales. Today’s sales teams are less predictable — they might be in contact with a prospect at any given stage of the self-service journey undertaken by modern, digital buyers. So might the marketing team.
Sales enablement resources (like BoFu, or Bottom of Funnel, sales content) are the perfect crossover. Content marketing creates alignment between marketing and sales — and boosts your growth — when you empower reps with quality sales content. Even traditionally top-of-funnel content like blogs can have a ton of surprising benefits in the sales process.
The bottom line is that your content marketing funnel is larger now than ever before. Fill it with quality content that meets your inbound leads wherever they’re at in the buying process, and you’ll reap the rewards at all of the marketing funnel stages.