Three types of content you need to know about (to help you do a better job)

by Rob Johnson
11 December 2020

Formative experiences can affect the rest of your life. That guy who bullied you in high school can make you suspicious and distrustful in relationships. That group of mean girls who laughed at you can warp your self-image for years. And the client who asked you to do some content marketing then made you write a press release has truly fucked up your understanding of content.

I’ve spent hours of my life rewriting content by great writers who have filed press releases. They are too focused on a product or service, and not on a reader’s problems or wishes.

But professional writers, and especially trained journalists, have all the skills to create great, powerful and useful content. They’re just not always briefed properly. Or they’re briefed by people who don’t understand how content marketing works.

Content should be a process of seduction, not a sell. And seduction rarely works if you barrel up and put the hard word on someone without warning. A press release is the marketing equivalent of the hard word.

As a service to myself—so I never have to rewrite copy—I’d like to tell you about the three types of content. These three classifications are TOFU, MOFU and BOFU. Clarifying at the start whether you’re writing TOFU, MOFU or BOFU content will save yourself, your client and your editor a lot of grief. It will also help you do a much better job.

Where I stole this from

I have stolen the classifications from Hubspot. Hubspot make marketing automation software that costs a bomb and is COMPLETELY USELESS without proper content. So Hubspot also spends a lot of time, money and effort training the users of their product. That’s why they came up with the classifications.

They’re also known under other names, but I’ll explain those in a bit.

I’ve nicked their classifications because they’re easy to remember and easy to understand. TOFU content is short for Top-of-the-funnel. MOFU is short for Middle-of-the-funnel. BOFU is short for Bottom-of-the-funnel.

The fun part of the funnel

What funnel? I hear you ask. The funnel is another jargon-y term for a marketing and sales process. So the top of the funnel is all about prospects, or potential clients—about building an audience. The middle is about leads—an audience who have expressed some interest in your product. The bottom is about conversion—leading that audience member to a sale.

Note that none of those steps are about making sales. Content doesn’t make sales.

When content marketers think about articles (or any other type of content), they think about what they want it to achieve. What the next step in a customer’s journey is once they’ve read that bit of content. You would think that next step would be they want that customer to buy something. But you’d be wrong.

The top of the funnel

The audience at the top of a sales funnel—the TOFU—are just going about their lives, dealing with their own shit, and do not know or care who your client is. They are focused on the one thing everyone loves to focus on—themselves.

Any organisation that is doing content well will want more TOFU content than any other type. That is because they will have more prospects than customers. If it’s the other way around—they have more customers than prospects—their business will go backwards and die.

TOFU content is also called ‘awareness’ content. It is content about your audience, their problems and aspirations. It should be designed to build that audience—to let them know you see them and understand them. It should be about them. NOT about products someone wants to sell them.

The middle of the funnel

The audience in the middle of a funnel—for MOFU content—has locked eyes with your client across a crowded room (metaphorically speaking). They have raised a quizzical eyebrow. They’re interested. But they’re not sold yet.

MOFU content is the hardest thing to get right, because your client wants it to lead in a straight line to the bottom of the sales funnel. They wanna close the deal. But the reader isn’t ready for that.

MOFU content should be about continuing the dance. Its primary aim is to keep readers in the sales funnel. Not to move them down it. This is what makes MOFU content so tricky. The more personalised it is for the reader, the more powerful it is. MOFU content can mention brands or products, but only in a balanced fashion. It’s more important at this point to establish trust than to make a sale.

The bottom of the funnel

BOFU content ties the reader’s problem to the product as a solution. That’s what press releases do, although press releases rarely acknowledge the customer at all. It’s what ads do (or try to do).

BOFU content is often also called ‘branded content’, because it’s got a brand associated with it.

The reader who has made their way to this content is clearly researching a solution to their problem. And if they trust you (or your client), they’re almost at the point where they’re prepared to pay for that solution. BOFU content shouldn’t need to put the hard word on readers, because by then the reader is ready to buy. And while no-one likes being sold something, everyone likes buying something.

Claim your spot in the funnel

Next time you get a content brief from someone, one of the first questions you should ask is where this content sits in the funnel. Is it TOFU, or awareness, content? Is it MOFU content, targeted at the awkward middle of the funnel? Or is it BOFU—do you want the reader to walk away ready for a sale?

The answer should guide you to either doing a better job or getting more work. Because if they say, ‘This is awareness content’, you can identify and discuss any weakness in the brief. If the answer is, ‘I want sales out of this’, then ask them what the other content leading into it is. If there’s no other content leading in, you’ve got an opportunity to pitch more TOFU and MOFU content. That leads to more commissions, which leads to more cash.

And if the answer is, ‘I just need some content, I don’t care’, then run a mile. Because they’re not going to pay you, or they’ll pay you crap, or they’ll make you rewrite everything into a bland press release then blame you when it doesn’t work.

Were you aware of these types of content or is this news to you? Will it make it easier to take on content marketing jobs going forward? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Rob Johnson
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