Jewel Marketing
Taiwan Content Marketing

The Content Marketing Funnel: A Stage-By-Stage Guide

By Jason Patterson

Founder of Jewel Content Marketing Agency
Different marketers have slightly different views of the marketing funnel, and some differing names for the stages, and how many there are. But for orthodox content marketing, the funnel has three stages -- awareness, consideration, and lead-gen.

In a nutshell, awareness content talks about a problem your brand solves. Consideration content either mentions the solution, or talks about the solution (or a solution) somewhat, but it doesn't ask the reader for contact details, while lead-gen content makes that ask. And some pieces of content do more than one of these jobs at the same time.

Awareness Content Talks About Prospects

Awareness is top of the funnel (TOFU) content. Your prototypical pure awareness piece is a blog post that either talks about a problem your prospects are having, or it might be some type of industry-related opinion, commentary, or news that doesn't necessarily mention a problem, or at least not a problem your company solves. In other words, it talks about the customer's industry.

The purpose of this content, from the reader's point of view, is usually education, nothing more. And by "nothing more," I mean the blog might link to an external source, to another one of your blogs, or to some other educational page that you have, but it won't mention a product by name, it won't link to a product page, and it won't mention that you sell a particular category of products. If it does, it's not purely awareness anymore, it's also consideration.

Consideration Content Talks About You

Consideration content is usually about one of your products, or a category of your products, or about some feature or technology related to your products (explicitly). It might also be about an advantage your brand has more generally (which is reflected in some advantage the product/solution has).

And pure consideration content is fairly rare (usually it gets paired off with awareness or lead-gen). But when it does exist, it might be a blog that introduces a new product feature (or software update) that's being rolled out.

Or it might be a piece that educates readers about how different categories of your products compare to each other (i.e., how your enterprise line of products differs from your SMB line), or it might be a piece that focuses on some particular proprietary feature that you offer (i.e., why your database is better than your competitor's).

Or it might be a piece focused on a particular model and the problems it solves (i.e., five data recovery problems the XYZ solves). However, be aware that mentioning the problem doesn't also make the content awareness in this instance, because the content is about the product, not the problem. If the blog is about the problem (i.e., five common problems in data recovery) and mentions the XYZ briefly at the end, then the blog is awareness + consideration.

And please note, consideration content doesn't ask for contact details directly, and it doesn't try to steer you or direct you to the "Contact Us" page either. Put another way, pure consideration sells, or at least it talks about what you sell, but it doesn't ask for anything.

Lead Generation Content Asks Prospects To Get Closer

Lead-gen content, on the other hand, either explicitly asks for contact details, or it explicitly directs you to the "Contact Us" page or somewhere else with contact fields (i.e., "follow the link to contact a XYZ representative").

And please note that I did not use the word "product" or "solution" in the previous sentence, which means you can, in fact, skip directly from awareness to lead-gen without consideration, and there are content pieces that do this (more on this later).

In fact, unlike with the other two upper funnel stages, there is no such thing as pure lead-gen content, because the ask is what makes it lead-gen, and you either talk about what you sell along with that (consideration) or you don't (awareness).

At this point you may be wondering whether all explicit contact detail requests are lead-gen, even if the ask states no intent to leave the awareness stage (i.e., the prospect is signing up for more awareness content). The answer is yes and the reason why is the prospect has no way of knowing what you'll do with their contact details.

Maybe you'll send them sales materials, even if they're not asking for sales materials. Maybe you won't. It's the ask that matters. The prospect is placing trust in you. They're ready to take their relationship with you to another level.

However, if your website is designed in such a way that contact fields are present at the bottom of every webpage, that doesn't automatically make every webpage lead-gen, and we'll get into why a little later.

Awareness + Consideration

This is when a piece of content mostly talks about a problem and briefly mentions the solution (which happens to be a particular product that you sell or a category of products that you sell), usually at the end, and typically you'll link to it. Or it's when you talk about an industry issue and mention and/or link to your relevant products (i.e., click here to learn more about how AI is being used in our products).

Not all of your awareness content needs to also be consideration (your brand will seem needy and overly salesy if it is). As to when it should, there are two factors to consider. One is the intent of the reader. Are they presently on the buyer's journey or not? An article's topic and title will often indicate this. And two, do you sell something that solves the problem?

