If you haven’t heard it before, “top of the funnel” almost sounds like a roller-coaster you’d ride at an amusement park. To experienced marketers, though, it describes the beginning of a journey that takes customers in, around and through all the things they need to know as they start to get interested in a company’s products and services.
Top of the funnel (or TOFU) content might not seem like a high priority when compared to other materials, like spec sheets or detailed buyer’s guides that help sales teams close more deals near the middle or bottom of the funnel. As the term “funnel” implies, effective marketing means capturing the interest of a wide variety of prospects first, winnowing them down into a group of more likely buyers, then arming them with information to make a purchasing decision.
TOFU content ensures that a company is reaching the largest addressable market possible. Even though a significant portion of that audience may never become actual customers, marketers know better than to dismiss them. After all, those who consume TOFU content may still wind up influencing sales by passing on what they’ve learned to colleagues and peers in other companies, or take what they’ve learned with them when they move to another firm. TOFU content is never wasted if it’s powerful enough to make people want to hear more.
The trickiest part of creating TOFU content for many organizations is moving away from a marketing approach that consists of “Me, Me, Me.” In other words, TOFU content is not just a form of advertising, where the underlying message is about the brand and the quality it can bring to the market. Instead, TOFU content is laser-focused on empowering its audience with stories that inform, educate or inspire -- whether they wind up becoming customers or not. It places the audience’s best interests above all else, knowing that it will indirectly build greater trust in the brand behind it.
All this means that, in some ways, TOFU content can also be a lot of fun to create, because it takes you out of the day-to-day priorities of your firm and allows you to let you subject matter expertise shine.
There’s no limit to the variety of TOFU content a firm can produce, but some of the most common formats include blog posts, social media posts and infographics. You may have produced or are producing some of these already, but keeping the principles of TOFU in mind will focus your efforts to make them more effective.
Here are a few brainstorming games to help generate some story ideas:
Once you have your ideas, it’s time to start storytelling. Producing TOFU content is only part of the strategy, however.
TOFU content won’t count for much if no one bothers to look at it. This is an example of where you need to “market your marketing”. To put it another way, you’re thinking about the places or channels where your audience is most likely spending their time, and then finding a way to publish or promote your content there.
First, think about the channels you effectively ‘own’ as a brand. If you already have a sizable e-mail list, for instance, you have a head start in terms of pushing out blog posts or other TOFU content directly to people who want to receive it. Spend time to test and tweak titles, imagery and other elements that will make them click for more.
Next, consider the channels you don’t completely control but are free to join. Social media is an open playing field, as long as you play by the rules. That means not bombarding someone’s feed with your TOFU content but using it where it makes sense. Examples include answering a question or offering a comment on social with a link back to your blog post or infographic. You can also consider using LinkedIn posts or Twitter chats as a way to get in front of those on social media.
Finally, you can also pay to get more attention for TOFU content through “naive advertising”. This is similar to promoting your own products and services but in this case, you’re driving awareness around content that your audience really needs. At its best, this kind of advertising can sometimes seem less intrusive than traditional advertising and more like a thoughtful offer to help.
Imagine your customers’ eyes as they scroll down the length of a blog post or an infographic. What happens once they get to the end? Your call to action (CTA) is the bridge you need to build between TOFU content and middle-of-the-funnel (or MOFU) content where they get more formally introduced to your products and services.
Don’t mistake a CTA with a hard sell, however. Think of language like, ‘If you found this useful, we have more specific ways to help address this problem.” A phrase like that would be followed by a link to your MOFU content, such as case studies or e-books, that go into greater detail.
Some marketers might prefer to identify what the CTA will be (and the MOFU content) as their first step. There’s nothing wrong with that, but leaving it until the end can be a useful way to assess the results of your TOFU content to ensure it ladders back effectively to something that will lead to sales.
One last thing: while much of your MOFU and bottom-of-the-funnel content might be “evergreen” or relevant for longer periods of time, TOFU content might need to be refreshed or replaced more frequently. After all, your customer’s lives are always changing -- so should the stories you tell to get their attention.