From Awareness to Conversion and Beyond — Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Content for Every Stage of Your Sales Funnel
While there are many advantages to being a small business (being able to give personalised service is just one), I’ll bet you’ll never hear a fellow small business owner or marketer say they don’t have to worry about their marketing budget. So I’m always keen to help small businesses make the most efficient use of whatever budget they have available. And a key way to do that is to reduce waste by creating content that works hard to deliver real results.
This is especially important because research has shown time and time again that businesses need to provide decent volumes of content for their audience if they want to realise good conversion rates. As just one example of a study that shows this, the 2022 Content Preferences Survey Report revealed the majority of B2B buyers (62%) engage with 3-7 pieces of content before they’ll talk to a salesperson. Some (11%) even consume more than that on a regular basis, while only 28% will talk to a salesperson when they’ve seen less than 3 pieces of content.
There are lots of ways to do that, but one of the most often overlooked factors in a content’s success is the type of content.
As an example, some businesses have a blog and social media profiles, so they focus on creating blog posts and social posts without ever stopping to think about whether video might be a better medium for some things. As another example, many businesses based in rural areas think they don’t need digital marketing assets because locals will come into their physical shop, so they focus on printed flyers and posters.
Different businesses will absolutely find some kinds of content work better than others. But there are some types of content that will always lend themselves better to certain stages of the sales funnel regardless of the kind of business and their audience.
To illustrate this, let’s look at our above two examples again. A local business that relies on physical, in-store marketing assets can do a good job of converting people who come in for a look. But how do they get people to come in for the first time? Letterbox drops can be really expensive and many people reject advertising material in the mail, so they’re often ineffective. And for the business with a blog and social media profiles, they can be wonderful methods of reaching new audiences, but they’re not generally good places for converting prospects into paying customers.
> If you’re a local small business still sitting there thinking you don’t need a website, here’s some food for thought… It was a big deal for our young family when we moved interstate, so to ensure everything went smoothly, we bought our new house a year before we made the move and rented the place out while we were getting our home ready for sale. The house didn’t have window coverings so one of my jobs was to organise for someone to measure, quote, make, and install blinds all while we were a 12-hour drive away. I asked for recommendations on the town’s Facebook page and approached the two most recommended businesses. One was a window covering chain. The other was a local small business owner.
The latter called me and gave a very professional run-through of what he offered and the benefits. His pricing guidance was a little higher than the chain’s but he gave compelling reasons for the investment. Despite the fact that I always try to shop local and support small businesses when I can, do you know why I chose the chain instead? I could go onto their website to look at photos of the materials and products in-situ.
The small business owner apparently had all that in-store, but I wasn’t going to drive all day to go and check out his samples. And even if I’d been in town, I wouldn’t have wanted to have a salesperson hovering while I had my first look at what was on offer. I would only ever have gone into his shop after first getting an idea of my options from his website. Because he didn’t have a website, that disqualified him.
So, let’s explore some of the most effective types of content you can use in each stage of your sales funnel, so you can more efficiently attract new leads shoppers, convert them into satisfied buyers, and get them singing your praises amongst their friends.
Attracting attention — winning content types for the awareness stage of your sales funnel
In the earliest parts of the awareness stage of your sales funnel, potential customers become aware of a problem they’re facing air a challenge they’d like to overcome. Once they start looking for solutions to that problem, they can move into the later part of the awareness stage where they become aware of your brand, product, or service.
At this stage, it’s important to create content that captures the attention of the kinds of people who make great customers for your business. Effective marketing strategies for this stage of the sales funnel often begin by focusing on helping people come to grips with their problem or challenge and then offering an initial introduction to the brand, without trying to sell a product or service.
As a result, this part of a sales strategy is all about finding ways to reach the target audience and give them something of value to solve their initial problem or challenge, such as a variety of yoga poses for beginners, or an explanation of why some people develop allergies to the ingredients in synthetic skincare products.
