Depending on your experience level, Content Marketing may seem like a necessary evil, a fading fad or just another lame business buzzword. But in reality, it has been around a very long time.
The idea is simple enough: Companies make content -- words, images, videos, audio, etc. -- to support their marketing and sales efforts. Sometimes the content is obviously linked to the product -- say, a graphic with an image of the product front and center. Other times, content marketing is a bit more subtle, and aims to appeal to what interests the prospective buyer. For example, a luggage company writes an article about vacation packing tips and mentions their products throughout the piece.
Shoppers are more sophisticated than ever and impulsively research on nearly everything they buy. In fact, 88% of them research a product before buying it online or in-store. However, they may or may not realize how often they’re being marketed to. That’s the beauty of content marketing: It works on a deep, subconscious level. Each blog post, video, and podcast you consume gives you a “feeling” that translates to some kind of emotional affinity towards the author or brand. The luggage company, for instance, wants its blog readers to feel inspired to travel, and that’s what someone takes away from the piece -- even though they’ve just read what is essentially an advertisement for the company’s travel gear.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, your customers won’t remember what you did or said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.”
If you’re still not convinced of how effective content marketing can be, consider these statistics cited by marketing expert Neil Patel:
Content marketing leaders experience 19.7% year-over-year growth -- that’s 7.8 times higher than “followers” (2.5% YoY growth).
Content marketing generates 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing, and costs 62% less.
More than three-quarters of CMOs believe custom content is the future of marketing.
Companies that adopt content marketing typically see conversion rates of nearly 3%, whereas non-adopters only see 0.5% conversions.
The majority of marketers rank content as more effective than magazine ads, direct mail, and public relations.
Content marketing and the buyer’s journey
The tricky part of content marketing is making sure you’re sending the right message to customers, at the right point in their journey with your brand.
Marketers used to think the buyer’s journey was a funnel, but we know that it is now more complex, with ups and downs. The digitized personalization of our internet experience has created more of a “chutes and ladders” route to purchasing products and services.
Because the customer’s journey is difficult to predict and the path is no longer linear (if it ever was), here are a few important things you’ll need to nail down before you begin your content marketing efforts. These elements are non-negotiable, core tenets of modern content marketing, and without them, your campaign is likely to fall flat.
1. Right contact
If you are not clear on who your content is for and what they are looking to do with your product or service, this is your first step.
You will need to develop customer types or personas to segment your audience. Crafting tailored messages for each persona is what makes email and other outbound marketing campaigns have more impact (more on that below).
Don’t skip this step. If you need help, contact a marketing expert to help you crystallize your ideal customer types.
2. Right content
Marketing content needs to educate and inspire further action or investigation by the customer.
Sales content needs to support the sale and help the customer feel secure about their purchase.
Like a well-paced meal, each content product strives to be the right size for digestion. It must set up the next step in the journey, while considering how emotionally invested the customer is (or isn’t) at a given point in time.
Some content is evergreen and can live untouched for years to come, while seasonal or trendy content needs to be revisited and updated regularly as new details emerge. Other content is meant to be quickly digested and forgotten, such as a special offer or stylized campaign. All are important and can have positive ROI, although many businesses prefer evergreen as a focus.
It’s important to find out where your content production strengths are and develop a well-rounded approach.
No matter what you create, the content needs to build trust and improve the relationship with the customer by providing them with value or inspiration. If you can achieve this, you will win most of the time. A good question to ask yourself: Did I provide value for my audience with this content?
3. Right context
Unless you like to waste time and money, it is very important to consider the specific customer journey for each persona.
The timing and location of the content on your site should be continually optimized based on the context of your buyer’s journey.
You are working to move the relationship forward with a qualified prospect who continues to say yes and dig deeper at each stage. For example, if they just downloaded your e-book, they aren't likely ready to read the next e-book tomorrow. They also aren’t ready to buy yet. Understand where they are and give them content and suggestions that will move them along to the next natural step.
4. Right action
What is the right action (and call to action) for the consumer? The next step is not always to “click here” and buy/sign-up for a sales call. You need to consider what content makes sense at each stage of the journey.
If the customer has visited a page or campaign on the site, consider sending them an email related to the content they just downloaded. For instance, if they. downloaded an e-book, send them an email with a glossary or a video explaining a particularly difficult concept.
To determine the next best step, here are some good questions to ask:
What’s the next logical step after consuming this content?
What questions does the customer have at this stage?
Would they need to reinforce their learning with a live webinar or movie? What additional resources is the customer looking for at this step in the journey (a glossary, a how to movie, an expert TED talk, etc.)
What competitors or alternatives are there to your product and service that the customer is surely thinking of (reviews pages, FAQs, a versus article, etc.)
You might even find some success with a little bit of reverse psychology. Here is a clever blog article by Convert Kit talking about why you should NOT to become a customer, even though it clearly shows some advantages of why you should become a customer.
Remember, the answer is going to be different for every company and even for every product, so it’s incredibly important to do your research and thoroughly map out your customer’s emotions and thought process throughout their journey.
Don’t sell too early, build trust instead.
Once you’ve determined the right contact, content, context, and action for your content asset, it’s time to put your plan into action. Through your efforts, you should aim to build trust, establish authority, or inspire further engagement with your brand and related products.
To do this, you’ll want to optimize your content for “surprise and delight,” not just clicks. Challenge your team to provide small surprises or delights in the emails you send. If you are helpful, you've gained some trust. Consider creating a tone/style guide for your content writers to help them succeed at this.
Strive to be more helpful and less salesy. Don't worry too much about making “shareable” content for social media. Instead, consider how content can be shared with teams at the same company via email. Example, one of your personas might want to share a fun comic or glossary of terms with his team to help keep them thinking about a particular project.
There are many reasons to create content and it isn’t always about conversion. See my article on this.
Once you’ve got the basics of content marketing down, you’re ready to begin creating and producing. If you’re struggling with your content marketing strategy or want to revamp your current efforts, let’s chat about how to develop your ideal customer personas and how to best reach them throughout their journey.