If you’re working in content marketing and have never heard of nor seen the sales or purchase funnel, stop what you’re doing right now and go talk to your sales team. This funnel—where you aim to raise awareness of your goods, help your customers make the decision to buy, and then take the action to buy—is Sales and Marketing 101. It’s a tried-and-true model illustrating how you draw a consumer from the outside to the inside.
It’s also closely aligned with your content marketing funnel, your content strategy, your target audience, and your audience development.
Far too often, sales teams—and many content strategies—stop at that action or conversion moment, the point where a prospect becomes a customer. For many, it’s almost like that’s the final chapter, the end of the story. However, according to Content Standard contributor and and digital marketing expert Christine Warner, retaining customers is just as important as acquiring new ones, if not more so. Bain & Company reports that when customer retention rates increase by just five percent, profits increase between 25 and 95 percent.
Herein lies the crux of this story: The content marketing funnel never actually ends. While you’re focusing all that attention on top-of-funnel awareness content, or creating white papers and e-books for middle-funnel decision aids, all those leads you’ve already generated are languishing in Forgotten Customer Land. Yes, new customers are important—but so are your existing ones. What can you do to make sure they stay with you and continue to buy more from your brand?
In 2017, the Content Marketing Institute reported that 90 percent of those who consider their content marketing successful cite building an audience as their main focus—a notable increase from 60 percent in 2016, according to author Robert Rose.
Image attribution: Alexis Brown
“What these businesses are discovering is that looking at content only as a campaign or as a replacement for other marketing assets is a flawed approach,” writes Rose. “When content is only seen as a means of feeding direct marketing campaigns, there is only one directly attributable value—a replacement for advertisements, brochures, or other creative marketing assets. And, guess what? Content is often more expensive than those other options. It’s harder. And, it takes longer. So, it’s frustrating. The successful businesses have discovered that content marketing must provide more than one type of value to be worth the investment. It must provide integrated value across multiple areas in the business.”
And the best way to provide integrated value across multiple business areas? Return to the funnel, but approach it from a new angle. Rose actually advocates turning the funnel on its head, saying it’s the audience and not the content that provides the value.
Publishers get it. The Economist launched an app last month to drive subscriber retention because they found that “it’s cheaper to keep readers than to acquire new ones.” They want to demonstrate “that you don’t need to read from cover-to-cover to get value,” which is a good objective to aim for. Not everyone will engage with every piece of content you create, so how can you keep them in your ecosystem for longer, whether it’s pre-sale or post-sale?
Top Rank writer Evan Prokop stresses the value for marketers to stay memorable in your audience’s mind through frequent, consistent communication:
“While our primary focus so far has been to attract new eyes to our content, it’s important to keep the attention of those eyes as well. The internet is awash in content these days, and people have short attention spans, so it’s important to keep people coming back or they might forget you. The key to staying memorable with your audience is to maintain consistent regular touch points by converting them into subscribers. While it may not be the trendiest tactic in digital marketing, email lists are the gold standard when it comes to building a subscriber base.”
Prokop advocates making your email list “dead simple to join” through having prominent links on your main site, blog content, and on your social channels. He also tips a hat to the controversial option of pop-up subscribe boxes. They may be annoying, but they have been shown to get results through increased subscriptions.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Back to that funnel: The strategists among you may have heard of PRISM, a framework designed to optimize content conversions. This system works just as well for existing customers as it does for capturing new leads.
Let’s first break down the PRISM process into steps as defined by Razor Social writer Ian Cleary :
“Two things happen from this framework,” Cleary says. “First, if you offer value to someone, at some point they’ll want to pay you back. They’ll purchase your product, or at least share your content. Second, as trust grows, they’re more likely to purchase. There’s no reason not to believe your product will be of high value to them if they’ve already gained so much.”
Image attribution: Ben White
Now, let’s look at this through the lens of the existing customer. They’re already part of your audience, because they’ve already gone through the content marketing funnel. You have a relationship with them because they’ve purchased from you, which means, in this GDPR world, you have legitimate business interest to contact them.
When someone has already reached the end of your funnel, they’ll still be part of your inbound traffic. They’ve clearly found your content valuable, and given they’ve already established a trusting relationship with you, they’re more likely to share your content with others. This is the key to keeping the funnel going: When existing customers share your content, they become brand advocates, that most compelling of all testimonials.
As a final thought, let’s look at that initial awareness/consideration/conversion funnel—and I mean, really look at it. The funnel is leaky; it has a hole at the bottom. Once the consumer hits conversion, they fall right out. Your content marketing and audience development is the best way to plug that hole.
By keeping that customer in your content ecosystem—by making them a subscriber, by engaging them on social media, by entertaining and informing them about the world in which your products or services exist—you are on your way to plugging the hole. You’re creating a community around your brand and building an audience that’s ready and willing to hear your message. And the next step on from loyalty is advocacy. A brand advocate is more likely to buy again, or buy more. Consider that 92 percent of consumers trust brand advocates, or that customers who are referred to a brand have a 37 percent higher retention rate.
Your content marketing funnel is in fact not a funnel at all. It’s more like a funnel connected to a pipe, and what matters is where you aim that pipe. Will you aim it out into the ether and hope that your customers stay with you? Or will you aim it back to the top of that funnel, continue to engage with your audience, and create a well-rounded ecosystem of brand advocates?
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Featured image attribution: Timothy Paul Smith