As content marketing matures into a new, legitimate, and innovative set of outreach strategies, I wonder how long it will be before organizations enter a phase of mid funnel crisis.
When associations, corporations, and practitioners are drawn to content marketing, it’s often because they like the idea of building honest, genuine conversations with prospective customers and partners, rather than immediately moving in for the hard sell.
Very early on, we began talking to clients about producing content at more than one level of detail: Initially, because we realized that different people visited a website for different reasons, and with varying attention spans. Later, because we understood that a willingness to read a more complex document or spend longer on a website signaled a deeper level of interest and commitment.
Over time, we began seeing more tips and analytics focused on the mid-funnel, a category of resources that are supposed to bridge the divide between initial contact and final sale. Definitions of the mid-funnel aren’t cast in stone—a quick search reveals several prescriptions for mid-funnel content, some of them directly contradictory. But a common denominator does emerge: This is where organizations use smart content like white papers and case studies, workbooks and how-to guides to draw friends closer and build deeper working relationships.
Delivering Mid Funnel Results
The mid-funnel crisis can rear its head when organizations try to measure the results of a content marketing campaign based on the expectations they would have applied to a more traditional selling blitz.
They may have switched strategies in the first place because they saw diminishing return in yet another undifferentiated e-blast or mail campaign. They still expect measurable results, and rightly so. But they may forget that it takes more time and effort to build lasting results with a more knowledgeable, committed audience.
And if that happens, as in another kind of mid-cycle crisis that comes at a certain stage of maturity, panic can overcome common sense.
I worry that organizations will suffer, and the practice of content marketing will take the blame, if more gradual uptake is seen as a failure, rather than a natural stage in building sustainable partnerships that deliver greater value to everyone involved.
Here are some basic metrics that point to a successful mid-funnel campaign, even if an audience isn’t quite ready to seal the deal:
- If a website’s bounce rate is trending lower, average pages per visit are rising, and the average visit duration is lengthening, there’s something about the site or the campaign that is holding visitors’ attention and deepening their interest.
- If people are answering questions at greater length or paying attention to more complex, in-depth content—against conventional expectation that website visitors will protect their own privacy and jealously guard their time—the campaign is probably doing a good job of building trust.
- If users are coming back for repeat visits, it’s pretty clear they’re becoming more familiar with and reliant on the ideas, information, or message you’ve been trying to deliver.
- By tracking and comparing the traffic to different pages and content themes on your site, you gradually get a clear picture of what your audience is responding to. And from there, you can probably draw some good inferences about why that content matters to them.
It can take years or decades to come up with the first, best use for any new communication tool, so I doubt anyone has figured out all there is to know about mid-funnel content. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing—as long as everyone keeps on innovating and learning, content marketers and their clients will all be better for it.
The risk is that managers will fret about campaigns that seem slow to hit critical mass, fall into mid-funnel crisis, and turn their backs on smart strategies before they can deliver results. Just like that other kind of crisis, the antidote is the maturity to ask the right questions, read the data carefully, and take a longer view of what success might really look like.