The types of channels and content that lend themselves to this include:
- SEO-friendly blog posts
- Informative social media posts
- Infographics (which can be distributed via the above methods)
- SEO-friendly YouTube videos
- TV show appearances
- Radio and podcast appearances
To create effective awareness stage content, you need to understand your target audience and their pain points. And you’ll get the best results if you target keywords and topics that are relevant to them and make your content super visually appealing and easy to read.
Building trust and authority with effective consideration stage content types
Once you’ve solved your audience’s initial problem, you move into the consideration stage of the sales funnel where you nurture your prospective customers. To do that, you need to solve their next problems in a way that positions your business as an expert in the field.
For example, someone learning yoga for the first time will inevitably come across more challenges once they’ve started on the basics. Maybe they discover their hamstrings are incredibly tight or their balance is terrible. Or maybe they master the beginner moves quickly and want to move onto more challenging poses. A savvy brand will provide more content that solves those issues — such as more advanced moves, hamstring stretches, or tips for improving balance — while also telling its audience a bit more about what the brand does and what it has to offer.
Your aim in this part of the funnel is to prove to your audience that the class of product or service you sell is the best option for solving their problem. Once you’ve convinced them to choose the correct class of solution, they can move into the decision phases where they’ll select the exact product or service they’ll buy.
Content at this stage of the funnel tends to be more in-depth. Some of the same channels and content types from the first stage can still be useful (e.g. in-depth blog posts and YouTube videos can be effective here), but other content options also become available, including:
- White papers
- Case studies
- Thought leadership articles
- Free email series/courses
Thought leadership is particularly important if you’re a B2B business as several studies have shown the vast majority of businesses (96% in one Demand Gen report) crave more information from thought leaders. Nearly 2/3 of management-level professionals say they have viewed a business more positively as a direct result of reading a piece of their thought leadership and that thought leadership is a more reliable way to assess the capabilities of a vendor than its marketing materials (including product sheets). And 50% of c-suite executives say their buying decisions are more influenced by good quality thought leadership during economic downturns than when ‘times are good’.
And it’s particularly important to produce good thought leadership. Most management-level professionals (71%) don’t get any valuable insights from more than half of the thought leadership pieces they consume! Since businesses make decisions about companies based on their thought leadership, that’s a powerful reason to ensure you take the time to get yours right if you’re a B2B business.
Thought leadership is less crucial in some areas of the B2C world, especially retail and ecommerce areas. But thought leadership can also work when you’re marketing to consumers. For example, a company selling time management software can win over consumers with insightful thought leadership pieces on productivity.
Successful consideration stage content often addresses common objections or concerns that potential customers may have about a class of product or service while also delivering lots of value to the audience. For example, that yoga business from before might publish a case study about a woman with a torn hamstring using yoga to heal and regain her strength and flexibility. The case study might go into some depth about the poses and routines she used as well as the specific types of products that enabled her to do the moves — product types that the brand also happens to sell.
To create effective consideration stage content, you need to provide valuable and relevant information that helps potential customers make an informed decision. Use data and statistics to support your claims, and highlight the unique benefits of your class of product or service.
Closing the deal — content types that nudge customers to buy
Once your prospect has decided to use a particular type of product or service to achieve their goals, they need to research and choose the specific product or service they’ll buy. So, the decision stage of the sales funnel is where potential customers become ready to make a purchase or sign up for a service but they don’t start this stage of the sales funnel by opening their wallet. They’ve done their research and are now evaluating their options. So at this stage, it’s important to provide content that helps them make a decision and convinces them to choose your brand over the competition.
One effective way to do this is by offering a free trial or demo of your product or service. This allows potential customers to experience your offering first-hand and make an informed decision. Another option is to create content that showcases your product or service and highlights its unique features and benefits.
For example, if you’re selling a yoga app, you could create a video tutorial that walks potential customers through the features of the app and demonstrates how it can help them achieve their fitness goals. You could also showcase testimonials and before-and-after videos from satisfied customers who have used the app to improve their yoga practice.
