Every so often, I’m at a conference or a talk and someone will inevitably ask, “what does marketing mean to you?” The people on stage will usually say something about connecting consumers with the information they need.
For me, marketing goes beyond information delivery. Marketing is the process by which you establish trust with a complete stranger and develop that trust until they hire you to solve their problems for them.
Thus, the mission of marketing is not only to become a key source of information for your clients but also a a key source of success!
You are their guardian angel.
On the B2B side, this means that you want everyone who hires you to get a promotion. On the B2C side, this means you want each of your customers to be absolutely thrilled that you’re in their life.
In this way, marketing is a self-sustaining process. Sure, we expect strangers to convert into customers. However, if their experience with you and your product is sufficiently fantastic, you can also expect something of a religious conversion.
Marketing transforms customers into evangelists, evangelists will go out into the world and find more customers for you.
So, how does this happen? How do you help your B2B customers get promotions? How do you help B2C customers find happiness? How do you turn strangers into evangelists?
The short answer is to give away lots and lots of content for free.
Structured appropriately, this content can lead a stranger to your site and down the marketing funnel to its ultimate end: a purchase.
Officially/professionally, we call this the Marketing Funnel. However, if we’re being honest, marketing is a form of manipulation, one with well-defined steps and strategies.
To be sure, there’s a lot that goes into the construction of a complete, conversion-optimized marketing funnel. However, companies must invest in these customer journeys. In so doing, they build digital assets that can pay dividends for years.
As I frequently remind my clients, marketing funnels are tiny machines that sit on your site and print money for you, forever. Thus, they are worthy of your investment.
So… let’s start with the basics.
What is a Marketing Funnel?
A marketing funnel is a visual representation of how prospects learn more about your company, your areas of expertise, and eventually become customers.
At the tip top, the marketing funnel is nice and wide, representing the thousands (millions?) of people who will come to your site looking for free information. The information you present to this audience should be designed to be informative, accessible, and fun. People hang out at the top of your funnel who are curious about your space and want to learn more.
Think of ToFu content like a College 101 class. There were lots of students who took Intro to Astronomy at my alma matter, USC. However, only a small fraction would go on to become astrophysicists.
Imagine you sold imaging equipment to astrophysicists. Who would be more likely to buy? Someone who read your article on “The 10 Largest Disasters in Our Solar System” or someone who read your 15,000-word treatise on X-ray scanner innovations.
Obviously the latter, right?
Similarly, as a prospect moves to the Middle and Bottom parts of the funnel, the information you provide becomes increasingly specialized and technical, not only establishing yourself as an expert in your industry but also answering many of the questions they might have about your product before buying. As the information becomes more specialized and specific, the “pop-sci stargazers” start to taper off and your audience becomes much more likely to make a purchase.
This is the power of layering different types of content up and down the funnel.
In the beginning, you cast the net wide but sharing populist, universal content. Then, you get increasingly niche and specific, making it easier for your perfect customer to find you and helping them pull trigger on making a purchase.
Below you’ll find some strategies for building out each of these parts of the funnel.
Top of the Funnel: Attract Strangers.
At the Top of the Funnel, the strategy here is to bring as many people onto your website as possible.
Here is how to do that:
1. Social Media.
Action Item: Expose people to your company who might not already know about you by maintaining a presence on social media. The big networks are: Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, GitHub, and Quora.
As much as 90% of all traffic (and therefore damn-near all of your web-based customers) will come through Google, so this is what we mean when we talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO is not as complicated as people think. SEO is about giving humans the best information on the internet. The basic way to do this is called the Pillar method.
The Pillar method looks like a big bike wheel. At the center is what’s called the Pillar Page. The Pillar Page is comprehensive (at least 7,000 words) and serves as the Ultimate Guide to something that you are experts about. Due to the comprehensive nature of this content, Pillar Pages should be continually updated as your subject matter expertise expands.
Supporting this pillar content, are regular (shorter) blog posts. These posts reinforce the subject matter expertise that you established with the Ultimate Guide but are shorter in length to support quick turnover.
The goal of these shorter posts are to spray and pray tons and tons of keywords out onto the internet, creating a cluster of domain expertise that reminds people over and over how smart and helpful you are. All of these articles should link back to the Pillar page, creating a bespoked bike wheel of content.
Another goal of this content is for customers to move themselves through the sales journey. You don’t want to be taking phone calls and answering all their questions. Just put the answer up on your site. Let them do their own damn research.
Action Item: Think of your areas of expertise and write a Pillar Page for every sector.
Action Item: Hire writers to continually pump out blog articles that reinforce your subject matter expertise and answer customer questions before they think to ask them.
3. Backlinks and PR.
If there are millions of content pieces across the internet, how do you establish that your content is useful to the average Googler?
