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Inside the Marketing Funnel: the Content Vortex

Bill Gates may have said, “content is king,” way back in 1996, but fast forward almost two decades and we’ve arrived at the blade portion of the hockey stick graph. The field of content marketing has grown exponentially in just a few short years and the demand for content, and the upstream demand for content producers, doesn’t appear to be slowing either. According to LinkedIn, user profiles with the term “content marketing” have grown 168% in just 2 years.

This demand for both b-to-b and b-to-c content has caught the attention of the c-suite and was noted in Forbes2015 Predictions for CMOs” - “CMOs will become brand publishers.” Yes, they used the word publishers to describe a marketing function. The prediction:

What’s Driving the Demand for Content?

Step into the Wayback Machine again, but this time to 1898, when Elias St. Elmo Lewis observed the process for how a customer moved from a prospect to customer and he envisioned this process as a funnel and documented the stages in the acronym AIDA - awareness, interest, desire, and action. (As the model evolved, the process to retain customers was added.)

While the marketing funnel outwardly depicts the journey, there are forces at work inside the funnel, moving the prospect along, and those forces are created due to the consumption of a brand’s content – a content vortex is spinning inside the funnel.

A content vortex is created when a kinetic collection of content, in varying topics, lengths, and formats, targeted toward a specific audience is consumed by that audience. (I debated whether to use the word “vortex” or “maelstrom,” and while maelstrom is way more fun, it has negative associations in the definition – “disordered,” “violent,” and “tumultuous” – so, vortex it is!)

The goal of creating a content vortex is to expose the targeted consumer to the brand’s published content, and through the consumption of the content, create an energy that moves the prospect down the funnel and, ultimately, elevating the brand to a measurable level of conscious awareness in the mind of the target consumer.

How to Create a Content Vortex

Well, now – that’s the million dollar question for content marketers. As marketing has evolved, so has the dialog in which brands engage. The image to represent traditional marketing is the guy standing on the street corner, with a bullhorn, bellowing AT prospects - intrusive and ineffective. The digital marketing scene is a cozy, intimate conversation between two people talking WITH each other. What a difference a preposition makes!

The digital conversations are a relatively broad range of topics that the brand “hosts” and should be relevant to the target personas’ interests, desires, motivations, opportunities, etc.

As the prospect moves down/through the funnel, engaging with the brand, the topics of conversation should become more relevant to the brand’s products/service offering, ultimately initiating the conversion from prospect to a lead to customer.

As a real world example, let’s look at HubSpot, the marketing automation company that mastered content marketing and coined the term “inbound marketing.” A random sample of their library provides an illuminating example of their content in the content vortex.

While marketing automation is their core business, their context vortex contains a wide-range of topics:

One must assume that through primary market research to develop their personas, HubSpot identified productivity as a key pain point and craft beer as an interest for at least one of their personas.

How to Determine the Topics of Conversations

Step one - Listen: engage in conversations with your customers. What are the topics that they talk about? A good research methodology is a narrative interview, where the participant is asked to tell a story and the details are captured. Listen for trends and consistencies in the narratives to determine content topics.

Step two – Listen some more: start inside your organization and interview sales teams and customer care reps. What “stories” do they hear from prospects and customers? Again, look for trends.

Step three – Harvest all research: read through all existing customer research and feedback tools. A great place is any research around brand development activities – how did the brand promise and tag line develop?

The digital marketing team at a home loan brand started the company’s first blog. The brand promise was “get home with less stress” and emerged after extensive market research with prospective homebuyers. Content ideation sessions started by brainstorming what is stressful about a new home, outside of the mortgage process. Tangential topics around packing, hunting for a new house, selling the existing house, changing jobs, relocating to a new city, starting a new school, leaving friends and family, etc. filled the blog calendar.

In addition to original content, aim for varied content and include content curated by reliable sources to fill the calendar, publish on the channels, and measure effectiveness. As in the home loans example, by “sponsoring” the non-mortgage related topics helped reduce the amount of stress before, during, and after the mortgage process.

To maximize the ROI on content creation, think “write once, use lots.” Create the “big buckets” of content topics and then iterate across different content formats – posts, checklists, games, videos, ebooks, white papers, infographics, etc.

If during the research, a topic emerges that is far from the brand relevance or editorial charter of the brand, consider co-creating and co-branding with a relevant, respected source.

How to Know if the Content Vortex is Working?

Measure, measure, measure. What is the prospect’s brand awareness at the top and bottom of the funnel, is the content being searched for (search volume), is the content being consumed (clicked, read, downloaded, shared, commented on, etc.), and is the content vortex shepherding the user down the funnel closer to the core business content and ultimately, was it an interaction with the content that led to a conversion? Key metrics are the percentage of customers that were influenced or were originated by marketing.

The proliferation of digital channels will continue to drive the demand for content and superior content marketers who not only find engaging in digital conversations with prospects and customers rewarding, but will also find the strategy to create a context vortex a measurably effective marketing strategy.

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