Meet my friends – TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU. Was just joking with a colleague the other day that these sales & marketing acronyms sound more like imaginary Dwarf friends. I knew a guy named Dirthead once, but no BOFU; that’s marketing jargon.
- TOFU = Top of Funnel
- MOFU = Middle of Funnel
- BOFU = Bottom of Funnel (also a great name for a dog)
These acronyms were not invented to describe the funnel in your kitchen but pieces of the conceptual funnel in marketing.
And they are often used in content marketing. Thus, TOFU content is used at the “top” of your marketing funnel, and BOFU at the “bottom”. And so on.
The standard thinking in the design of content marketing strategy is to divide your content into these categories, to ensure strategic allocation of resources.
This brings me to the promise I made a week ago, where I said I’d, “explore the anatomy of a content marketing-focused editorial calendar.”
First, though – let me ask a few questions.
Do you hate the term “content” as a descriptor of writing, speaking, creating? I do too. Content is what you put in a jar or a box, not something you create with passion. Yet… it’s also a useful blanket term for the things we create. Jargon is useful and the term content is no exception. So “BOFU content” it is.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, more jargon questions: do you know what content marketing is? And do you know how it differs from content strategy?
I can be pretty sloppy about using these terms interchangeably, so I think it’s worth it now to pause for a moment and define each one.
Content strategy is the systematic production, organization, and management of all forms of content created by a business entity.
The bigger the organization, and the more digitalized our world becomes, the more sense it makes to have coined this early-aughts concept. Information-rich organizations – libraries, manufacturers, medical schools, city governments, large law firms – produce enormous amounts of content without necessarily using it in their marketing.
But even a small organization like mine, with one full-time consultant (yours truly), a pair of advisors, and a handful of part-time contractors, creates content that isn’t necessarily designed to further marketing. Examples: proposals, creative briefs, ideation worksheets, intake forms, etc.
But one function of a content strategy is to evaluate what to repurpose for marketing. For example, I find it necessary to systematically define my own terms (create a dictionary). Et voila – organizational content repurposed for content marketing: https://www.rowanprice.com/dictionary/
Which brings us to content marketing: content designed to further marketing goals – build trust and create clarity by listening, teaching, and guiding.
Quick aside: is the audience for content marketing internal or external? Both. The first person you have to market to is yourself. You have to get clear in your own head on the value you create; you have to guide yourself, you have to trust in your ability to be of service to the people your business helps.
If anything, content marketing is a subset of content strategy, though again, I fall into the same mental trap as many others by using the terms interchangeably.
Back to the anatomy of a content marketing-focused editorial calendar, the easiest way to visualize how you implement a content marketing strategy.
Your editorial calendar is like any other calendar and fits into your work calendar. It tells you exactly when and what kind of content to publish, usually projected out over at least a year-long period. Here’s a very simple example:
- Feb. 4th – publish weekly blog & newsletter article
- Feb. 8th – publish the weekly podcast
- Feb. 8th – distribute podcast announcement via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook
- Feb. 11th – publish weekly blog & newsletter article
- Feb. 15th – publish the weekly podcast
- Feb. 15th – distribute podcast announcement via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook
- Feb. 16th – record and publish monthly webinar
- Feb. 18th – publish weekly blog & newsletter article
- Feb. 22nd – publish the weekly podcast
- Feb. 22nd – distribute webinar and podcast announcement via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook
- Feb. 23rd – publish weekly blog & newsletter article
- Feb. 29th – publish the weekly podcast
- Feb. 29th – distribute podcast announcement via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook
- March 1st – publish the monthly case study
In the above example, we see a one-month excerpt from a fairly ambitious content strategy for a 20-person firm. There are 100-person firms that do less. For smaller firms, this is probably too much.
And we also see, in this snippet of an editorial calendar, various types of content (webinar, podcast, blog post, case study) distributed over multiple mediums (email, blog, social media, maybe iTunes, etc).
But we don’t see a strategy. And that’s partly because the strategy depends on you – on what a position of advantage means for you. Remember, I define strategy as deliberately interlocking ideas that inspire a move to a long-term position of advantage.
If you Google around on content marketing strategy, you’ll start to see more TOFU, MOFU, and BOFU. In other words, you’ll typically see some kind of formula that dictates an allocation of type of content and frequency.