Some content types that can be effective in the decision stage include:
- Product demos and tutorials
- Testimonials and customer reviews
- Comparison guides and charts
- Interactive tools and calculators
- Webinars and live events
- Sales pages
- Product/service descriptions
That last point is really important. Well over half (64%) of customers are more likely to make an online purchase after watching a video about a product. So don’t discount the power of video and consider ways to incorporate it into lots of other types of decision-phase content.
In the decision stage, it’s important to focus on the unique selling points of your product or service and make it easy for potential customers to make a purchase or sign up. This will usually involves showing your audience the value they’ll experience when they’ve bought your offer along with delivering clear and compelling calls to action, such as ‘Get started with your free trial today’ or ‘Sign up now and receive 50% off your first month’.
To create effective decision stage content, you need to understand the specific needs and pain points of your target audience and tailor your messaging accordingly. Use persuasive language and compelling visuals to make a strong case for your brand, and make it easy for potential customers to take the next step in the buying process.
Turning one-time buyers into loyal customers with the best content types for the retention stage of your sales funnel
Congratulations! You’ve successfully converted a prospect into a paying customer. But your work doesn’t end there. Retaining that customer and turning them into a loyal fan of your brand is the key to long-term success since it’s much cheaper to encourage repeat sales than it is to attract and convert new prospects.
In the retention stage of the sales funnel, your goal is to keep your customers engaged and satisfied with your product or service. This involves creating content that not only provides value but also encourages ongoing engagement with your brand. Most importantly, content at this stage is designed to ensure customers are happy with their purchase now and into the future.
Some effective types of content and channels for the retention stage include:
- Educational newsletters
- How-to guides
- Resources that make the product/service easier to use
- Loyalty programs and rewards
- Special promotions and discounts
- Interactive social media content
- Case studies that inspire new ways to use the product/service
- Surveys and feedback requests (which can also help you make improvements to your product/service)
- Retargeting ads
- Exclusive groups and memberships
- Exclusive content for customers (such as behind-the-scenes looks at your brand or sneak peeks of new products or services)
Your aim in this part of the funnel is to create a positive and memorable customer experience that keeps your customers coming back for more. By nurturing relationships with your existing customers, you can increase customer lifetime value and generate valuable word-of-mouth marketing.
Successful retention stage content often focuses on building a sense of community and personal connection with your customers. For example, a yoga studio might send out a monthly newsletter with helpful tips on yoga poses and healthy living, along with updates on upcoming events and workshops. The studio might also offer a loyalty program that rewards frequent customers with discounts on classes, merchandise, and yoga accessories (like mats).
Another example of a common way to increase customer satisfaction is to provide high quality recipes for cooking utensils and equipment (e.g. pancake recipes for a pancake maker). An equivalent example is pre-built templates for business software.
To create effective retention stage content, you need to stay connected with your customers and consistently deliver value. Listen to their feedback and use it to improve your product or service. Offer personalised and relevant content that speaks to their specific interests and needs. And above all, show your appreciation for their business and loyalty to your brand.
From repeat purchases to referrals — types of content that can help you turn happy customers into your best salespeople
The advocacy stage is where your loyal customers become your brand advocates. These are the people who have had a great experience with your brand and are now willing to share their positive experiences with others, whether through word of mouth, social media, or more detailed online reviews. Some people lump the advocacy and retention stages of the sales funnel together. However, just because you can get people to buy from you doesn’t mean you can get them to recommend you to their friends and acquaintances. The two goals benefit form different types of content.
At this stage, your focus is on nurturing your relationship with your existing customers and turning them into advocates who will help you spread the word about your brand. This means creating content that makes them feel appreciated and valued, encourages them to engage with your brand on a deeper level, and actively encourages them to tell others about their experiences.
