Well thought-out content and campaigns are key to moving individuals from prospects to clients. And in a digital landscape that’s more crowded than ever, you probably spend sleepless nights trying to figure out how to do that. Simply put, you need to turn quality site visitors into closed sales. It’s time to get back to basics and refine your marketing funnel.
Your strategy is most likely based on the idea that prospects move down some sort of funnel, and no matter what you call each stage, your audience goes through both a cognitive and affective processing cycle before they take action. But how do you know what they’re thinking and when? By serving your audience the right content through the right channels at the right stage of the marketing funnel, you can better qualify them and move them closer to that sales conversation.
The Psychology Behind Your Marketing Funnel
A solid campaign marketing funnel is built on the concept of the hierarchy of effects model. While this theory was developed for traditional advertising, it’s definitely applicable to your digital marketing efforts. It breaks down your audience’s behaviors into three stages:
1. Cognitive: Seeking out knowledge or answers
2. Affective: Forming a connection and taking active steps to engage
3. Behavioral: Making a decision to buy from or work with you
That’s it. That’s as complicated as it needs to be. If you’re nodding your head, you can probably guess where we’re going with all of this. The hierarchy of effects model has been applied to countless marketing funnels. But while the terminology may vary, the thinking behind it remains consistent. At Newfangled, we use the following terms to describe the strategies we take at each stage of the funnel along with associated assets:
1. Awareness: Blog articles, videos, promotional emails, display ads
2. Engagement: Gated content, surveys/quizzes, email nurture programs, lead gen ads
3. Action: Case studies, services pages, testimonials, retargeting ads, purchase-oriented CTAs (like a Contact Us form)
Even if you’re familiar with these terms (or some variation of them), you still need to make sure everyone on your marketing team — your content, paid, and email specialists — are working in lockstep. In other words, for your overall marketing strategy to be effective, you must create and serve appropriate content to your prospects according to where they are in the funnel — and through the most effective medium.
How and Why to Target Content to Every Stage of the Marketing Funnel
Again, you can’t rely on a “spray and pray” approach to your content offerings, or even how you deliver them. You need to consider what content will resonate with which audience member and the right time. Using the hierarchy of effects model as the basis of your marketing campaign funnel allows you to meet your target personas where they are and create personalized experiences for each member of your audience. That in turn results in more best-fit leads and buyers.
Here’s an example. Your instinct might be to email your latest blog article to all your prospects and post it on all of your social media channels. But take a beat. You don’t just want eyeballs on an article. You want qualified leads who will take deeper action. And to do that you need to consider not just the buyer persona who needs to read it, but the most ideal time and place they could receive it to lead them to the next stage in the funnel. That starts by determining what stage of the funnel your content is speaking to and where readers are most likely to find and respond to it.
Here are the most important moves you can make at each stage of the funnel while keeping the hierarchy of effects in mind.
1. Target Specific Personas During the Awareness Stage
The awareness stage is all about reaching your personas with content that’s relevant to them, but remember, even if you know who your ideal persona is, they may not be familiar with your brand or recognize that they have the problem your firm can help them solve.
The content you create and promote at the top of the funnel should be easily accessible and not require too much effort from your audience. Focus on providing tactical or strategic advice, answering questions, and offering insights through blog articles, short videos, and other formats. Blog articles, short videos, and other insights are the name of the game here. However, all of that great content can’t exist in a vacuum. And you certainly can’t rely on organic traffic and social posts to get enough eyes on your content.
However, creating great content alone isn’t enough. You also need to promote it effectively. For instance, running paid promotion on LinkedIn can be a highly targeted way to reach personas in the awareness stage who may not be actively searching for a solution to their problem. By creating compelling ad copy that speaks to their pain point and offering them valuable content, you can encourage them to engage with your brand.
