The Funnel is a frankly pathetic metaphor for the way marketers want buyers to move from stranger to prospect to lead to customer to advocate.
Problem is, it’s still how most people plan their marketing content.
As Velocity’s Doug Kessler pointed out in his inimitable way, funnels tend to have gravity on their side, and aren’t, on the whole, particularly leaky. (What goes in the top of a funnel is sure to come out of the end pretty soon… if only sales funnels were so reliable.)
The Funnel model is so limited, in fact, that Workbrands would rather talk about a water park, giving buyers options, routes, support and the chance to ride more than once. Sounds like fun to us.
In truth, The Funnel is a 92-year-old* cockroach that simply refuses to die. Limitations or not, it’s still the model everyone uses. It’s clear, it’s simple and – ahem – it makes for a cracking board game.
And that’s fine(ish).
But when you use The Funnel to plan your marketing content – as a lot of marketers do – you’re bound to miss some fairly important stuff.
TOFU, MOFU and BOFU are only half the story
Let’s recap. It’s common for content marketers planning an editorial calendar to try to cover the whole funnel with lovely content:
TOFU The top of the funnel. Prospects barely even know who you are, let alone want to buy from you. Your job is to get into their consideration set, get their details and start a conversation.
TOFU tactics include: thought leadership blogs, social media, slideshare rants, infographics
MOFU The middle of the funnel. The prospect has realised they have a problem, and it’s one you can probably solve. They might be putting together a shortlist of vendors.
MOFU tactics include: ebooks, case studies, workbooks, videos, “how to” blogs
BOFU The bottom of the funnel – now you’re selling. Assets need to be carefully aligned with sales, and focused towards building a business case, helping prospects through practicalities, and ultimately winning the contract.
BOFU tactics include: whitepapers, checklists, comparison charts, buyers’ guides
All very important, and very useful. But we know the funnel is just part of the content marketing story – the inbound bit – and, like Joe Pulizzi said, that isn’t enough.
If you’re focusing only on TOFU, MOFU and BOFU, you don’t have all the content you need. So let’s meet their charmingly-named cousins…
Say hello to PREFU, REFU and POFU
Most of the people you’ll do business with in the medium to long term are not in your funnel right now. Some have already been through, converted (hurrah), and are customers. Others have just left it… or maybe they’re nowhere near it just yet.
These contacts are where next year’s revenue is coming from. So what kinds of content will you give them now?
PREFU – people who are nowhere near your funnel (yet)
Some companies aren’t in the market for what you’re selling. Maybe they’re not big enough or at that stage of maturity yet. Perhaps they haven’t even noticed the pain that you solve. Could be they simply can’t afford you just now.
They’re not leads – in fact, they’re not even suspects yet. And in a world of limited resources, sales can’t talk to many people in that category… but marketing can.
If you’re interesting (dare I say it, even entertaining) and demonstrably helpful, expert and informed, a little marketing content can go a long way towards building awareness, and a good impression, in the hearts and minds of people on the fringes of your market, who might be customers later.
(When I first saw this thing of beauty, I wasn’t even close to thinking about buying security software. When that day arrived, Sophos didn’t have to try too hard to win my business.)
Good PREFU (Pre-Funnel) content might include: broad, helpful reference content for a sector, genuinely interesting thought leadership, and support to help people grow to a point where they might need you.
REFU – or the dark art of staying friends with your ex
As we’ve established, your funnel has holes in it. Lots of them. Face it: it’s more like a funnel-shaped colander. The point is, there are many reasons why a prospect mightn’t turn into a sale.
Maybe there were internal changes. Or perhaps the budget got used up. Who knows, they might have even (whisper it quietly) chosen a competitor instead this time. One way or another, the sale isn’t happening – but that doesn’t mean they’ll never be in your market in future. After all, haven’t they shown they’re just the sort of company who might buy from you??
The question now is how to get your brand into prime position next time around – to keep in touch, keep building engagement, and eventually get them back into the funnel once more. That’s where your REFU content comes in.
Effective REFU (Return-to-the-Funnel) content depends on the reason you lost the sale: hints, tips and guides to help when a new incumbent’s honeymoon period ends, or assets to help your contact build a better business case. Use data you’ve collected but, crucially, respect the decision your contact has made – don’t be pushy.
POFU – they’ve bought from you. Well done. What now?
The most neglected bit of content marketing – arguably, any marketing – is what happens after the sale. How do you a turn a one-off customer into a fruitful, long-term relationship – and an ambassador for your brand in turn?
Among all the many kinds of marketing content we’re asked for, almost none is aimed at existing customers – that’s left to account management teams. It doesn’t seem to compute that – just maybe – they need just as much marketing support as sales.
Who’s done the most to prove they’re the kinds of customer who’d buy from you? The people who already have. So keep them happy, help them to make the absolute most of their purchase, broaden their relationship with you, and watch the repeat business, upsell opportunities and referrals roll in.
(If in doubt: dig into your data, and compare leads’ conversion rates by their source. If you’re not more likely to convert a referral than anything else, I’ll buy a hat and eat it.)
POFU (Post-Funnel) content needn’t be rocket science: newsletters, ideas, updates, user guides and events. Build relationships, and an interactive community to foster a sense of belonging… involve your customers in content creation, too.
What works for you?
How do you make sure your content covers all eventualities – and what kinds of content work best? We’d love to hear your PREFU, REFU and POFU ideas (or names for other bits of the funnel we might have missed… do your worst!).
Drop us a line on Twitter.
*Yep, the idea of the sales funnel first appeared in a bond sales book in 1924.