This is the huge influence of Hubspot on the content marketing world. As if the proportions of your types of content had to create a funnel shape. And as if the formula for one company matches that of another. In reality, I can’t tell you what your percentage is without knowing the particulars of your business and your goals.
Nor do I think it makes sense to associate one type of content or type of content distribution as inherently bottom of funnel or top-of-funnel. A podcast or a newsletter isn’t necessarily bottom-of-funnel. It depends on what it’s about – is it loosely related to your business but more likely to get views because it taps something universal (top-of-funnel), or is it very specific about how your business is uniquely equipped to solve a problem (bottom-of-funnel).
Apart from case studies, most types of content, or content channels, can help strengthen every part of your funnel. So don’t get caught up in equating one type of content with top-of-funnel and another with middle-of-funnel.
A concrete example of a content marketing strategy
The PPC and SEO metrics company SpyFu evaluated the content marketing strategy of Drift by evaluating postings to its blog over a two year period. Some of the postings were promotions of non-blog post content: podcasts, webinars, case studies, interviews, events, etc. It then classified all that content into 6 categories – TOFU and a few others that basically comprise BOFU and MOFU.
Based on that research, SpyFu was able to say definitively (using their own metrics tool) that:
- Drift’s content marketing was enormously successful, in terms of traffic and engagement
- The success of Drift’s content parallels their publicly reported business success
- 42% of their content was (according to SpyFu’s reasonable classification system) “TOFU”
Does that mean 42% of your content should be TOFU? Not at all. Even for Drift, what worked in 2018 may no longer make sense in 2020. Now that they lead the chatbot-o-sphere in buzz, maybe it’s better for them to focus more on meaty case studies – or deep-dive product tours into how to create chatbots that don’t annoy the hell out of people.
Whereas another software firm – Basecamp – probably needs more TOFU in 2020, something that was hard to imagine in 2007. Pretty much 100% of us inside the digital world at least know of Basecamp. I’ve used it on probably 50 projects over the past 12 years and I don’t even like project management tools.
But what about the broader world’s awareness of Basecamp? After all these years of fame and success, of making the lean, bootstrapped, SaaS business model look attractive, Basecamp now faces challenges from venture-backed upstarts like Monday, which looks like it has more traction. That’s why Basecamp is finally hiring a Director of Marketing  to counter Monday’s multi-million dollar ad spend.
Your business – are you Drift or Basecamp? Should you work on the top or the bottom of your funnel? 
It depends. But I will say this – I wouldn’t sacrifice quality for quantity and variety. So in theory, your minimum viable content marketing strategy expressed as a 1-year editorial calendar will look like this:
- January 31st – publish remarkable, targeted, engaging case study with word-of-mouth sharing potential
In reality, though, it’s not that simple. Because the one thing I haven’t talked about yet is that the more often you publish content, the better your content marketing gets. If you only publish one thing a year, I will bet money it’s going to be less effective than if you publish some kind of content, with some kind of frequency, around that one great thing. That’s partly because high-frequency publishing gets you a little more clear on what helps your audience learn – what format, what length, what subtopics, what frequency, etc.
But even if you can’t marshall the resources to create with consistency, you can design an editorial calendar.
- Start with a 50% / 30% / 20% (top, middle, bottom) content marketing funnel. Remember, top attracts new people to your site, middle gets them interested, bottom makes them want to buy.
- Adjust each part of the funnel by 10 to 20% according to your business needs – do you need more people to know about you? Or do you need those who already know about you to become more engaged? Or to actually talk to you about buying?
- Take 5% t0 20% of your annual time and money budget and spend it on content. 5% if you’re coasting. 20% if you’re growth-focused.
- Divide that time and money up into content production assignments over the next 12 months. Make a list of all the kinds of content you want to produce
- At the same time, start marking up a content marketing calendar
- Revise the last two so that they make sense next to one another
I know this is hard work, but you have to start somewhere. Reply and let me know what’s on your new editorial calendar!
PS. I will be out early next week as I continue my travels but will pick up pen and paper again on Wednesday. I hope this longer than usual post makes up for my absence
Footnotes & Errata
- https://m.signalvnoise.com/basecamp-is-hiring-a-head-of-marketing/ we’ll see how this 180k investment stacks up against Monday’s 180 million in venture fun – most of which is being wasted on Google Ads
- Do you even have a funnel? By the way, the way the funnel concept work holds that you actually have a marketing funnel whether you think you do or not.