Strategic Content Planning with the Marketing Funnel
No Two Marketing Funnels are Alike
What you see above is a generic model. If you do a Google image search for marketing funnel you’ll see a broad range of designs, some more complex than others. In real life, no single model rules them all. You must design your own funnel to match your business. The marketing funnel is really a marketing, service and sales funnel.
Marketing sits at the top, getting the word out and bringing people onto your website and into your store. I think of awareness and trust as the marketing portion of the funnel. Your business must accomplish awareness and earn trust before someone will consider your products or services.
Sales include desire, sales and upselling & retention. These portions of the funnel often get broken out or expanded to reflect a company’s sales process. Typical sections you may see might be consideration, lead capture, qualification, trials, negotiations and wins.
Support or customer service is integral to earning repeat business or upgrading or upselling. Another important aspect to great support, one not to overlook, is to create Raving Fans who refer others and generate awareness plus positive sentiment. Raving fans are key to your company’s growth and reputation.
Build Your Own Marketing and Sales Funnel
Start with a Generic Funnel
The first step toward funnel based content marketing is to build your own marketing and sales funnel. Begin with a standard marketing funnel you can break apart. Personally, I like to add verbs to the level names to remind everyone exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.
List All Your Marketing, Sales & Support Activities
Next, take a close look at all of your marketing, sales and customer support activities then assign them to a level. I do this one level at a time. For example I’ll ask, What is everything we do to generate awareness? Invite people from every department and job level to contribute. This includes the CEO, VPs of marketing, sales and support, managers and front line employees. While you’ll get a lot of overlap, you’ll be amazed by the differences in perspective between top leaders and those in the trenches.
Create a Flow Chart
Depending on how complex your business is, placing all your marketing, sales and support activities into a flow chart may be a good way to visualize exactly how your business operates. It’s also a way to understand how different activities work together or support one another.
- Use a software tool such as Lucid Chart or Visio so it’s easy to cut, copy, move and edit things.
- Go from left to right, not top to bottom.
- Focus on processes, not individual campaigns. For example, you might use three or four display ad vendors. Group these together as display ads.
- When you finish, print the whole flow chart as large as you can and pin it to a wall so you can easily see everything in one glance. As you look at it from left to right it should mirror your sales funnel. Draw vertical lines where you think one funnel level ends and another starts. Use funnel level names that best make sense for your company. This is where you begin building your custom marketing funnel. You’ll likely have some overlap; just generalize.
Gather your managers and analysts around the flow chart then ask questions like,
- What is working?
- What is not working?
- What should we do more of?
- What should we do less of?
- What’s missing?
- What should we cut?
Later, leaders and managers should revisit each section of the flow chart and reanalyze on a campaign by campaign basis.
Rebuild Your Marketing & Sales Funnel
Now that you’ve broken everything down and looked at it with a critical eye, it’s time to rebuild your marketing funnel and lay the groundwork for your content strategy.
Match Content Types to Marketing Funnel Levels
Go through the following list of content types and match them to every level in your marketing funnel. Select anything you might use. Many types of content will work on more than one level of your funnel. Try not to think about actual articles or campaigns.
I like to imagine the different types of content like a deck of cards. Each one is different; they all go together. Here is a list of content possibilities. See if you can add to it.
- Social media posts
- Text (no link)
- Text (with link)
- About, company and contact pages
- Ad/PPC Landing pages
- Case studies
- Cheat sheets
- Company and industry news
- Comparison posts
- Controversial posts
- Crash courses/gathering posts
- Debate posts
- Definition posts
- How-to and tutorial videos
- How-to and tutorial posts
- Icons and other graphical freebies
- Images and drawings
- Income/traffic/expense reports
- Infographics, charts and graphs
- Inspirational posts
- Job positions
- Open questions to your readers
- Parody posts
- Presentations and slide decks
- Press or media releases
- Problems and solutions posts
- Product descriptions
- Profile posts
- Research posts
- Resource/link list posts
- Software, tools, scripts, plugins, themes, services
- Special reports
- Standard list posts
- Starting a debate
- Surveys and polls
- Talking head video
- Tools and apps
- Twitter posts
- What if
- What others are saying
- White papers
- Email newsletters
- Affiliate ads (images and text)
- PPC ads
- Display ads and banners
- Text ads
How to Turn Possibilities into a Content Strategy
You now have generic content lists for each level of your marketing funnel. It’s time to create a strategy.
