Way back in February 2014, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe Pulizzi, used this headline...
Today, as a growth-driven marketing consultancy, we are often asked to provide content marketing support to our clients. It is not uncommon for these clients to have already engaged in or started content marketing, but very often there are fundamental issues with its deployment which means that they need help.
In many instances, they lack a coherent content marketing strategy and as author and all-round hero Arjun Basu, is quoted by Joe Pulizzi as saying: “Content without strategy is just stuff!”
The principal issue for many businesses “getting started” with content marketing, is that the strategy behind it has been afforded little time. They have all seen the statistics, the praises, the reviews on how content marketing is ‘effective’ and ‘absolutely necessary’, and jumped head-first without consideration. After all, if everyone is doing it – why not follow suit?
The result, however, is that the content they produce has no strategy or long-term goal behind it. While well-written and interesting, it is not relevant to their target audience and fails to answer their most salient questions.
For any business – let alone those in the B2B world – content must be created with strategy and target audience in mind. There is an incredible amount of content out there; some good, some bad, little of it exceptional. When it comes to content, the ongoing challenge is ensuring it stands out, reaches the right people, and is relevant to their interests – and to do this, a content strategy is required.
Content is the backbone of your marketing activity; it is how you reach interested parties online and drive them back to your website; it is how you keep them engaged throughout the sales cycle; and it is how you demonstrate you have the expertise and knowledge they need.
So, how can you ensure your content marketing actually works?
Define your goals
Every strategy needs to be built upon clearly defined business goals. What are your aims? What do you hope to achieve through content marketing? Do you want to generate more leads? Increase your business’ exposure? Regardless of what your goals are, if you start with a plan it will be incredibly easy to determine the rest of your content strategy.
Start creating or refining your buyer personas
Before you start creating any content, you need to build out your business’ buyer personas.
According to our guide and mentor HubSpot, buyer personas are: ‘a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers’. Buyer personas allow you to understand and relate to your target audience. Business pain points, business goals, day-to-day business issues – all of these questions can readily be answered with comprehensive buyer personas. If you understand the business problems that plague your prospects, you can begin to create content around how to solve them and position your business as the solution.
With this considered, all content creation and all marketing and sales activity needs to start with your buyer personas. Buyer personas enable you to create high-quality content around what your prospects are interested in.
Run a content audit
Most businesses start out with blog posts – and chances are your business has a number of blogs it can actually use to drive lead generation activity. Before you start creating new content, review your existing content assets and see if they can be edited or modified to meet the needs of your potential prospects. Once you have reviewed the content, try and map your content assets to each stage of the buyer’s journey – Awareness, Consideration, Decision.
At the Awareness stage (Top-of-the-funnel), the beginning of the buyer’s journey, a prospective buyer exhibits symptoms of a business problem and is conducting research to understand the problem more clearly. In this stage, they want to define the problem and find out about the solutions that are available. At this stage, you typically use blogs, guides, tip sheets, and others, to show off your expertise and knowledge of their business problem. If you have any content at this stage, map it to your buyer personas where relevant.
At the Consideration stage (Middle-of-the-funnel), your prospect has narrowed down their options and are considering specific solutions. They want to compare and contrast the options available to understand what solution is best for their business problem. At this stage of the buyer’s journey, your content should be more product and service-focused – you should explain how your products and services can assist them. If you have only been producing blogs thus far, you may not have produced more in-depth content assets and therefore have nothing to map to your buyer personas. At the consideration stage, you will want to think about producing eBooks, fact sheets, product comparison pieces, case studies and demo videos.
At the Decision stage (Bottom-of-the-funnel), your prospect has decided on the solution they need and are looking for the best one out of their options. It is at this point where you provide your prospect with detailed information on your products and services to clearly distinguish why they should choose you for their needs. At this point, you offer free trials, product demonstrations, technical documentation, detailed case studies, and consultation offers to show how you can solve their business problem.
If you run a content audit with the above stages of the buyer’s journey in mind, you will be able to accurately map out your content, identify where your content gaps are, and create a content strategy that enables you to move prospects through the sales funnel.
Conduct keyword research
Whilst the importance of keywords has waned in recent years – with search engines favouring semantic search over individual search terms – keywords still play an incredibly important role in helping you to identify what questions are actually being asked by your potential prospects.
Conducting comprehensive keyword research will help you to build a content strategy that is orientated around the questions and pain points your potential prospects have, allow you to better understand your customers, and create targeted content. You will want to avoid generic, broad keyword terms as people using these terms may not necessarily be looking for what you offer. Instead, target specific, long-tail keyword terms (three to four phrase terms) that are relevant to what your business offers and create your content around them. Lastly, make sure your keyword terms have search volume, you wouldn’t want to write an article on something your prospects are not actively looking for.
You should – in an ideal world – have a list of long-tail keyword terms related to all the products and services your business provides. This level of research will allow you to build out your content strategy for the rest of the year and prioritise your content creation.
Have content at every stage of the sales funnel
A well-defined content strategy has content assets for every stage of the sales funnel. As mentioned previously, your prospective buyers will go through three buyer stages – Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. In order for you to start generating leads and sales enquiries, you need to have the right content at each stage of the buyer’s journey to nurture website visitors. Your blog posts, for example, are accessible for all website visitors – but your middle-of-the-funnel assets at the consideration stage should be hosted on a Landing Page and gated. In order to access these assets, website visitors must provide their details in exchange. This approach allows you to capture the details of interested parties, understand how interested they are in what your business does, and move people through the sales funnel.
Content assets to produce at each stage of the buyer’s journey:
- Awareness: Whitepapers, eBooks, tip sheets, checklists, how-to video, educational webinars
- Consideration: Product webinars, case studies, samples, FAQs, data sheets, demo video
- Decision: Free trials, live demos, consultations, technical documentation, product sheets
If you want more help developing your content for each stage of the sales cycle, please see this blog.
Publish, promote and manage your content
Once you have published your content, you should have a plan in place to promote it and manage it in the future. Effective promotion of your content on the right channels – channels specific to your target audience – will enable you to increase the exposure of your content and drive interested parties back to your website. Alongside promotion, you will also want to manage your content – this means having an editorial calendar in place that dictates what you will produce and by when. Having an editorial calendar will ensure you are kept accountable and work towards a deadline.
If it’s not working – change it
In the age of analytics, it is entirely possible to monitor and analyse the performance of your content across a number of channels. With the right tools, you can readily see views, likes, comments, shares and other metrics at the most basic level. With Marketing Automation in place on your website, you can then see leads generated, contacts generated, submissions, customers generated, and much more as a result of your content. This level of reporting allows you to easily understand how your content is contributing to your business’ bottom line, as well as identify which content assets drive the most lead generation activity. If you want to find out more about measuring the ROI of your content, please see this blog.
As a key component in your business’ lead generation activity, content needs to be created with an overall business goal and strategy in mind. Wayward content creation will lead to wasted time and resource, and ultimately leave you – and the rest of your business – dissatisfied with the content you create. Take the time to carefully consider your approach. Take the time to come up with a plan.
P.S. We couldn’t resist including this small excerpt from George Carlin’s famous comedy bit on “stuff”. If you haven’t seen it – it’s worth a look!
Tip #54: Content without strategy is just stuff. Take the time to consider your approach to content creation and ensure you keep your business’ goals in mind. Content marketing – done correctly – can be tremendously effective for your business’ lead generation activity.
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