How content marketing fuels the demand generation funnel

In continuing our series on demand generation (click here for Part 1), let’s talk about a question that comes up again and again: Are content marketing and demand generation the same thing?

In a word, no. Content marketing is not demand generation. What it is, is the fuel that enables demand generation to work. The two concepts are not the same thing, but without content, demand generation has nothing to offer.

Or, as this gym rat likes to think of it, demand generation is the workout. Content marketing is the protein shake.

Let’s take a closer look at how content marketing fuels the demand generation funnel … and how we can better focus our efforts on the customer’s needs at each stage.

Flipping the WIIFM factor

Back in the old days — y’know, like 15 years ago — the sales process was all about the seller (hence the clever name): Let me tell you about our latest product. Here are 5 reasons why our product is a must-have. Here’s why this Fortune 500 company can’t do without our product. And on and on.

But as David Meerman Scott brilliantly points out, the sales cycle is now the buying cycle. With the customer firmly in the driver’s seat, we need to let go of our interests — with a crowbar, if necessary — and focus on theirs, on what they need to make an informed decision.

That’s where content comes in.

Content and the demand-generation funnel

Every B2B marketer knows that decisions in our world aren’t made in a snap. They’re made over a span of time, in a multi-level process comprising a series of lower-level decisions making its way to the guy or gal who has the final say — a funnel, if you will:

How content marketing fuels the demand generation funnel

So demand generation is all about approaching that funnel armed with laser-targeted content to serve each audience’s needs at each level of the process.

Right place, right time

Content marketing’s role in lead generation is all about placing the right content in front of your audience at exactly the right time. For example, let’s say you’re in the staffing business. Here’s how your content might look at each stage of the demand-generation funnel.

Stage 1: Interest

At this level, your audience is in “research mode,” with the goal of getting general information about how to solve their problems. Because your prospective clients will probably be using search at this stage, you’ll want to focus on high-level, un-gated content that is easily findable, with titles such as “10 Things to Look for in a Staffing Company” or “Hiring a Staffing Company: What You Need to Know Before You Pick Up the Phone.”

Stage 2: Attraction

Here we move one step up the decision chain, so we can get into more detail and begin to differentiate our brand. This is where white papers, e-books, and reports might enter the mix, featuring titles like “Survey: Best Practices Among Staffing Companies” and “Benchmark Report: Spending on Staffing Companies in 2015.”

Stage 3: Engagement

Moving up another step, we can get more granular and focus on our brand’s specializations through tools like webinars, case studies, and assessments. Titles at this stage might be along the lines of “Apples to Apples? How to Decipher Staffing Company Proposals” and “Case Study: How ABC Solved Its Staffing Woes.”

Stage 4: Interaction

At this stage, your prospective client is probably getting close to making a decision, so you’ll want to take your content to a more personal level through a demo or 1-on-1 consultation. You’ll probably want to bring in your sales team at this stage since you’ll be focusing on the client’s specific needs and exploring possible solutions.

What’s fueling your funnel?

As content marketers, one of the biggest mistakes we can make is cranking content out week after week, month after month, without a strategy to tie it to the customer’s buying cycle. We can solve that problem by plugging it into a solid demand-generation strategy.

By creating laser-targeted content and positioning it at each stage of our funnel, we can guide prospective clients through their buying cycle (not our sales cycle, right?) and be the trusted adviser who guides them to the perfect solution to their needs.

How does your team use content to fuel your demand generation funnel? Tell us about it in the comments!