Highlight the Must Haves
The first thing to do is set priorities. Unless you’re starting from scratch you already have content on your site. Still, think of your website as a blank slate, starting from scratch. Now, go through each list and yellow highlight every type of content you must have. For example, a good help section usually must have how-to articles. The must haves are your top priorities.
At the risk of stating the obvious, keep in mind, this is a funnel. It helps to think about bringing people into each level, not moving them into the next one. The reason for this is, while not everyone will move on, you want to generate the biggest impact possible.
Highlight the Things You Should Do
Orange highlight the things you really should do but are not listed as must haves. These will be your next priorities. I find that the must have lists tend to consist of basic information and content; it’s foundational and necessary, but the orange lists are the things that move the needle. This is where content becomes interesting and sharable.
Highlight the “Would be Nice” Types of Content
Lastly, take a green highlighter and mark all types of content that would be nice to have. Another reality is you cannot do everything on the list. However, you’ll want to keep the green list handy. It could be the source of a one-off or viral campaign that proves quite successful.
At this point you can cross-off or remove anything you’ve not highlighted. Keep the entire list somewhere handy so you can always refer to it. However, it’s time to move forward.
At long last you’re ready to plan some marketing campaigns. I define a campaign as any set of related content designed to achieve one goal. For example, comScore releases a monthly report of search engine market share, which always earns a steady stream of media attention and links. Within my definition, job postings are another campaign and product descriptions are yet another.
Start with your top priorities, the yellow highlights. Going through each,
- What content topics must you have?
- What should it accomplish? How will it move the needle?
- Which types of content should be used?
- Should any of the orange or green highlights be included?
At the end of this exercise you’ll have an actual list of potential projects to schedule and assign. Obviously a lot of specifics still need determination. For example, if you’re doing PPC will you use Google, Bing, both, others, or all? However, you’re at a point you can begin planning or delegating actual content and campaigns.
Once you finish the top priorities, repeat the process with the orange highlights. It’s likely limited time and resources will constrain you from doing everything, so choose carefully considering interest and impact. Many of your top priorities will be finite tasks or projects, like rewriting the company descriptions. As you finish those you’ll be able to circle back and take-up or create more projects from the orange list.
Create Conversions and Measurements on Every Level
A common misconception is that a conversion is the same as a trial sign-up or sale. Actually, a conversion occurs anytime someone takes an action you want and you can measure or track it. Signing-up for an email newsletter is a conversion. Applying for a job is a conversion. Downloading an eBook is a conversion. Clicking from a social media link to your website is a conversion. Liking your Facebook page is a conversion. You get the idea.
Every level of your marketing funnel is filled with conversion opportunities. Conversions provide insight into the success within a marketing funnel level. A rising number of Twitter followers demonstrates growing awareness and trust. Follower count has nothing to do with sales, but it’s valuable because increases the number of people who may one day become customers.
Not all campaigns can have conversions. You cannot track RSS subscribers to your blog. You cannot know who is reading your case studies. This doesn’t make them useless and you can still measure things like traffic and incoming links to determine impact.
The important part is to track and measure the successes inside each level of the marketing funnel without complete regard to the next level of the funnel. Think in terms of pulling people already in higher levels of the marketing funnel down deeper, not pushing them from above. The reason I advise this is that relationships may not be direct, obvious or measureable. You might build a huge audience for your blog, one that trickles toward sales. But, the links and authority your blog earn could also generate high search engine rankings that create a much larger stream of sales. I’m not completely dissing cost-benefit analysis and ROI is important in my book. The problem is that it’s difficult to track, accurately, across multiple levels of the marketing and sales funnel. When one level of the marketing funnel performs well while the next level down does not, the fault is usually in the lower level.
Content Strategy, From Broad to Specific
So there you have it, a methodology for planning a strategic content plan by using the marketing funnel. Similar to the funnel itself, this moves from the broad to the specific. Yes, it’s a big undertaking, one that can require days or weeks of your time. But, getting this right, and following up by completing your content projects, will have profound impact on your business.