When your top-of-funnel activities are attracting low-quality leads into the funnel, every other stage of your customer journey is negatively impacted.
That said, developing a top-of-funnel marketing strategy that targets only high-quality, quick-to-convert, destined-for-advocacy leads is far easier said than done, especially in industries experiencing tightened budgets and skyrocketing advertising costs.
In this article, we’ll explore what top-of-funnel is, the benefits and goals for top-of-funnel marketing, and how to build a strategy that sets you up for success in the long term.
What is top-of-funnel marketing?
The conversion funnel comprises of three key stages: Awareness (top of funnel or TOFU), consideration (middle of funnel or MOFU), and conversion (bottom of funnel or BOFU).
At the top of the funnel, your prospects may not be aware of your brand or they may have a loose understanding of who you are, but little familiarity with your products, services, or what makes you different from your competitors.
The goal at this stage is to capture the attention of potential customers and tell them a little about who you are and what you have to offer. From there, the goal is to turn them into a lead.
Marketers face three major challenges at this stage:
Reaching the right audience
Reaching a large enough audience within their budget
Attributing leads and revenue to the right TOFU activities
While every part of the funnel is important, TOFU marketing is a necessity. Without the brand awareness and lead generation it contributes to, you’ll wind up with a funnel containing very few, low-quality leads who don’t understand your brand or your product.
Goals for a top-of-funnel marketing strategy
When putting together your TOFU marketing strategy, there are two key goals:
1. Brand awareness and alignment
It’s not just about making people aware of your brand name, it’s aligning your brand with the right industries and individuals by speaking to the specific problem your product or service solves and communicating your brand values and mission.
Although tactics like ads on social or landing pages promoted through search ads are generally directly attributable to lead generation, the brand awareness work that comes before that action is taken is just as important to conversion. Measuring brand awareness through other means or setting up a time-decay or position-based attribution model will help you track performance and set goals for improvement.
Metrics to track:
2. Improve lead generation and quality
Lead generation is the end goal of all your top-of-funnel marketing activities. When you’ve built up your brand awareness and reached the right prospect with the right messaging, the hope is that your prospect will hand over their email and become a marketing-qualified lead (MQL).
Generating a high volume of leads is important — the reality is, not all will go on to become customers, and you need to keep feeding the funnel to continue to grow your business. But if quantity is coming at the cost of quality, your cost per lead will suffer along with the health of your business. This is where developing a data-backed strategy around TOFU marketing to your ideal customers is crucial — it will help you attract the kind of customers who go on to have a high lifetime value, benefitting your business’ bottom line.
Metrics to track:
Best practices for top-of-funnel marketing
With the two goals and metrics above in mind, follow these best practice tips for building or refreshing your top-of-funnel marketing strategy:
1. Understand who your ICP is and their journey to conversion
Attracting high-quality, quick-to-convert leads requires you to have a deep understanding of who your ICP is, what makes them sit up and take notice, the challenges they face, and where they spend their time online.
The more detailed your ICP, the better. It can help to identify a segment of existing customers who match your ICP, and use their journey to conversion as an indication of the journey your new prospects could take. Exercises like day-in-the-life mapping can also be hugely beneficial here as they can reveal habits, challenges, and needs that competitors may have missed.
Once you have built a detailed profile and customer journey, you can create content that demonstrates how your brand, products, and services fit into their life and you can target them on the platforms they frequent.
2. Focus on education first
At this early stage, it’s best to avoid aggressive or pushy sales language, and instead focus on brand awareness through education.
If you’re targeting the right person, the more your prospective customer understands who your brand is, the challenges you solve for them, and your unique proposition, the more likely they are to not just convert but to become a top customer with a high lifetime value.
3. Include one, strong, clear CTA with every message
Although you do not want to push a sale, it’s important to clearly communicate what the most logical next step is if a prospect is interested in your message or offer.
Sometimes, in the case of an eBook campaign or a webinar sign-up, this will be obvious. In other cases, like general product messaging shared via paid placements or blog content, it may not be so clear. Mapping out your ICP’s path to conversion will help you identify what the most logical next step is: It could be as simple as landing on a feature page for your product or signing up for your newsletter.
4. Reduce friction and remove speed bumps
At this early stage, people are not willing to stick around when the path gets bumpy. Move through the entire journey yourself and remove any friction including complicated form fields, multiple CTA buttons on one page, confusing messaging, or over-use of pop-ups and notifications.
5. Build reports before activity starts
Creating a report or dashboard for any new TOFU marketing activity even begins will ensure you iron out any tracking issues or attribution modeling errors before your activity starts. The sooner you have a clean, clear report you can work with, the sooner you can learn from it and begin to optimize activities to bring in high-quality leads.
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3 examples of always-on, top-of-funnel marketing tactics
Top-of-the-funnel marketing strategies often include short, sharp bursts of activity like advertising or rebranding/repositioning campaigns, events, or partnerships. These will give your funnel some fuel in the short term, but it’s the always-on activities that steadily drip new leads into your funnel year-round to keep your business humming.
These three always-on tactics will help you ensure your funnel is full and free from major leaks.
1. Search engine optimization and content marketing
Despite all the changes we’ve seen in the world of SEO, there are still two universal truths: First, optimizing your website for search is absolutely essential in a world where most prospects will be using SERPs as their first go-to when they are searching for solutions. And, second, a strong content marketing strategy will help you rank in the SERPs while building awareness around who your brand is and what you offer.
Here are some examples of SEO and content marketing in action:
Optimized product pages
A well-optimized blog including how-to and thought leadership content like Ortto’s The Pulse
Videos including case studies and testimonials
Social media content and videos
Press releases and guest posts
Podcasts including being a guest on an existing podcast
Influencer or partnership content including guest posting
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2. Landing pages and PPC campaigns
One of the fastest ways to build brand awareness and increase the volume of leads is to amplify dedicated landing pages via strategic pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns on social and search.
Your landing page should communicate who your brand is, your products and services, and potentially offer a lead magnet (more on that in the next section). It should include clear messaging, testimonials, and simple but effective creative to quickly and clearly get the message across (more on landing page optimization here).
A successful PPC campaign will target your ICP, potentially using lookalike (LAL) targeting, with strong, on-brand creative and messaging and a clear CTA. If using search, think carefully about the keywords you target and who you will be competing against on that page.
PPC platforms could include:
Social media platforms including LinkedIn or Instagram
Contextual targeting platforms like Taboola and Outbrain
Video platforms including YouTube and OTT (over-the-top) streaming services
3. Lead magnets
Lead magnets are anything you can dangle in front of a prospect to convince them to hand over their email and become a lead. They are generally promoted through lead generation campaigns, organic channels including social media and your blog, or partnerships and paid campaigns.
It’s important that your lead magnets are genuinely useful to your prospects, and not just a reiteration of something you have freely available on your site.
Lead magnets can be especially useful when you are retargeting people who have engaged with your content or visited your site. They place you top of mind and help nudge a newly brand-aware prospect to become a lead.
Interactive product tours
Annual reports or whitepapers
Webinars or events
Templates or scripts
Calculators and other interactive tools
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Without a healthy top-of-funnel, you can’t expect the rest of your funnel to deliver results. Use specific targeting, strong messaging, and clear CTAs to generate high-quality leads who understand the problem your business is solving, and your entire business will benefit.