Public Relations and the Content Marketing Funnel – Threlkeld Communications

In this blog post, I will address two issues: what does a successful content marketing funnel look like, and what role does digital PR  play in making a content marketing funnel successful?

First, let me address what a content marketing funnel is. According to analyst firm Forrester, on average, a person consumes 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchasing decision. In many cases, these potential buyers are at the very early stages of buying. And particularly the bigger the sale item is, such as a car or a camera, the longer the time it will take for the sale and the more research a prospective buyer is likely to do.

The content marketing funnel identifies the customer journey part of the buying process from start to finish. It’s a systematic way to introduce and nurture new leads and prospects[1] through the buying process, ultimately resulting in buying your product or service.

When it comes to identifying the core components of the content marketing funnel, I’m going to focus on three basic components. These are the Top of the Funnel, Middle of the Funnel, and Bottom of the Funnel. I’m going to spend most of the time talking about the Top of the Funnel in this blog post, but before doing that I’ll give a brief description of what each component is.

Top of the Content Marketing Funnel

The Top of the Funnel is the early-stage part of the buying process where the goal is to capture your audience’s attention. In this stage you typically want to make an impression via some type of value-added content that can answer questions or address specific problems a buyer might have, while helping position your brand or product as a leader in the category. The driving factor behind the Top of the Funnel stage is building brand awareness.

Middle of the Content Marketing Funnel

The Middle of the Funnel stage is where you convert prospects and visitors to potential sales leads. This is the stage where prospective buyers have done their initial research and are beginning to make some sort of soft commitment to your brand. Most often this is in the form of an email address or a phone number. Or some sort of communication channel that bridges the gap between the potential buyer and you.

The key point to make with regards to this stage is that the currency exchanged in the Middle of the Funnel is Trust. When a prospective buyer gives you their email address or phone number in this stage, they do so with the expectations that you – the brand or services provider – will respect their right to privacy and not begin bombarding them with calls or emails right away.

Bottom of the Content Marketing Funnel

The Bottom of the Funnel is the area where your leads are converted into actual customers. Some might say this is where you close the sale, but since that phrase smacks of hard sell techniques, I prefer to say that the Bottom of the Funnel is the place where you and a prospective buyer agree to formalize a relationship through the act of a sale.

Public Relations and the Top of the Content Marketing Funnel

So let’s segue into the discussion on what role Digital Public Relations plays in the content marketing funnel overall. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, Digital Public Relations coverage by definition is nonpaid third-party endorsement of a product or service.

Let me illustrate this further by giving you an example. Let’s say you’re in the market for a new DSLR camera. And let’s say that you are at the very early stages of the buying cycle so you really haven’t done much research or know much about the new cameras on the market.

What’s the first step you might take? If you’re like most buyers — and remember, these are people who may look at almost 12 pieces of content on average before buying — there are two actions you’ll likely take. The first is to talk to friends or friends of friends and get recommendations or insights on the new camera market. This is known as word-of-mouth and because of the trusted relationship component – friends or friends of friends – word of mouth is considered one of the most powerful predictors of eventual new product purchases.

The other action you’re likely to take is to begin doing research outside of your close circle of friends. This research could take many forms but most likely will involve starting with a search on Google for keyword associations related to your new camera purchase.

In addition to a Google search, you might visit the newsstand of your local bookstore and search for photography-related magazines that relate to the new camera purchasing process.

In either case – the Google search or the magazine – both will lead you to read nonpaid third-party editorial coverage, such as a blog with reviews targeting people who are buying a new camera, or a magazine such as a Consumer Reports new camera buyers guide.

So where does the process of Public Relations come in here? In many cases, the third-party editorial coverage that you read in a photography magazine could have been triggered by a pitch to an editor from a public relations professional.

It is this early Top of the Funnel stage where digital public relations efforts and public relations professionals can have a significant impact on what happens further down in the buying cycle. For example, if you’re like most buyers, you will more than likely be influenced by a nonpaid third-party review of a camera prior to buying it.

In the tech world, this editorial review type of coverage is what has driven the popularity of sites such as CNET. The CNET site is heavy with visitors who are doing research on what new tech products to buy, and a lot of the new user visits to CNET has to do with the editorial credibility the brand has built up after years of trustworthy, non-partisan reviews.

The word trustworthy is worth noting here. I define public relations as nonpaid third-party endorsement coverage and it’s the nonpaid component that makes a site like CNET so reliable. CNET editors (and other reputable sites like it) do not take money in exchange for Point Of View reviews or articles.

The editors typically have built up a solid reputation as a source of knowledge for that industry sector or product category, and the fact that they don’t take money for the review gives their editorial a significant amount of weight and relevance. It’s important to note here that, while editorial departments (for the most part) don’t take money as a way to influence reviews or coverage, a traditional practice has been for these sites to sell advertising to fund the editorial direction and content.

And while advertising also falls in the Top of the Funnel category as an influence and awareness-building tactic, I will not be covering advertising as a Top of the Funnel awareness approach in this blog post.

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