The traditional sales funnel was built to anticipate the customer’s purchase journey, from initial brand contact to the moment a sale is made. But marketing funnels aren’t simple, linear paths any longer.
As marketing expert Andrew Davis perfectly illustrates In a talk about meatloaf -- both the entrée and the artist -- the Internet makes it impossible to devise a one-size-fits-all customer journey. Struck with a craving for the dish, Davis Googled meatloaf recipes. Twenty minutes later, he was on Ticketmaster buying passes to a Meatloaf concert. Everyone who uses the Internet has a similar story of searching for one thing and ending up diving deep into a completely different topic.
Prospects don’t necessarily follow a linear purchase path, which is why brands need to reach them at multiple inspiration points. A solid content strategy is the most effective way to accomplish this goal. Publishing articles on a diverse range of topics enables companies to be there when customers need answers.
Advertising for today, not yesterday.
Although radio and TV once dominated the advertising space, companies that cling to these old strategies will suffer if they don’t provide younger consumers with valuable content online.
In the nearly five years since my company launched, we’ve grown to a substantial revenue point with only eight team members and zero paid media or outbound sales. We’ve focused on content since Day One, and that’s helped us build the industry and client relationships that have enabled our success.
Here are the three key practices we’ve discovered during this period of growth:
1. Offer a product that’s up to scratch.
All the great content in the world won’t mask a crappy platform or service. Insightful blog posts and articles intrigue people enough to give you a chance, so don’t break their trust with a lackluster product or nonexistent customer support. A key aspect of our sales funnel is a 14-day free trial -- we give our product a short period to speak for itself. Still, keep salespeople on hand to help hit the finish line.
2. Staff up appropriately.
A content-driven marketing funnel requires a team of writers, social media and SEO experts, designers and technologists. Not all of these roles must be filled in-house, and there are agencies that can fill in the gaps. But companies that are serious about content marketing must constantly answer questions about whether an article provides value, which topics resonate with the target audience and how best to capture email addresses and nurture leads. It takes a top-notch team to execute all of the above consistently.
3. Partner with passionate thought leaders.
There’s a difference between customers and advocates, and you want to cultivate the latter. My company’s best leads are referred from top clients who rave on social media or write their own blog posts about their experiences with our product. They share their success stories and link their contacts to us, and suddenly we have a new crop of qualified prospects. Our high-profile clients are hugely important in driving referral traffic because when they say a company is good, a lot of people listen.
There’s no magic number for how many blog posts convert a customer, so companies need to look at what questions their prospects want answered. River Pools, a fiberglass pool company based in Virginia, rebounded from a difficult quarter by blogging around every question the company ever received. Nothing was off limits, and co-owner Marcus Sheridan said he tracked $1.7 million in sales to a single popular article. That’s not to say every brand needs to adopt the same strategy, but it goes to show that anticipating customers’ needs impacts your sales.
Articles that respond to customers’ needs and questions humanize the brand, developing trust between prospects and companies. Although the customer journey changes with the technology of the day, good content should always be a cornerstone of the marketing funnel.