How to Build a Content Marketing Funnel for Your Startup

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For most of recent history, humans have purchased the brands they recognized. And the brands that were recognized were the ones with enormous advertising budgets that could spend their way into the forefront of your mind. Aggressive and charismatic sales pitches made their way to consumers through just a handful of mediums, and the companies that dominated those limited mediums ultimately won. This is what marketing speaker and author John Hall calls the Me Marketing era because of the inherent “me me me” focus of the brands.

Hall is the founder of Influence & Co., a content marketing agency, and in his new book, Top of Mind,  he argues that with massive changes in technology in recent decades, new mediums and new ways to reach potential customers have come along with them. The internet, social media, and mobile access have all led to the current You Marketing era, where the focus has shifted to the buyer. Access to information has leveled the playing field for nearly every industry, and credibility is now the new currency. No longer is it the brand that people recognize that wins, but the brand that people trust. Trust isn’t built by intrusive advertisements or aggressive sales pitches, but is instead built by human connections. And the best way to build those human connections according to Hall? Content.

Content—blog posts, white papers, guides, etc.—has the two most important aspects of the new You Marketing era. First, it can build credibility and trust through passing valuable knowledge from one person to another. And second, it scales. A single piece of content can provide value to thousands, if not millions, of people, and it’s just as accessible to startups as it is to Fortune 500s. The brands that are winning in today’s You Marketing economy are the ones building relationships and connections with the people that matter most—their current and future customers, partners, and employees—and they’re doing it, at least in part, through a solid content marketing funnel.

Hall knows this first hand, not just because he wrote about it in his new book, but because he lived it when he was building Influence & Co. It’s this strategy that has allowed him to scale to over 70 employees across 3 cities, earn the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, and gain a spot at #239 on the Inc. 5000 list. Here’s how to create a content marketing funnel for your startup according to Hall and Top of Mind.

Top of Funnel – Awareness

The top of your content marketing funnel is the beginning stages of your customer’s journey. This content should be largely educational, and should be focused on helping your readers solve a problem. If you can solve a problem for someone, you can instantly begin to build that trust and credibility with them. They may arrive at your site through a Google search to a specific problem or by clicking on a link shared by a friend. But ultimately their decision on whether or not to trust you will come down to the content they read when they arrive at your site.  

Middle of Funnel – Consideration

The middle of the funnel is the consideration and research stage. It’s generally the lengthiest stage of the customer’s journey, and is where they’re considering solutions to the specific problem they are trying to solve. Your goal is to provide a lot of value at this stage, and is where most of your content should be focused. It should focus some on how your company solves that specific problem, but it shouldn’t be overly salesy. Your job is to educate through content, not sell, and pushing a hard sales message on someone after they’ve recently began to trust you is a good way to burn that initial trust. This type of content could come in the form of an e-book, guide, or white paper that you require an email address to send to. This allows you to capture customer information while providing valuable content directly to their inbox. It also shows some sort of intent on the buyer’s side that they’re willing to engage with you beyond just reading an article on your site.

Bottom of Funnel – Decision

At this stage in the funnel, the buyer has developed some level of trust with your company. They are aware that you sell a solution to their problem, and your job at this point is to guide them to the decision to buy. You do this by creating content that makes their buying decision as black and white as possible, having already established that you are mindful of the buyer’s best interests. Use evidence, statistics, and stories to show why your product can be the right solution to their problem. Oftentimes this is where your sales team will enter the picture and they should be leveraging content as a tool for closing the customer.

For a fictional real estate CRM software startup, the funnel might look something like this:

  • Top: “10 Pieces of Customer Data Every Real Estate Agent Should be Tracking”
  • Middle: “Free E-Book: How to Use Weekly Email Drip Campaigns to Keep Your Buyers Engaged”
  • Bottom: “Case Study: How a New Agent Used Software to Earn $150,000 in Her First Year of Real Estate”

At the top of the funnel this startup has created a piece of evergreen content that doesn’t have any sales pitch in it, and is purely used to educate the reader. The reader begins to trust the brand for providing them some knowledge and therefore value. At the bottom of the article they might suggest further reading or direct the reader to the free e-book download.

This download is offered in the middle of the funnel, where the company would capture the buyer’s email address so they can email them the e-book. The e-book would be educational and informative, thus increasing trust and credibility, but it would also use screenshots from their own software to show their product in action. This makes the buyer aware of the company’s solution to their problem without over-selling it.

At the bottom of the funnel is a case study that the sales team can use as sales support when positioning the buyer to close. In the case study it gives a black and white picture of how one customer used their software to create a successful real estate business. This allows the salesperson to continue to be more of an educator than a hard sales rep. It lets the product and stories do the selling, while they continue to build the relationship with the prospective buyer. They can then ask the prospective buyer to do a free trial of the software, or schedule a demo, or whatever is the next most logical step for them.

This content marketing process is not a way to “sell” less. Instead, it’s a way to earn more trust, and that trust inherently leads to sales.

In the age of information, this trust and credibility are the keystone of building a brand. When you center your efforts around high quality, educational content, your brand becomes the place buyers go for the solution to their problems.

When building a startup, there are countless things to think about. But with the playing field more level than it’s ever been in history, creating and executing a solid content marketing strategy should be near the top of the list.

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