By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, you can’t talk about marketing without talking about content. Most of us old-timers (like me!) laugh and say, “Hasn’t marketing always been about content?” Certainly! But the nature of the content has changed. Buyers have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and we in marketing are now educators. We still position our companies and offerings, but we never promote.
In this new environment, what are the keys to content marketing success? ITSMA has identified eight steps to ensure that you win more than your fair share of mind and wallet:
1. Set Goals. Establish your content marketing objectives and align your metrics with those objectives
Marketers are good at setting objectives and metrics, but are they the right goals and metrics? There are two issues to consider here. First, do the content marketing objectives align with the business strategy? Second, do the metrics align with the content marketing objectives, and therefore, with the business strategy? Too often the marketing objectives metrics stop short of business outcomes, and instead focus on tactics and execution. It’s the difference between being a content campaign producer vs. a business value creator.
2. Do the Research. Know your buyers’ purchase process
Buyers have become more connected, empowered, proactive, and hungry to learn. They have access to information anytime and anywhere, yet ironically, buyers are harder to reach. As a result marketing and selling have become quite a challenge. Nevertheless, with a deep understanding of buyer needs and when, how, and why they buy, marketing can use content to influence buyers at every stage of the buying process. Here’s the catch: buyer profiles based on what you and the sales team think you know about your target audiences is not enough. You have to talk directly to the buyers. Only then will you have the insights you need to create the content that will persuade them to choose you.
3. Map your content to the buyers’ journey. Create content to answer buyers’ questions and address their concerns at each stage
Once you’ve done the research, and perhaps created buyer personas, you will know exactly what questions your buyers are trying to answer, depending upon where they are in their journey. Create a content marketing matrix and fill in the boxes with the content you have available. Then look for the holes to fill. This will result in a mix of content types, including trend analyses, research-based thought leadership, case studies, solution descriptions, competitive comparisons, ROI calculators, online demos, and so forth.
4. Tell stories. Bring narrative power to your content by incorporating proven storytelling structures
Storytelling is part of the human condition, part of our DNA. It’s how we represent ourselves, our lives, and our world, both to ourselves and to each other. Stories help us to paint pictures about new possibilities. Ultimately, stories help us to connect. In the war for buyers’ attention, storytelling engages audiences emotionally and can help you win. As marketers, we must understand who the audience is, where they are now, and where we want to take them. Then we can draw from a wealth of plots, structures, and devices to bring our content to life.
5. Be visual and interactive. Create thought leadership content that engages audiences through a mix of interactive visuals, images, and words
Nothing beats a visual for communicating information and ideas. Think of it as visual storytelling. And that is exactly what 436 buyers of complex, high consideration B2B solutions told us. Their preferred format for online solution provider thought leadership content is interactive visualizations such as interactive maps, data explorers, timelines, and scroll triggered animations. They are also partial to published presentations or slide sets (bullet points and visuals) and even the more traditional text-based whitepapers, reports, and web copy.
6. Promote. Use a mix of inbound and outbound marketing to create a continuous cadence, not one-and-done rigid campaigns
Build it and they will come doesn’t work for content marketing. Content has to be promoted. Marketers need to replace time-defined campaigns with multichannel, integrated programs. Online, offline, and people-based interactions need to be seamlessly integrated. Use digital marketing to complement high-touch person-to-person marketing. Add an element of community-building and that’s a winning combination.
7. Build relationships. Emphasize the building blocks of true relationships: human contact, insight, personalization, and engagement
Marketers talk a lot about relationship building, and design all sorts of programs to do just that. All too often relationship marketing is a mechanical process of increasingly focused content communication activities: emails, webinars, newsletter subscriptions, seminars, private briefings, and so on. It’s a formulaic progression. But real relationships don’t follow a formula. They’re messy and unpredictable, and each one is different. Marketers must be flexible with their marketing automation nurture tracks. The purchase process is not actually linear. Certainly track buyers’ behavior, but don’t make assumptions about where they are in the purchase process—it could change in the blink of an eye. (The customer will determine his own ideal journey—not us!)
8. Engage sales reps and SMEs. Don’t underestimate the importance of people as a channel to communicate your content
Contrary to popular belief, nearly half the buying process for complex, high consideration solutions takes place offline, especially with people. Therefore your people—your sales reps and SMEs are perhaps your most important content marketing channels to promote and deliver your content. During the purchase process, the people your buyers most want to talk to are your SMEs. However, your SMEs only have so many hours in the day. Marketers need to find ways to increase the visibility and accessibility on- and off-line. And to Augment SME ranks, marketers should enable the sales force to be “frontline” SMEs.
What’s on your list that I missed?