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The Three Content Funnel Stages And How To Create Engaging Content To Serve The Full Buyer's Journey

by Marije Schreur, on Nov 21, 2020 3:05:07 PM

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With traditional outbound marketing approaches, business-generated content often doesn’t enter the equation until prospects are already part way through their journey. That means that many marketers are focused on developing content that drives conversion. With the shift to inbound marketing however, content becomes much more vital much more quickly; it’s no longer just used to drive conversion, but also to draw prospects into the content funnel stages, and guide them through it, right through from start to finish. 

What this means for marketers is that it’s not enough to simply produce persuasive content; marketers need to create content for every stage of the buyer’s journey. 

The Growing Importance of Information

As every marketer knows, the buyer journey is no longer linear; prospects jump from one stage to the next - and back again - as they work through their own path to conversion. However, despite these messy journeys, there is still a need for marketers to create content that satisfies customers in each of the traditional stages. The question is… why?

“As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy” says Brent Adamson of Gartner. Gartner believes that the key to buyer enablement is information, stating that ‘suppliers who can provide [buyers] with that information will be rewarded’. The insights firm reports that those organisations that provide essential information that helps advance customers through the funnel have a 2.8x greater chance of facilitating a straightforward buying experience, and a 3x greater chance of securing a high value, low regret deal. 

So just what are the three content funnel stages? What do prospects need at these stages? And, how can marketers create the right type of content, at the right time?

  • Stage 1: Awareness

At the awareness stage, there are two possible scenarios. The first is that audiences are already aware of a problem they’re having, but don’t know how to resolve it. The second is that audiences may not even be aware of a problem. Regardless, there is a strong need for marketers to be hyper aware of common pain points and challenges experienced by their target audience, and to be proactive in anticipating them.

At this stage, prospects are looking for introductory resources; for answers, for research, for data, for opinion, for anything that helps them learn more about the problems they’re having, acknowledge their challenges, and encourage further action. 

Content for the awareness stage of the buyer journey needs to inform and educate, yet it also needs to create brand fans through personality and creativity. At this point, audiences may not have any sort of loyalty towards brands, so getting a message to rise above the ‘noise’ through uniqueness, character, and storytelling is essential. It goes without saying that a fully developed buyer persona is a pre-requisite here to ensure that the content you produce is specifically targeted to your intended audience.

Types of content to consider:

  • Website blogs
  • Social media posts
  • Guest posts
  • Whitepapers
  • ‘How to’ guides
  • Webinars
  • Ebooks
  • Stage 2: Evaluation

At the evaluation stage of the buyer journey, prospects are familiar with their challenges, and might even have a good grasp of the various types of solutions that could resolve their issues. However, they also understand that they have a choice, and are actively starting to compare brands and solutions to determine the best option. 

This is the stage where audiences typically spend the majority of their time as they tend to conduct heavy research to fully evaluate and consider all possible options. Audiences will naturally be asking themselves a number of questions, and the job of the marketer at this stage is to anticipate these questions and answer them through content. So what type of content works at this stage? Content should guide audiences towards the most relevant product or service, and begin to reinforce that decision. 

Types of content to consider:

  • Comparison guides
  • Product/service descriptions
  • Case studies
  • Free downloads, demos, or samples
  • Stage 3: Conversion

At the conversion stage of the buyer journey, customers are at a point where they’re ready to buy… almost. This is a final opportunity for customers to justify the choice they’ve made, and for marketers it means one last shot to provide peace of mind and offer confidence to buyers that they’re making the best decision for them. Content at this stage should, therefore, work to reinforce decision making through fully promoting the benefits of the purchase, and highlighting the rapid, short term results for buyers. 

However, that’s not all. Content at this stage shouldn’t just work to close off the journey; it should also work to restart a new journey, build loyalty, and spark new purchases. Content at this stage needs to send customers off on a high; leave them satisfied. 

Types of content to consider:

  • Coupons or vouchers
  • Limited time deals
  • Personalised trials or demonstrations

Knowing Your Audience

As is clear to see from the above, absolutely every stage requires marketers to have a comprehensive understanding of their customers and attribution models. They not only need to know who the audience is, but what they’re looking for at each stage of the funnel, and what they expect from businesses. Activities such as historical analysis and persona building are critical for matching content to the right stage of the buyer’s journey. Harnessing  this data to report on results and study outcomes is an equally essential next step in order to further refine content creation activities.

Gaining a full understanding of your customer does require effort, but it’s worth it. Especially considering that today’s audiences not only want but actually need to have access to the right content, at the right time. The buyer journey is changing. Research by Forrester shows that 60% of buyers don’t want to interact with organisations, and 68% prefer to do their own research, in their own time. In total, more than half of today’s buyers are confident that they can make a decision based on content alone. Of course, they can only do this if you give them what they need, when they need it. 

Topics:Inbound MarketingMarketing Strategy

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