How to Create a Clear Content Marketing Funnel in a World That’s Clear as Mud

Marketing is a strange universe. On the one hand, we have technology that’s getting more complicated at a dizzying pace. On the other hand, we have people clambering for simplicity and direction, without sacrificing personal agency or the ability to make decisions at their own pace.

At that level of complexity, the most valuable thing you can offer your clients and your customers is clarity. And like any good motivational book will say, clarity begins with you.

So let’s start there.

The Intersection of Clear Offers and Marketing Funnels

There are 4 things you need to clarity about your product or service:

  1. What you offer
  2. Why it’s unique
  3. How it helps
  4. Who it helps

Once you’ve got that sorted out, then you need to decide at what point in the buying process you’re going to meet up with your ideal customer.

The buying process is usually organized into a 4-stage marketing funnel. The stages are:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Purchase
  4. Post-Purchase, including retention and/or repeat purchases

Useful Tip: If you’re writing SEO content for the funnel, you can roughly translate your action steps as: 

  1. Awareness: Write articles for high traffic, short keywords.
  2. Consideration: Write articles for low traffic, long keywords.
  3. Purchase: Write articles for low traffic, long keywords with even more specific detail. 
  4. Post-Purchase: Keep in touch with your customer list through articles, email, and branding efforts.

The Myth of the Linear or “Funnel-shaped” Funnel

You’ll notice my list of funnel stages is clear and orderly. Wouldn’t it be nice if that’s how people actually made decisions? 

If people were orderly decision-makers then the intersection of offers and funnels would be seamless.

We could take each person by the hand and guide them through the phases until “ta da!” they whip out their credit card and you both leave happy.

It reminds me of a haunted house or fun house ride where the teenager straps you in at the beginning and you pay at the end. It’s an easy transactional experience that everyone understands.

But the reality is the sales funnel isn’t a funnel at all.

And it’s definitely not a straight line from A to B. 

Just like anything in life, making a purchasing decision is messy. 

People start wherever they are… 

  • problem unaware
  • problem aware
  • solution unaware
  • solution aware…

… At all different levels of angst, frustration, jadedness, hopefulness, urgency, bad experiences, good experiences, hungry, tired, happy, excited…

… And facing an almost unimaginable level of need to make the right decision so they can justify the expense to their loved ones, friends, colleagues, boss, etc.

So it makes sense that in this age of user-driven, technology-enabled life, people will jump in and out of your neatly laid out funnel like unruly passengers at an amusement park.

No amount of hollering, “Please take your seats, the ride will begin shortly,” is going to help. 

The Right Way to Use a Marketing Funnel

Even though I just told you funnels don’t work, I’m now going to argue the other side of my case.

It turns out funnels are a great strategy and communications tool… in-house.

Why? Most of us marketers learned marketing in high school or college. We learned funnels to simplify the chaos of human decision-making. 

But at some point, the tool used for simplifying a complicated concept to encourage discussions… became a locked-in philosophy about how people buy.

And then marketers got confused when customers don’t follow the prescribed roadmap.

Which is a little silly. 

Of course, people won’t follow the path. 

Most people hate marketing so much that if they even get a whiff they’re in a funnel, they’ll bounce instantly. 

That’s our reality as marketers… unruly decision-makers who would probably be great customers, if we let them come to their own conclusions.

But the funnel is still valuable for having in-house marketing discussions.

You need content, strategy, offers, and outreach efforts for all your products. 

And you need a simple way to say things like, “We’ve got lots of great stuff for folks who are just about ready to buy, but we don’t have anything for people who just bought… or we don’t have anything for people who are just starting to research our topic.”

And, you’re likely going to be having these conversations with people on your team who aren’t primarily marketers. People in IT, design, web development, product creation, sales, etc. all need a way to have a concrete conversation about this sometimes mushy world of marketing.

So use the funnel to structure the conversation and guide the strategy.

Just don’t let the “map” become confused with the landscape.

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