The term “content marketing” has been hot in 2012 and is often heralded as the best new marketing tactic.
“Sure, there are still other ways to get in front of your target audience, but content marketing is proving to be an indispensable tool to complement traditional communications strategies,” writes Brian Aitken, director of new media for the Foundation for Economic Education, on CNN’s iReport.
Nevertheless, there is some confusion among marketers as to what, exactly, content marketing is. I believe that is due to the presence of two types of content marketing in the context of today’s digital marketing field. The purpose of this post is to explain the differences between the two, which are represented here using two distinct, albeit connected, funnels. The objectives of both are to increase website users and, ultimately, sales. But how they accomplish those objectives is what makes them unique.
The Nurturing Funnel
First, let’s look at the funnel of a traditional sales cycle, which we’ll call the Nurturing Funnel. In this funnel, leads are nurtured into opportunities until the sale is closed. Closing them is hard work, and content most certainly helps do this. In the Nurturing Funnel, the focus of the content is trained on a service or product, assisting the sales team in moving leads down the funnel.
In this funnel, we know who the leads are, likely because a salesperson or another member of the organization brought them into it using any number of traditional tactics. The content produced in this funnel is an asset of product marketing; it’s primarily concerned with products and/or services, commonly delivered in the format of white papers, e-books, pricing sheets, testimonials, etc.
The Nurturing Funnel, Revised
Content marketing of a different kind has transformed the Nurturing Funnel by adding another category to the top of this funnel, pre-lead. These potential customers are called “suspects” and start out as anonymous consumers who are attracted to you based on content that does not tout your services or products specifically. Suspects sit atop leads in the revised Nurturing Funnel:
The Content Funnel
The second funnel, which is new to many marketers, is the Content Funnel. It is concerned with the methods of earning and attracting the suspects added to the upgraded Nurturing Funnel. The activity in this funnel is more akin to publishing than marketing and sales. Content attracts suspects into this funnel by speaking to their interests, curiosities, etc. The Content Funnel is all about building a sustainable audience with content that builds their trust in your authority. The funnel shows how to achieve this.
Here, marketers must generate ideas, produce content, promote that content (through social channels), and generate links from external sites. (To learn more about each step, check out this snappy infographic and read this post about how to create a Content Marketing Machine.)
The more compelling the content, the more successful companies are at attracting an audience—filling this funnel with potential leads. The Content Funnel is crucial, as more and more web users conduct research online, offering smart organizations increasing potential to identify leads they may not otherwise.
Connecting the Funnels
The Nurturing and Content funnels are often managed by different groups of marketers within one organization, yet both fall under the “content marketing” umbrella.
Most businesses have produced content for the purposes of product marketing and conducting activity within the traditional Nurturing Funnel. Now, a pioneering group of organizations are embracing their roles as publishers, upgrading their Nurturing Funnels by adopting the kind of content marketing that dominates within the Content Funnel. American Express’ OpenForum, L’Oreal’s Makeup.com, and AT&T’s Networking Exchange Blog are just a few great examples.
In a world where more purchasing research is done online, why not begin your relationships with your customers sooner? Done well, the content marketing that focuses on them will only strengthen rapport and trust in the content marketing that’s focused on you.
Graphics provided by Tara Lerias.