We've all heard the question: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" I can't answer that philosophical hairball, but let me ask a similar question: Is a product still as great as you think it is if no one knows about it?

For your product and company to succeed, you need to get the word out to buyers.

So, yes, you need to do marketing to draw potential customers in; you can't just sit back with a glass of wine while customers Google your product and come to you in droves with fists full of cash. That's not how marketing works. And good thing, too... because we'd all be out of jobs.

Top-of-funnel marketing is all about engaging prospects with thought leadership and content marketing—and not beating prospects over the head with hard-sell tactics.

So how do you get the word out about your product if you shouldn't talk about your products? To give you some ideas, let's review some do's and don'ts of top-of-funnel marketing.

  • Don't assume that everyone wants and needs your product. If you haven't done your research, you're treating everyone as if they are in market for your product. That's a big mistake.

    Do be the smartest marketer in your space. Know who your customers are by researching the marketplace: Speak to people who have selected your product, people who chose one of your competitors, and even people who haven't yet considered a product in your category. Understand what information informed their decisions and what prompted them to make the decision they did. Become an expert in getting them thinking about making a change (regardless of their situation) and accordingly create your content to make it appealing to them.
  • Don't mention your product. Seriously. Do. Not. At the top of the funnel, potential customers are interested in a topic (a problem they need to fix or a goal they need to achieve), not a product. Even more than that, they may not know or trust your company yet. It's like asking for marriage on a first date—a bad move!

    Do use top-of-funnel content to build credibility as a thought leader on the topic and help yourself by helping potential customers. Create a lot of easily consumed, "snackable" content for top-of-funnel. Make sure it is in the formats that your buyers prefer, whether that's infographics, whitepapers, research reports, webinars, or assessment tools. And make sure that content is everywhere your buyers are before they are even in-market (because they're certainly not just hanging out on your website).

    Your content should help buyers see their world differently and identify where they're currently lacking (and hint, hint—give them a reason to need your product even more.) Yes, it's OK: You can link to your product. Just don't bat buyers over the head with it.
  • Do not use spray-and-pray marketing. NO. NO. NO. Sure, you'll hit a ton of people by mass emailing/direct mailing, but you will also ruin your reputation as a vendor and potentially end up being labeled a spammer.

    Do use technology that's available to you. Today's marketing technology landscape provides you with ample tools that help you get super-scientific about how and when to market to folks. Become an expert in targeting and segmentation. Understand the buying centers in all of your key accounts. Know who is in-market and what stage of their buying journey they're in. Know where they go for information and how to get the information they need and want in front of them at the right time. After all, if everyone is using content marketing, how do you differentiate?
  • Don't ignore your salesforce. Yes, salespeople know how to sell (otherwise, they wouldn't have been hired in the first place), but that doesn't mean you leave them to their own devices. Your buyers are engaged with you because a certain message that's been driven by Marketing has appealed to them. Why not make sure that message continues to resonate throughout the selling process, too?

    Do enable your sellers. The messaging that you're using in your content and nurture streams should continue throughout the sales process; that consistency ensures the customer doesn't feel that a bait-and-switch has occurred. Train your sellers in what is important to the customer. Provide them with questions and conversation starters about the topics that buyers care about. Help them become more credible and provide them with additional content that's aligned with your marketing content and can be used during the sales process.

Of course, there are more rules that could be mentioned here, but for the sake of this article's length—and your time—I've highlighted the ones that are most frequently broken. These rules should be the foundation of your top-of-funnel approach. Learn them and use them well!

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image of Maribeth Ross

Maribeth Ross is the chief content officer and managing director of Aberdeen Group, a provider of research and content marketing solutions.

Twitter: @MaribethRoss

LinkedIn: Maribeth Ross