Not all awareness content is about problems you solve for money. Sometimes the content will be about a problem you solve through free advice. And sometimes awareness content is not about a problem at all, but more like an issue. Or the content will be more like industry discourse (a lot of thought leadership is like this).

However, there is another type of awareness + consideration content that works quite differently that must be considered. And this is education content focused on a product feature that doesn't mention a product.

For instance, if your product has some type of certification from a third party (let's say IP53 tolerances of water and dust), you might have a dedicated page that discusses IP ratings and what they mean.

Such a page is tricky to classify on the content marketing funnel, because there are different ways to reach it, indicating different kinds of intent. For instance, a prospect might be looking at a product page and sees the IP53 rating, but they're not sure what it means, so they click and land on the aforementioned page for more info. In this case, the page is consideration, because the prospect was already considering a purchase.

However, that's not the only way a prospect might reach this page. A different prospect might be shopping for something completely unrelated to what you sell but that's also IP53 rated. If they do a web search for "IP53," they might end up on your page (congrats to your brand and SEO team if they do). In this case, the page is not consideration, it's awareness. Because the prospect is being educated about a problem you solve, and they're not considering you, at least not right now.

Thus, such content can be considered both awareness + consideration for the purposes of content marketing funnel scorekeeping.

Awareness + Lead-Gen

This is awareness content that makes an explicit ask for contact details. It might be a whitepaper (often gated) on some advanced topic you don't sell anything for, at least not yet. Or it might be a piece of awareness content about a problem you currently solve, but you're targeting a industry that's never heard of you and would consider your solution radical at this time, and so you need to butter them up some more by getting them to sign up for more awareness content.

And this underlines a key point about lead-gen. The ask should specify what the prospect is signing up for. Is it education content? Is it sales materials? Is it direct communication with a representative? Clarity is important here, because we need to determine intent, and getting this wrong can be bad.

If a prospect is looking to buy, you don't want to waste their time sending them TOFU content they don't need. And if they're not looking to buy, hard-sell tactics might scare them off (and waste sales resources better used elsewhere).

Consideration + Lead-Gen

Many public sales materials tick both these boxes (most assets designed for print will steer people towards the ask). However, online materials can be trickier. If your website has contact fields at or near the bottom of every webpage, it can be hard to know if a product page or blog that talks at length about a product is also lead-gen.

Think about it this way. In lead-gen content, the ask is explicit. And usually right when the content ends. And the authors will try to make sure you don't miss it. But on things like product pages, there might be warranty information, other fine print, or a menu with similar products, separating the content from the contact fields.

And with a blog, there may be a menu with more blog articles separating the content from the contact fields. In both instances, there's a decent possibility the reader won't find those contact fields. And in a case like that, it's not lead-gen, because lead-gen leaves nothing to chance.

And in case you're wondering, if you have contact fields at the bottom of a page where there's no separation, such as your About Us page or your Governance page, this isn't lead-gen either. And the reason why is because anyone contacting you from there isn't looking to buy from you. They're probably a journalist or an investor. And it's up to you to determine whether to count that stuff as marketing content at all.

Awareness + Consideration + Lead-Gen

This is the content marketing triple Axel. Something that talks extensively about the problem, your solution for it, and gets contact details. Typically it's a solutions guide, though it might be a whitepaper (though some might take issue with calling something that sells a whitepaper), or a top-notch in-depth case study.

And don't try to shortcut this. Anything that covers all three stages is going to be long, and best served in attractive PDF form with nice figures, tables, and illustrations, so don't be cheap.

How Does Brand-Level Content Fit Into This Funnel?

It's important to remember that what I've been talking about up till now is marketing content. But what about brand-level content that talks about you? Your employee stories? Your CSR activities? Your company history? Some might consider such content awareness, but brand-level content doesn't really work like marketing awareness content, at least not in B2B, because it's rarely the first step in a customer's interactions with you (i.e., typically audiences consume this content after they're somewhat familiar with you).

And what's more, marketing only worries about customers (even if it involves manipulating other audiences like journalists), while brand owners may worry about other audiences as well, such as jobseekers.

