We’ve talked about how important it is to build a process for creating content for each stage of the buying cycle. However, many people have questions about the content itself. In fact, I noticed several themes in the questions I get about content. One main theme is how do I make content that is engaging, but which I think really should be “how do I make content that is engaging enough to progress my buyer through the journey?” Another major vein of questions is related to trying to understand the role of data and content. The answers to both types of questions are related, and should be addressed as part of your marketing transformation.
Address Known Concerns
Topics and messaging in content should always be based on the data about the buyer (in the form of the persona) and what he is most concerned with at that particular stage of the buying cycle. If the buyer wonders about which trends are going to last long term, you should address that. If the buyer is concerned about finding trustworthy sales people, you have to have content that addresses that. If the buyer needs to feel comfortable his organization is using the product/service to the fullest extent possible (so they get maximum return on investment), show him what full utilization looks like. Of course, to be sure you have the correct data, make sure you keep your persona up to date, otherwise you won’t know the latest issues and buzzwords your particular buyer is interested in.
In contrast, most marketers look at historical performance data as the starting point for what topics their content should include. There is some value in this but you have to understand what you’re analyzing. I like to use the comparison of trying to determine what ice cream is your customers’ favorite. Empirical data of all possibilities shows most people prefer vanilla or chocolate flavors. However, historically, if you’ve only ever offered them pistachio or strawberry, making decisions based on your historical performance data won’t be especially valuable since you will be looking at two options and not including options that might have interested buyers. That’s why buyer persona research is so important.
Tailor Based on Ongoing Basis
Personas are a great way to come up with content ideas but you can and should also look at the on-going data flow coming in from your other marketing interactions. For example, what are your top pay-per-click and on-site search terms? These might help you determine what sort of content you need in the early stages of the buying cycle (where those two channels are typically used). What tags on your blog get the most hits? What type of content is on the pages that send you the most referral traffic?
After you’ve reached that level, another way to use data is to personalize content to your based on what that particular buyer has shown interest in. This requires you be able to identify unique buyers so it often better used at later stages of the buying cycle. It also often requires additional software and a much larger pool of content to choose from than typical content marketing programs and a lot of quality time doing “if X, then Y” mapping. Be warned, you have to commit to the effort and support it completely or this will not show return on investment and may even taint the view of many stakeholders and employees about the quality of your transformation.
Expand Your Pool of Writers
One of my best sources of content has always been my professional services teams and customer support staff. Many marketers raise their eyebrows when I say this since they exclusively employ professional writers and product marketing staff to generate the bulk of their content. I’ve used these folks as well but their point of view is often limited to the front end of the buying cycle. Using both allows you to cover the entire journey. Beyond that, these non-marketing titles often carry greater credibility among certain types of buyers. Similarly, your partner ecosystem (i.e., independent software vendors, value added resellers, etc.) have a different perspective than your typical content sources, plus working with them this way helps build great goodwill. Another underutilized source of content is the customers themselves, who are great sources of case studies, presentations, and product reviews, for example. In more advanced cases, customers can even become such strong advocates and well-informed sources that they can take on coordination of live or virtual (i.e., on Facebook, Twitter, etc.) user groups.
Test, Test, Test
One of my pet peeves about content is that content creators/curators is they so often they don’t test their content. While the “set it and forget it” crowd is getting smaller and smaller, there is still a large group of folks who do not run A/B tests to see what asset buyers prefer. They wait until weeks or months have gone by and then take a look at their performance data to see if what they put out is working. In economic terms, there is a huge opportunity cost to waiting this long, since you can never re-start the journey with these buyers and offer them something that has been shown to perform better. Don’t be like this. Test, test, test.
Comments are welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization generates buyer-centric content.