Well, just like every helpful friend, Google is looking for Subject Matter Experts to recommend to their audience. To determine a website’s subject matter expertise (AKA Domain Authority in SEO speak), Google not only checks your content but also checks to see how many other websites are linking to it. These are called backlinks, and we can think of them like little internet votes of content confidence.
Right now, very few people probably link to you, but you can fake it ’til you make it by manually building backlinks using the methods below.
Action Item: Convince Google you are Subject Matter Experts by establishing a network of backlinks that lead people from other sites to your own. This process can be done in house by cold-emailing websites in your space and/or you could hire a trust SEO consultancy.
Action Item: Build relationships with other high domain authority sites, like major newspapers and publications. A link from the New York Times to your website could be worth tens of thousands in new business.
Middle of the Funnel — Build Trust
Once you have established trust with a new visitor, it is time to begin the process of (a) identifying if they are Sales Qualified and (b) getting them ready to buy. Note, there are two axis here. The customer must be both a good fit for your product and ready to buy.
Here are the tools to qualify leads:
4. Lead Magnets
What’s the easiest way to determine whether someone is interested in what you have to offer? You sell it to them. Squeeze pages allow a visitor to “buy” useful industry-aligned content, using their email address as a payment method.
A sample lead magnet. The visitor is invited to share his contact information to join the private beta.
This transaction gives your teams all sorts of data. For one, it tells you what types of content the prospect is interested in, which allows you to echolocate who they are, what industry they’re in, and how close they are to making a purchase.
The more specific and industry-focused your content at this stage, the better. It’s your chance to demonstrate you know a lot about their space, which is why industry experts or journalists are usually retained on a freelance basis to help companies generate this content.
For example, if you sell youth football helmets, bring in the neuroscientist who sits on your board to explain the science behind your design.
Action Item: Build out a few landing pages to collect contact information.
Action Item: Offer precise industry-specific content to demonstrate that you are experts in the industry that you’re trying to sell to.
5. Drip Campaigns
After you snag someone’s email address, what do you do with it?
Most people think email is cheap. On the contrary, I consider it very expensive.
The truth is most people don’t want to be emailed. Like at all. So if you send the wrong email to the wrong person at the wrong time, you’ll never be able to email that person again.
The bottom line is your gentle nudging efforts have to be useful to the recipient. This is known as the Promotion Standard. Whether helpful tips for being more effective in their role or the technology they need to generate more revenue, every email you send should give your prospect the info they need to get a promotion.
By the way, content that is informative and useful should not be saved for your email campaigns. All that should live on your site so Google will give you some focking credit for all that subject matter expertise.
Primarily, email marketing is most successful when it is used to streamline conversations with prospects through automation. Examples of this are: brief company overviews, invitations to book a demo, and automated follow-ups. Finally, email can revive cold leads by giving your prospect a few more reasons to keep opening your future emails.
Action Item: Build simple email automations that automate frequently-repeated sales correspondence.
Bottom of the Funnel — Identify Hot Leads
Okay. So by this point a visitor will know a lot about your company. Likely, they will have been on your site a few times, looked at several different pieces of content, learned a little about you, and have a pretty good understanding of how your product will help them get a promotion. Someone from sales calls them up, ready to close the deal and — nothing.
Lead scoring is a system designed to automatically and with 100% accuracy identify who out of the thousands you are chatting with are ready to purchase your product.
These “Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)” should be pushed to the sales team for final negotiations.
So what, exactly, qualifies a lead?
That’s exactly the question you will have to answer as a team. Some factors will have to do with the steps the take on the site (10 visits to your pricing page is a good sign!) and others will be demographic (if Tim Cook fills out a form, you should probably call him right away!).
Action Item: Establish the Criteria you will use to identify a Marketing Qualified Lead.
Rinse, Repeat, Optimize
Once your basic marketing funnel is established, you can either (a) build out other marketing funnels for different parts of your client-base or (b) continually refine your machine through optimization.
As you go forward, be mindful of the purpose of each part of the funnel and the audience it serves, and then use analytics to make data-driven changes to further help you achieve your goals:
- TOFU: Maximize site traffic and built trust.
- MOFU: Establish industry expertise and help people get promotions.
- BOFU: Accurately identify who are the most likely to buy right away.
Action Item: Focus on increasing web traffic and conversions by running experiments and trying to identify alternative approaches that work better.
The most important responsibility for marketers is to bring more eyeballs to your site and convert leads to sales via the efforts outlined above. By contrast, advertising offers a brute-force alternative to achieving similar goals.
In my opinion, most organizations turn to paid advertising too early. Dumping lighter fluid may get the fire started faster but it is more expensive in the long run. Better to use advertising as a mechanism for scale — after your marketing machine is well-oiled and highly optimized.
Action Item: After several weeks/months of optimization, establish paid advertising to scale and amplify previously optimized funnels.
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