What Is Top Of The Funnel Marketing?

What is top of the funnel marketing?

In marketing articles, I often see the terms top of the funnel content, middle of the funnel content, and bottom of the funnel content. What exactly is this about? More importantly, why should you organize your content in this way?

This is going to be the first of four articles focusing on each of these areas. The fourth article will be on what I call through the funnel content which is often missed by organizations.

As I go through each area of funnel content, I will not only talk about the different content types for each area of the funnel but how the PESO model fits into this as well.

For those who are new to the PESO model it stands for:

  • Paid Media
  • Earned Media
  • Shared Media
  • Owned Media

I won’t be going into great detail on the PESO model here so you might want to read this article to get up to speed.

Today we will start with top of the funnel content. I’m going to break this article down into five areas:

  • Top of the Funnel Meaning
  • Top of the Funnel Leads
  • The Objectives of Top of the Funnel Content
  • Top of the Funnel Content
  • Top of the Funnel Marketing

We have a lot to cover so if you’re ready, let’s get started.

Top of the Funnel Meaning

I’ve talked about three different ideas on how to view your prospective customers and their journey: the marketing funnel, the buyer’s journey, and the five levels of awareness. These three concepts all have areas of divergence as well as their own idea of how somebody goes from a prospect to somebody who purchases. They are important to how and what you should think about when creating content.

First things first. You need to be aware that if you googled marketing funnel or buyer’s journey you find all sorts of different models of what they could look like. Some are simple and others are extremely complex. For the sake of our conversation, we need to start with a common meaning of what these concepts look like.

I’m defining the marketing funnel as:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Retention
  • Evangelism

Awareness and interest are what we will consider as top of the funnel.

I define the buyer’s journey as:

  • Awareness
  • Research
  • Purchase
  • Advocacy

In this model, awareness will be of primary interest for top of the funnel content.

The five levels of awareness concept, developed by Eugene Schwartz in his book Breakthrough Advertising, never change. He defines it as:

  • Unaware
  • Problem Aware
  • Solution Aware
  • Product Aware
  • Most Aware

As you can see, his primary concern is a person’s level of awareness. I’ll talk about that more as we go along. For this article, we will be most interested in the unaware and problem aware.

Much of the marketing activities you see on a daily basis are focused on awareness. This makes sense. You need people to be aware of your business/organization before they will ever do business with you.

Awareness is just the first step which is why it is a top of the funnel activity. You are actively trying to get people into the funnel or to take the first step in a buyer’s journey.

The five levels of awareness address this by starting with the unaware. The people in this phase have never heard of your company or product/service. They aren’t even aware they have a problem that might need to be solved. The top of the funnel for the levels of awareness also includes the problem aware. These people know they have a problem that needs to be solved but aren’t sure if it can be fixed.

Top of the Funnel Leads

When you focus on top of the funnel activities, a primary objective is to create awareness. This aligns nicely with the levels of awareness.

You are trying to target the unaware and those who are problem aware. These are the people who have no idea you exist.

Though they are both in the same place in regards to knowing who you are (really, not knowing who you are), they are in slightly different places in regard to how they might view you. This is going to require some subtleties in your approach.

While the problem aware are more likely to pay attention because they are hoping there might be a solution to their problem, the unaware are much less likely to pay attention to you. This is because they simply don’t see why they should listen to you because they don’t have a problem to be solved.

Keep this in mind as your thinking about top of the funnel content.

This brings us to…

Top of the Funnel Objectives

It’s key that you know why you are creating top of the funnel content. As I’ve already said, a primary objective is to increase awareness. You need people to know who you are.

Think of it as an introduction. You are introducing yourself and trying to create enough of an impression so they want to come back.

Here’s an example I’ve used many times.

Around 2012 I was looking for some public relations (PR) and marketing blogs to follow. I became aware of Spin Sucks through social media. I followed them on Twitter but didn’t go their site much. I would visit maybe four to five times a year.

They publish Monday – Friday. That’s around 260 (probably more as they used to post twice a day)posts a year and I showed up five times a year. I was paying attention to less than 1% of the content they were putting out.

I had an awareness of Spin Sucks but that was where it stopped. Had I followed more closely I would have found that it wasn’t just a blog. They focus on development for PR and marketers.

I was at the problem aware stage. I wanted to improve my marketing and PR skills but I didn’t see Spin Sucks as a resource that could solve my problem. The blog posts that I was seeing weren’t resonating with me enough to look deeper.

