If you are a “newbie” to content marketing, this article is for you.
I’ve had the privilege to be part of multiple content marketing implementations in small companies, medium companies, and super-large companies.
But the basics always remain the same.
Today I want to share with you what those basics are.
Today, I want to share with you what really matters when developing your content marketing strategy.
Step Zero: Understand the non-buying mode of customers
When you or me make buying decisions, as customers, we go through a decision making cycle. We go online, watch television, listen to the radio, talk to people, and so on. But in content marketing, customers are, at first, in a non-buying mode.
It’s not that they won’t buy.
But that’s not the first thing they think of. Before they buy, they have dreams, aspirations, little or big problems, personal and maybe business objectives that your products or services can solve. They might not even be aware that they have a need.
It is the task of content marketing to help customers to go through the journey.
It helps them to realize they want or need something, then it helps them to explore their options, and finally it shows them your product is the best solution.
A well-balanced mix of online, offline, inbound and outbound communication is needed to guide customers through that journey, converting them from prospects into marketing qualified leads.
Just make sure you understand which channels are the preferred communication channels of your buyers, or where they like to hang out. It just doesn’t make sense to be present in a channel if your customers are not there. As we’ll see later on, it’s not to difficult to discover where your customers are.
At each stage of the decision making cycle, prospects want and need appropriate answers to their questions to stimulate them to move to the next stage. An inappropriate answer can chase the prospect out of your marketing funnel.
It is your job as content marketer to understand the content needsof customers.
But how do you do that?
Content Marketing objectives at each stage of the buying cycle
Content marketing objectives at each stage of the buying cycle.
Creating awareness – from strangers to visitors
In the beginning, the content marketing philosophy behind guiding customers through their buying cycle is all about attracting your prospect through so called “top-of-funnel” or “awareness” content.
That type of content is entirely buyer centric, which means that the content is about things that matter to your buyers. But that doesn’t mean you can be entirely buyer centric with your content in this phase. I know that sounds strange, but here’s and example that explains what I mean: if big data is important to your customers, but you have absolutely no credibility about that subject, it doesn’t make sense to try to cover that subject with your content. You see what I mean ? Understanding your expertise, and feeling what customers would expect as credible content from you is what you want to figure out.
Buyer centricity is the most important element of content marketing.
I would even dare to call it a mindset: what subjects are top-of-mind and important to customers? It is these subjects around which your entire content marketing strategy should be built.
Using classic marketing tactics like blogging, social media, SEO and SEA, PR, emails, webinars, tradeshows and events you put this top-of-funnel content into the market.
Exploring and considering – from visitors to leads
Once you have captured the interest of your buyers, the usual next step is to guide customers further down their buying journey by showing them what to do next. In practice you set a call-to-action in every content asset showing them what you want them to do next.
Just make sure that you remain far away from selling. Your prospect, in her mindset, is just interested, and wants to know more.
As they explore possible solutions to solve the problem or need they might have, now it is time to provide them with content that helps them to understand what options they have. What kind of solutions can our buyer choose from, what are the pro’s and con’s of all possible solutions in the market, what should they know about certain solutions, and which solutions, products, or services fit their needs.
This is typically the time when you want to get to know your prospect. Ask for a little piece of information, like a name and email adres, in exchange for a valuable piece of content that help them explore their options. Think of an ebook, white paper, template, checklist, webinar, seminar or conference. Remember to only ask for a little bit of information, and not their shoe size or any other unnecessary information. The only piece of data you want is data that will allow you to continue the conversation through follow-up contact moments with that particular prospect.
Buying – from leads to customers
Finally, provide prospects with information about your product. But don’t stop by only providing them with feature, functions, benefits about the product or service you have to offer. Think about possible barriers or questions they have, and remove/answer the questions, by creating additional content like blog posts, buyer guides, pricing comparisons, etc.
In below table I’ve provided you with some ideas on how to structure content in every phase of the buying cycle.
What content to provide in each of the buying stages? Which formats and which call to actions? And what to measure at each stage? (click on the table for a high resolution version)
8 Steps to a Content Marketing Strategy
There are a number of essential steps to develop a content marketing strategy, to guide buyers through the buying cycle. Everything I have witnessed myself, or read in books or blogs always boils down to a couple of steps you need to go through.
Some say it’s a labor intensive process, and they are not sure if it works. Yes, buying attention is probably easier.
But in times where advertising effectiveness is going down, companies that invest in content continuously see a lift on all levels in terms of brand perception, number of leads, and business in general.
And content marketing isn’t an island. It works hand in hand with all other aspects of marketing, like product marketing, branding and corporate marketing. You still need outbound, but in a different way, where content marketing and outbound marketing reinforce each other.
OK. You get it.
So what are the steps you need to take to build and execute your content marketing strategy?
- Identify customer segments / and buyer profiles: What are the common characteristics of the customers you want to do business with? What distinguishes the need or reason to buy your products and services for one group of customers compared to another? What are the demographic and behavioral differences amongst groups of customers? Create profiles or personas for each distinct customer group.
- Map the customer journey: For each customer segment, what are their preferences for information discovery, consumption and taking action? What channels are influential during the buying cycle? Do they use search? Do they use social? Do they respond to paid or social ads? Do they subscribe? What is it like for them to buy from you from awareness to interest to consideration purchase? Map it out – for each customer segment.
- Identify questions buyers have during their buying cycle: Every customer has questions that lead them to purchase. What are your customers asking? For each customer segment and each customer journey from awareness to purchase, you must identify the important questions our buyers need answered, into order for them to gain the confidence and certainty needed to buy from us. This insight will be used to create “content themes” (big subjects that are top of mind for our customers).
- Identify the customers touch points and data-gathering moments: Eventually a customer will touch one of your marketing channels. This can be online and offline. These touch points provide you with behavioral data, which can be anonymous in the beginning.
- Develop lead generation and lead nurturing campaigns: identify content topics, set up editorial calendars, create content and set up lead nurturing and data-gathering tactics for each step of the customer journey.
- Distribute and amplify your content so it can be found. Figure out where your content should be found, and develop a plan to make sure your content can be found. Distribute it using affiliates, partners, and other influencers that surround your customer. Amplify it using paid media, but also through employees, partners and customers.
- Measure and optimize. As your prospect’ behavior and preferences changes over time, very short agile cycles of continuous improvement are developed, based on metrics and A/B testing. Through this continuous optimization cycle, your content will deliver the best results. Basic management questions like “how much does it cost?” and “what is the return” can be answered by a ROI and KPI reporting.
That’s it, in a nutshell and probably way too quick. There’s more to actually getting this done. Like how will you organize yourself internally, and towards agencies? What tooling will you use to plan, execute and measure? And how will you develop a content marketing culture?
Especially this last one: getting the marketing department to understand that marketing isn’t about trying to sell anymore.
Today it is about deserving the attention of your buyers, and helping them in their business or personal life. This will build trust between your brand and customers, which eventually makes them buy from you.
But all of that, that’s for another blog post ;-). Stay tuned, and thank you for reading this far.
Have you experimented with content marketing? What are your experiences? I am really curious to hear from you. Let me know in the comments!
Tom De Baere