Some effective advocacy stage content types and channels include:
- User-generated content (UGC) — Encourage your customers to create and share content that features your brand, whether it’s photos, videos, or reviews. This type of content not only showcases your brand in a positive light, but also helps to build a sense of community and belonging among your customers.
- Referral programs — Reward your customers for referring their friends, family, and acquaintances to your brand. This not only helps to bring in new customers, but also shows your existing customers that you value their loyalty and support. (Affiliate and referral programs are often confused. However, referral programs specifically encourage existing customers to refer people they know based on their positive experiences with a brand. Affiliate programs encourage anyone with a decent-sized following to promote a product or service even if they’ve never used it. Referral programs tend to have higher conversion rates, but affiliate programs often have greater reach.)
- Referral discounts — Full-scale referral programs can be costly and difficult to set up. So, if you’re not ready for that, consider offering a discount for your customers and an equal discount for their friends when they refer them.
- Customer stories — Sharing stories from customers who’ve had a positive experience with your brand not only showcases your brand in a positive light, but also help to build trust and credibility with your audience. Customer stories can be in the form of case studies, testimonials, or interviews. Basic reviews also count in this category, however, they’re the lowest form of this kind of content. They’re important, but they’re not as valuable as testimonials. (If you’re not sure of the difference, a review describes a customer’s experience. A testimonial goes a step further and actively recommends the product.) Interviews and case studies are even more valuable.
To create effective advocacy stage content, you need to focus on building a strong relationship with your existing, very satisfied, customers. Show them that you value their support and appreciate their business, and give them opportunities to engage with your brand on a deeper level. By doing so, you can turn your loyal customers into powerful brand advocates who will help you grow your business through word of mouth and positive reviews.
Content types for awareness to advocacy
Creating the right content for each stage of the sales funnel is a critical factor in the success of any marketing strategy. However, many overlook the importance of creating the right kind of content — it’s not just the message you share but the presentation of that message as well.
To attract attention and begin winning over potential customers, focus on delivering solutions to your audience’s initial problems or challenges using content types that are better suited to reaching lots of people, such as SEO-friendly blog posts and informative social media posts. Once your audience members move into the consideration stage, create content that demonstrates your authority and earns your audience’s trust, such as ebooks, white papers, and case studies. Once your audience has chosen the class of product/service you offer and they move into the decision stage of the sales funnel, use content that encourages your audience to take action, such as product demos, free trials, and customer testimonials. And then once they’ve made a purchase, give them content that ensures they have a great experience with your product, such as how-to guides and recipes or templates, along with incentives to keep buying and to recommend you to their networks.
By understanding your target audience and their pain points, and tailoring your content to their needs, you can more efficiently attract new leads, convert them into satisfied customers, and get them to spread the word about your brand. So, start putting this information into practice today and take your marketing efforts to the next level.
To help you do just that, here’s a basic checklist of steps you can take right now to level-up your content:
- Determine your target audience and their pain points
- Map out your sales funnel and identify each stage
- Create content that addresses the needs and pain points of your target audience in each stage of the funnel
- Consider the format and distribution channels for your content based on the stage of the funnel and the preferences of your target audience
- Monitor the performance of your content and make adjustments as necessary
- Continuously optimise your content to improve its effectiveness at each stage of the funnel
- Test different variations of your content to see what works best for your target audience
- Use analytics and other metrics to measure the success of your content in terms of engagement, conversions, and sales
- If your business is large enough, collaborate with other departments within your organisation, such as sales and customer service, to ensure your content aligns with your overall goals and messaging
- Consider incorporating personalisation and automation into your content strategy to enhance the customer experience and streamline the sales process
- Regularly review and update your content to ensure that it remains relevant and effective
- Stay up-to-date on industry trends and best practices to continually improve your content strategy
- Experiment with new types of content and channels to reach your target audience in new and innovative ways
- Foster a culture of continuous improvement and learning within your organisation to ensure your content strategy remains agile and responsive to changing market conditions
- Celebrate your successes and use your learnings to further optimise your content strategy over time