Other paid media strategies such as lead gen campaigns can target specific buyer personas, offering them content with relevant information, all while factoring in the time and place in which they might be likely to engage. After they do engage, you can encourage additional learning through retargeting campaigns that encourage further action like accessing white papers or eBooks, or signing up for your newsletter. If your content offering is relevant and addresses a pain point, chances are they’ll want to learn more and provide their email address.
Another tactic is promoting your content to, ideally, an existing email list audience you’ve grown and communicated with previously over time. Alternatively, a purchased email list can be effective as well. Many marketers bristle at the idea of acquiring a “cold” list of addresses, afraid they’ll be viewed as spam and alienate potential customers. However, there are plenty of reputable (and ethical) list providers that ensure your recipients are the right fit for your messaging.
By following deliverability and sender best practices, acquired lists can be an effective tool to build meaningful volume at the top of your marketing funnel/awareness stage of a campaign. In most cases, reputable email list purchases can add even more value to a campaign by bringing additional persona data (number of employees, revenue, store locations, etc) into your marketing strategy that can add additional targetable dimensions.
2. Deliver Personalized Content During the Engagement Stage
In the engagement stage, your goal is to encourage your audience to take actionable steps to further familiarize themselves with your firm’s offerings. An audience at this middle stage is already familiar with your brand and wants to learn more. In terms of content, this is where gated assets like ebooks or white papers come into play. This content dives deeper into a paint point and justifies the audience member providing their email address.
This is also where you can determine whether each person who accesses your content/converts elsewhere is a good fit or not. Those who are will be your “early” marketing qualified leads (MQLs) — they’ve got the right job title, company size, and/or budget, but they’re not quite ready to buy. So how do you move them closer to that buyer stage? Once these MQLs have accessed your content (converted), you can serve them tailored email nurture campaigns promoting additional content and information to move the prospect to the next stage of the funnel. So throughout your nurture campaigns, serve your leads personalized content based on the topics with which they’ve previously engaged. You need to be able to guide your prospects in such a way that they feel like they’re in the driver’s seat. Their path to the action stage has to feel like a natural progression, not a barrage of content offers or a premature sales ask.
Responsibly nurturing your prospects means being patient and building trust. A deliberate send cadence that introduces deeper engagement will ensure you don’t overwhelm or alienate your MQLs.
3. Make Your Sales Ask in the Action Stage
When the time finally comes to reach out about booking a conversation, it won’t feel too “salesy.” That’s because you’ve provided all the additional information they want. By the time they’re ready to make contact with you, they will feel confident about a partnership, and so should you. Why? Because each time they learned something new from your content and took the next step down the funnel, they’re further qualifying themselves as best-fit leads.
But again, how do you tell which MQLs are the right MQLs? Lead scoring provides further insight into when a prospect might be open to a sales conversation. To determine the value of a lead, you need to continually monitor their engagement with your firm. Are they engaging with your nurture series? Are they returning to your site and reading more content? Are they signing up for webinars or downloading other gated assets?
If they have, they likely need a dose of proactive lead engagement. When and if you reach out will depend on your lead scoring: For example, if your lead read 20 pages of content and downloaded 5 white papers, it’s worth giving them a nudge, even if they’re not ready to buy.
Remember that your job as a marketing professional is to get a horse (your prospect) to drink. The hope is the horse is thirsty enough that it drinks on its own, but every now and then, they might need a little encouragement. Tell them you know they’re parched. Tell them they’re not going to get better water anywhere else. It may not happen overnight, but unlike the analogy, eventually, your horse will find its way to your watering hole.
Don’t Hyper-Focus on One Stage of Your Marketing Funnel
Your marketing mix and all the avenues you have to reach your prospect must be synced up, or else your strategy will fall flat. If you take an either/or approach to paid media or content marketing campaigns, it will only take longer to determine qualified leads and move them down the funnel.
So play the long game. Be patient. The most qualified leads might take multiple touch cycles before you secure them as a client. The more your campaigns work in symphony across your mix, the more likely they are to sing.