Content Is King, wrote Bill Gates in 1996. And with good reason. Content is the lifeblood of high converting demand generation programmes. If you want to convert, you’d better have the content. It’s as simple as that.
But while content marketing is one of the dominant strategies in digital marketing, it nevertheless has a reputation problem. Rather than being the informative, educational route to a considered purchase, we instead see vendors shouting about topics on their agenda, rather than thinking about the people they want to convert.
So it’s crucial that time is invested in ensuring your content strategy is optimal and that you want to take potential buyers on a journey. To be successful, however, you have to know how to tell them a story. And to keep them interested, that story has to be relevant to them. Here are 5 things to consider when planning your content marketing strategy:
1.Be engaging: Deploy content that is likely to elicit a response.
As the saying goes, people buy from people which, in an online world, translates into the need for a personalized buying experience. Buyers want to know that you understand their challenges but, all too often in the quest to reach as broad an audience as possible, the content used is bland and uninspiring. Working with a defined list of more valuable accounts allows you to put additional resources into creating content that is likely to be much more relevant and contextually interesting to the audience — not account-specific perhaps, but certainly genuinely account-relevant.
Look to include increased content personalization with assets that meet the specific needs of your audience by industry, location/language, role or seniority. Or offer higher levels of communication personalization — for example, identifying and promoting the most relevant element of your asset for a specific sub-group of prospects. And lastly, it’s possible to deploy multi-touch execution. This means delivering communications that take different approaches to promoting the same offer, varying the message and asset, and thus giving potential leads several chances to engage.
The amount of content required is often underestimated by organisations. So much so, that I don’t believe that we, at Agent3, have ever had a situation where a client has had too much, good quality content. In considering volume, it’s also important to consider breadth as well as depth. While you may have a lot of content, if it’s all of the same type, or in the same format, because internally that’s what you’ve got used to creating, then you fall into the comfortable trap of making more and more of whatever you’ve done previously.
The result of this can be an approach which is scattergun and, frankly, meaningless, to your audience. Better to be bold, step away from the comfort blanket of familiarity and consider what other types of content are available that will engage your audience in a particular issue or topic. Consider how you need to step them through that process and, in doing so, the buyer will feel you understand them better, too, and begin to build trust.
Rather like the person we dread bumping into at parties, vendors are very good at talking about themselves, and often produce mountains of inward-facing guides such as data sheets, product briefs and company white papers. This bottom-of-the-funnel, sales-oriented content will unfortunately not perform well in content syndication programs, or in general lead generation.
Top of the league table for engagement is educational, vendor-agnostic information, such as analyst reports, or value-add commentary around research that discusses challenges, solutions or opportunities in the market and opens up new conversations around a particular issue or theme, too.
Be aware, though, that this type of content, while scoring high in engagement levels, is also time consuming to produce, and is consequently where gaps often appear in content availability. You will need to invest time and resources into finding the research, and then creating your own assets off the back of it.
Top tip: for better engagement, consider customising content to the audience you’re targeting. This could simply be a case of adding a personalised one page introduction to a whitepaper/guide/eBook, or an executive summary relating to a larger piece of research that highlights the most relevant findings for the audience.
4. Smart sequencing of content
If content marketing is about the customer, rather than the vendor, then the content needs to map onto the customer’s buying cycle in order to remain relevant, timely and drive engagement.
So what sort of content is best at each stage?
(i) Awareness: at this stage, you are essentially generating interest, or discussing, a problem at hand. As well as being customer focused, content shared now should be short and easily digestible, such as blogs, videos or infographics.
(ii) Evaluation: if a potential buyer has engaged at Awareness stage, then it is moved on to the middle, Evaluation stage. It’s at this stage that vendors, having seen this person download an asset at Awareness stage, assume interest and often jump too quickly into a product sell. There needs to be a clear content ‘stepping stone,’ however, in between the Awareness and Solution stages, that introduces solutions to the problems discussed at Awareness stage. Case studies and independent reports, for example, can be introduced – with no particular reference to the vendor
(iii) Solution: at this stage, content can be far more vendor focused. Appropriate content might include ‘harder sell’ product brochures and data sheets.
It’s important to recognise and understand this process because, all too often, we see clients frantically sharing every piece of content they have (often bottom-of-funnel, Solution stage content) in a disorganised and unplanned fashion, rather than ensuring leads receive the right content at a time that suits them.
Finally, consider the channel used at each stage, too, and how your content interplays across each platform. The effect of a LinkedIn campaign in isolation, for example, will be compromised if a concurrent campaign is running on your Twitter channel, but with conflicting messaging. In addition, has your messaging been nuanced appropriately according to whether you’re marketing to an existing customer – who many therefore be interested in cross-sell/upsell opportunities – versus a potential buyer. The journey for the buyer is end-to-end and multi-channel nature and all facets of that journey need to be considered.
5. Style over substance
Content can be great in isolation, but only useful as part of a campaign if it’s used in the right way. Case studies, for example, are great proofs of concept when used to support a proposed solution – ‘here’s one way you could consider achieving x, y and z, and here’s an example of how that worked for someone else – insert case study – but a case study sent to a prospect in isolation isn’t particularly useful, unless it has been requested, however impressive the customer is.
Similarly, organisations are often dazzled by infographics and video, both of which require significant time and budget investment to produce, so the temptation is often to use them for everything. It’s important to understand which assets complement each other, which work well in isolation and which support a campaign’s objectives.
If the objective is to persuade someone to fill out a form on the website, a five minute video at awareness stage will likely not persuade the customer that the value exchange with their contact details is fair. If, however, the customer is at evaluation stage, and the video is an in-depth interview with someone who’s prominent in the industry, that may be more appealing. So it’s important to consider the value of the asset to potential buyers, and it’s often the less ‘whizzy’ assets that carry the highest perceived value, and therefore engagement.
Be aware also of treading the fine line between providing enough information to be of value, with not giving away too much on the first ‘date’ and therefore losing the opportunity of keeping them engaged. You want to take these customers on a journey, you’ve got to tell them a story and it’s got to be relevant to them, but the ‘cool’ assets aren’t always the most effective.
In conclusion, creating the ability to take people from being aware of a problem, to understanding what kind of solutions are available and then giving them the resources to conclude that your solution is best, is the Holy Grail of content marketing.
But it’s a hard nut to crack and it’s why we’re still talking about Content being King, 25 years after Bill Gates originally wrote his now infamous essay. Follow these tips and you’ll be well on the way to becoming a trusted advisor to the online B2B community!