Therefore, in terms of content marketing funnel scorekeeping, I'd only count brand-level content if it also happens to perform a content marketing funnel function (i.e., it happens to mention a problem you solve or something about your products or solutions, even if that's not really why it was made). And if it doesn't perform a content marketing funnel function, I wouldn't count it.

At this point you might be wondering what use the content marketing funnel is if certain things don't count. Well, there are two things to keep in mind here. One, even though content marketers may be asked to lend their content resources to the creation of brand-level content, usually such content isn't part of their KPIs or formal responsibilities.

Usually such content, if anyone is formally responsible for it, falls under media relations, or perhaps under a corporate-level content team (in large organizations). But just because such content might be made by people who aren't marketing, doesn't mean it doesn't have marketing utility, because it absolutely does.

If a piece of content is good, it still very much matters to the funnel, because good content is brandbuilding, and brandbuilding helps all funnel stages simultaneously, making them all function better, even if the influence of any one piece of content, or even all of these pieces, can't really be measured.

Your Content Marketing Funnel Should Be Funnel-Shaped

Nobody knows what an optimal balance of content in terms of all three funnel stages (anyone who says they do is lying). Even if they've figured it out for a certain situation, it won't be replicable. But in terms of the bare minimum for each stage, I would say that you want your content marketing funnel to at least look like a funnel. That means if you have one piece (x) that does lead-gen, you want at least two pieces (x+1) doing consideration, and three pieces (x+2) doing awareness.

And this goes for your overall mix, and for your high-value products/solutions (it may be impossible to do this for all your products/solutions if you have a lot of them). Of course, as stated earlier, some pieces can do more than one job. And some consideration or lead-gen pieces can do it for more than one product. But you at least want your boxes ticked in this ratio.

If they're not, your content marketing funnel will turn funny shapes, and it might not perform as intended. To learn more about those issues, click here.

Why You Want More Awareness Than Consideration

Since only 5% of your prospects are on the buyer's journey at any one time, and many of the ones that are not won't be on it for years, you'll need quite a bit of awareness content to maintain mindshare until they are ready to buy. You won't need nearly as much consideration content, because consideration is mostly about the buyer's journey (though not always).

And as previously mentioned, if all your awareness content is trying to move people down the funnel, your brand will come across as too salesy, which will discourage people from subscribing to or following you.

Why You Want More Consideration Than Lead-Gen

Content is one path to lead generation, but it's not the only one. Not everyone who reads a piece of consideration content will be authorized to contact you. And not everyone who reads a piece of consideration content will be ready to contact you at the moment they read it, even if they're on the buyer's journey. For instance, they might be putting together a list of vendor candidates, and once the list is complete and signed off, then they contact you through your Contact Us page.

And as just mentioned, consideration content isn't always consumed on the buyer's journey. When you launch a new product, someone who's already following you on social media might choose to read the key details, even if they're not ready to buy just yet.

Also, consideration content that isn't specific to a particular product but that does some form of product education more generally (like for a product category or for some competitive advantage your brand has) might not necessarily be consumed on the buyer's journey.

How You Can Start Creating Your Content Marketing Funnel

Once you've got a nominal funnel that has an amount of consideration and lead-gen content that you're comfortable with (start from the bottom and work your way up), try widening the top (i.e., go big on awareness), because you can never really have too much awareness.

And One Other Thing....

It's important to remember your brand's marketing funnel and content marketing funnel are usually not the same thing. A marketing funnel may include brand-level content that serves no content marketing function (like recruiting content). And a marketing funnel will often include stages below lead-gen, or even below sales, that orthodox content marketing generally doesn't include.

And if you're wondering why the content marketing funnel doesn't continue below lead-gen, it's because in the content marketing funnel, the content marketer guides the prospect (or at least we try to). While with sales enablement, sales does the guiding, while the content marketer plays a support role (if we play a role at all).

Well, that's it. We've reached the end of this particular piece of content that would be considered awareness + consideration using this model (since I do sell content marketing funnel building). If you're still hungry, follow the links to our drilldowns on the awareness, consideration and lead-gen stages of the content marketing funnel.

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