Fast forward to 2016. I saw a tweet by Spin Sucks for an article that had been written for the blog. It looked interesting so I followed the link. The article resonated and it pushed me into the next phase which was interest. Not just in information but what Spins Sucks was all about.

You want to pull your top of the funnel leads past awareness into a high level of interest so they look deeper into your organization as a potential solution to a problem.

I started looking at older blog posts which also resonated and I thought, “This is a gold mine. I can’t miss anything they are writing about.” I signed up for the newsletter to make sure I wouldn’t miss anything.

As time went on, my interest in them led to me discovering that they could help me solve my problem. They have been one of my top resources ever since and I credit Gini Dietrich and the Spin Sucks team with getting me on the right path professionally (just don’t tell them, I don’t want their heads to get too big).

As Jay Acunzo likes to say, “It’s not about who shows up. It’s about who stays.”

Your objectives at this point are to create awareness but also to create enough interest that people come back.

Top of the Funnel Content

Let’s be honest. Not everybody who visits your site for the first time is going to buy. Depending on what your selling it might be incredibly rare if not unheard of. They don’t know who you are and they need to trust you before doing business with you. I read Spin Sucks for a year before I gave them any money.

Not all content is or should be the same. The type of content that you create for the top of the funnel is going to be different than the content that is aimed at people in the middle of the funnel or the bottom of the funnel.

So, what should top of the funnel content look like?

It’s mainly going to be content that tries to help. It’s going to be educational content that focuses on a specific issue, challenge, or solution.

The content needs to be helpful because you’re also trying to establish expertise, authority, and trust. This is not only important for the people you want to connect with but for search engine optimization (SEO) but that’s another article. For now, keep it in mind because it’s really important.

Most of your content is, or least should be, owned media. This is where you own the content and the channel.

There are only two things that you own: Your website and your email list. That’s it. So, your owned media content is going to fall into one of these two.

If they have come to your website they have shown some interest so, as we already have talked about, you want them to come back.

Most of your top of the funnel content will be on your blog, if you have one. However, it can be in other places on your site. It’s not just restricted to a blog.

The home page of your site is an example of a landing page. This gives high-level information about your organization that is intended to create enough interest to get people to dig deeper into your website.

If people aren’t coming to you to read through an article on a blog, chances are really good the first impression you make on them will be the home page.

Pages that give people more information on your organization, typically called an about page, is also a good example of top of the funnel content.

Any page (or article) that you have created that gives information designed to create some interest that makes people want to read more on your site is top of the funnel content. If you’re achieving this, they will want to see more which is where you’re email list starts to come into play.

Top of the Funnel Marketing

Marketing (and any PR activities) is about creating awareness for your content. You can create content all day long but ultimately you have to promote. In other words, create awareness for that content.

You have probably heard the term content marketing. This what you’re doing.

You have multiple options for marketing content. You can use paid media (advertisements), shared media, and earned media. When use your owned media along with all these options is when your employing PESO.

Let’s look at an example. You have a blog post. It can be shared on social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can do some light re-writes and pitch it to other blogs and media outlets to help create awareness and interest with the intention of creating backlinks that push people back to your website. Last, you can pay for an ad that runs on Facebook that promotes the article.

However, you can also use owned media to promote. Remember when I mentioned your email list? This is going to be more valuable to you than paid, earned, or shared media because you own it.

If people have shown enough interest, they won’t want to miss anything so they will sign up for your email list. This list will be extremely valuable as you pull people towards a sale. I’ll talk more about this in the coming weeks.

The marketing should create awareness and enough interest to pull people to the website where you are using top of the funnel content to pull people to the middle of the funnel.

This is will be the next step and what I’ll talk about next week.

A Quick Review

We covered a lot of ground today. You might feel like your head is starting to spin but don’t worry because I’m going to distill this post down into five points.

This is what you should remember about top of the funnel content:

  1. It is targeting those who are unaware or problem aware.
  2. Content should be educational. It focuses on a specific issue, challenge, or solution.
  3. The objective is to create enough interest that people are pulled to the middle of the funnel.
  4. It’s not about who comes. It’s about who stays.
  5. Top of the funnel marketing should create awareness and enough interest so that people will click through to your website so you can accomplish points two and three.

That’s it. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, drop them in the comments below.

*Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Shane Carpenter
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