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  • Writer's pictureRhys Wesley

Funnel vs. flywheel for content marketing: why not both?

“The marketing funnel has done terrific work his whole career. Let’s throw him a great retirement party. Let’s get him the gold watch. He’s retiring down in Naples, Florida. Please join me in congratulating the funnel on his permanent retirement from the sales and marketing business.”

Those were the exact words HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan shared during the prestigious INBOUND 2018 keynote speech.

Brian highlighted the immediate need for a better marketing framework that relies upon leveraging satisfied customers—something which a standard marketing funnel is not capable of.

This is probably the reason why HubSpot has made a quick transition from the funnel to the flywheel. While new frameworks are always welcome, most marketers, salespeople, and SEOs might disagree that the marketing funnel is dead.

Yes, the tactics and dynamics may have changed over the years. But funnel and flywheels have very different purposes, and both can be used very effectively in your content marketing. One doesn’t diminish the value of the other.

But, before you jump on the buzzword bandwagon, let’s understand what has changed over the years and how a funnel and flywheel will help you move forward (before you discover a 3-point action plan to implement both in your business.)

How funnel tactics and dynamics have changed

A marketing funnel is a visualization framework to help convert strangers. It consists of well-defined stages wherein you’re expected to attract, convert, close, and delight.

Attract - The funnel attracts leads by providing helpful marketing content that gives strangers what they seek.

Convert - You turn these visitors into leads who can be nurtured through compelling content.

Close - At this stage, most leads are open to learning and looking to solve their problems. This offers an opportunity to present carefully formulated content like white papers, product demos, webinars, and so on.

Delight - The aim is to create delighted customers who are so excited by consuming your content and customer service, they become promoters of your offerings. The idea is to offer them additional value so they keep reaching new goals.

So has the conventional funnel changed?

With the advent of technology and more people getting used to the online world, some tactics have become crucial through every funnel stage (not just at the top!)

SEO, blogging, social media, and all other channels and tactics play a role and are no longer restricted to one particular funnel stage. You can’t limit their usage at a specific phase. It is impossible to fit them in a bucket. The funnel has changed that much.

So the original funnel still works. The only minor change is that most specific tactics and content formats are not restricted to pretty little slots like in the past.

How flywheel tactics and dynamics have changed

Funnels are still serving well. But, HubSpot felt that the conventional funnel placed way too much focus on leads while treating the customer as an afterthought.

To correct this, HubSpot created the flywheel model. The idea is to remove friction from the customer experience in a quest to turn these customers into happy promoters. These delighted promoters would ideally share their stories with their network to attract new visitors to your site.

Then your marketing content can do the heavy lifting by engaging new customers. Your post-sale customer service turns these existing customers into fans; the cycle begins anew. Your job is to just delight and aid momentum.

According to HubSpot, the “delight” stage becomes a catalyst for the “attract” stage. The way you treat your customers affects what your new prospects hear about your brand.

The flywheel also combines the “convert/close” stages from the funnel into one “engage” stage. The focus is more on how to turn your existing customers into delighted fans.

So has the conventional flywheel changed?

HubSpot might have business reasons to introduce the flywheel, which they’re entitled to. The only way you could understand their flywheel move is that many marketing teams have underinvested in growing relationships with current customers in a quest to reach prospects. Hence, the flywheel help companies integrate the marketing content at all touchpoints.

The concept of a flywheel is relatively new and has not changed much over the years. In fact, the harshest critics believe that a flywheel is just a new visual—kind of an extra view of a sideways funnel. That’s not entirely true. The flywheel is a great answer and brilliant framework that doesn’t diminish the value of the funnel.

A word of caution before moving on–don’t make this mistake

Customers are not just a result or an outcome. So your goal, whether you’re in a flywheel or funnel, is to create value. Your focus should be on solving their long-term problems.

Generate an impact through quality content in their life. And if you create that impact, you’re creating fans who drive more strangers in.

The 3 steps to combine the funnel and the flywheel

#1 - First, fix your funnel

You begin with the attract stage at the top of the funnel. People might not be prepared to have focused interactions yet.

So give strangers what they seek. Then nurture through compelling content. Solve their problem in the “close” stage and delight by delivering additional value at the bottom of the funnel.

That’s an opportunity to create targeted content based on the level they’re at. You pick the right content and keywords to move them to the next stage.

Every tactic or channel, be it SEO, email, social, should be stage appropriate. This is where a funnel perfectly illustrates your next move. It is still the perfect device for indicating the direction of your marketing process.

For instance, it is easy to visually translate the strategies and base your whole planning process around the basic funnel. Teams are also used to estimate numbers and conversion rates, making the funnel a beneficial budgeting tool. It is still the best visual guide to simplify chaos and contribute to essential planning.

#2 – Now fix your flywheel

By nature, flywheels are built to adopt a process and replicate it to achieve goals over extended periods. So you begin with your goals and create a sustainable process.

Here’s an example of how SEO-optimized content fits into the equation. Within the flywheel model, you could use SEO in the following ways:

Attract: Use keyword research to get in front of potential customers with helpful content when your audience needs answers. For instance, you can maintain a library of educational content.

Engage: Engage your audience with multiple pieces of SEO-optimized content. For instance, you can utilize targeted email marketing campaigns with blog content.

Delight: When prospects get in the habit of learning something new from you as they’re researching, they’ll start viewing your brand as a trusted resource. You could create highly specific use cases based content to continue to educate current customers so they can reap more value from your offerings.

Content can be used as a vehicle to generating leads and delight customers. This way, you won’t miss out on the vast benefits you can realize when customers shout your praises from the rooftops. Here’s a terrific example of an SEO-optimized content flywheel from SparkToro.

Just keep this SEO-optimized content flywheel spinning, and you get to create better relationships with and experiences for your customers, at all stages.

#3 - Maintain the momentum

All you need to do is maintain the flywheel momentum by managing,

1. The weight of the wheel (e.g., exceptional customer service experience at every stage that builds your reputation.)

2. How fast you spin it (e.g., the quantity of high-quality content you can deliver.)

3. The friction (e.g., ongoing customer satisfaction and post-sale experience.)

Interestingly, the linear funnel and the circular flywheel do the same thing–create a focused marketing plan designed to produce customers who are delighted with your brand.

A funnel is suitable for indicating direction, and flywheels work well with formulating the correct repeatable systems to reach your goals at distinct stages of the conventional marketing funnel.

Concluding thoughts

As the digital mediums become more noisy, crowded, your current customers are looking more and more valuable and a great starting point for future growth. Both funnel and flywheel can help you gain that leverage.

The funnel will help you recognize the journey that strangers take before they reach you. You’ll learn the best way to interact with them at various stages.

Flywheels can help you build momentum and run fast. You can do the right tasks at every given moment to help create a scalable method to smooth-out your moves.

Hopefully, you’ve got those fundamentals down, and these insights have made your brain buzzing with ideas. Now is the time to experiment with your marketing processes. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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