Posts Tagged content strategy
“Content” is the fuel of digital marketing. If you want to generate web traffic and generate sales leads online you need to provide information that your target customers will find interesting. In this post we look at why you need content, what kinds of content you need and how you can use it to promote your business and generate sales revenue.
Why do you need content?
So first things first. Why do you need content? Well, with digital marketing you are trying to bring people to a location on the web -usually your company website. The hope is that when your visitors arrive at your site they will take an action –subscribe or register for a service, purchase a product or submit some kind of sales enquiry.
You have four main options for driving people to your site – paid online advertising, search engine optimization, social media marketing and email marketing/outbound marketing. All of these forms of online promotion are more effective if you have good content, and some of them won’t work without good content. Let me explain why.
You can think of online marketing as fishing and content as your ‘online bait’. In most cases, basic information about your product or service – e.g. company brochures – will not be sufficient to bring in your target customers. When people are thinking about a purchase they need additional information before they begin to narrow down on a particular vendor. This additional content – case studies, white papers, buyers guides, RoI calculators – is your bait. The companies that provide the best content will attract the most customers online. Conversely, if you don’t have compelling content you will find it hard to drive traffic to your site.
When deciding what content you need you start by thinking about who you are fishing for – your target customers. In a previous blog article I discussed buyer personas as a way to understand and describe your target customers. In business-to-business (B2B) it is likely you will have to sell to more than one type of buyer. For most complex technology sales you typically have to sell to end users, someone in the finance department, a technical gatekeeper and the executive who actually makes the purchase decision.
Also, each of these buyer types will require different information at different stages of their evaluation process. People generally start with an initial “learn about this product category” step – this is the ‘Awareness’ stage. Then they move to a research phase before narrowing down the list of potential suppliers (“evaluation”) and finally making a purchase decision. As they move through these stages the kind of information they need changes from high-level, educational material to more detailed product and pricing information as well as third party validation such as testimonials and analyst reports.
Planning Your Content Creation
Once you know who you are ‘fishing’ for and what kind of ‘bait’ those buyers need at each stage of their buying process you can set out a plan for the creation and use of that content. Draw up a simple matrix with your target buyers on the left-hand side and the buyer process stages at the top and then in each ‘cell’ of the table write down a list of documents and content you think would be useful at each point. (We wrote a previous blog entry on the kinds of content you can use for generating leads online – Creating Content that Generates Awareness and Demand). You will end up with a wish-list of content you’d like to use for your online marketing and lead generation campaigns.
Now comes the hard bit – creating that content. As a first step, check to see what you already have available (aka your ‘content audit’). Most companies will have some case studies and other sales support materials and you may already have written white papers and marketing presentations. One great source of content is recent sales proposals – sales staff typically keep their best material for major client bids so see if you can reuse some of that material. List all the material you have and identify where it sits on your content matrix.
Next, identify the gaps – what content on your matrix needs to be created from scratch? List this content and identify how and when you will create it. In some ways this is pretty simple – either you will write it yourself, get some staff to write it, or hire a 3rd party copy writer. If you need to pay for it then get some quotes and prepare a budget.
Next, decide when you will create the content – your ‘content schedule’. We are all busy people and money is a scarce resource so it is unlikely that you can create all of the content you require right away. So pick the most important content – material that can be used at multiple stages of the buyer process – and get it prepared as soon as you can. You can then schedule other material later in the year. Our recommendation is to start with case studies – they are the most useful pieces of content throughout the buyer process.
How do you use this content to drive traffic and generate sales leads?
So you have analyzed your buyers, prepared your content matrix, audited your existing content and set out a clear schedule for new content production. What do you do next?
Well, the advice here is to make it easy for your target buyers to find your content. You have to promote it, distribute it and share it as much as you can, across as many channels as you can. We normally start by placing the content on your website and ‘landing pages’ (see our previous blog post). For example, set up a Google ad promoting your new white paper or research report. Next, mention it on your blog, tweet about it on Twitter and share it on Google+ and Facebook. For some content that is high value you will require user registration i.e. you will ask users for their contact details before they can access the information – this is known as “gating” the content. In other cases, such as infographics, you will share it across the web without requiring any registration.
You will achieve results in two ways. The people who register for your high value content represent early stage contacts who may become real sales leads. To make that happen you will establish a regular flow of communications with them where you offer additional content over time and encourage them to move toward a purchase. This process is known as ‘lead nurturing’.
A proportion of the people who interact with other content without registering for it will also eventually become sales leads, e.g. when they return to download higher value content or otherwise ‘raise their hands’ to your marketing team.
Content is the fuel for digital marketing and online lead generation. If you understand your buyers and how they purchase your kind of product you can create compelling information that will persuade them you are their best choice. Start now and prepare your content strategy.
Marketing will become more technical, sales teams won’t be on the road so much, and there’s going to be more overlap and, hopefully, alignment.
The web, online advertising and online marketing are having a big impact on how Business-to-business (B2B) companies sell. But in some ways this just reflects the fact that B2B buyers now buy things differently too. Ten years ago, buyers started their selection process by talking to vendor sales people, often at industry tradeshows. And there were fewer people involved in the buying decision on the customer’s side. Today buyers do much more initial research online, so they know much more about a vendor before that vendor becomes aware of them and before direct contact is made. Who initiates the research and who participates in the buying decision is more complex, with more people involved even for deals in the $5k to $50k range.
This means that to be successful, companies need to meet the research and information needs of prospective customers at as early a stage in the buying process as possible. They need to be easily found online by the various people who contribute to a customer buying decision, and when they are found they need to provide compelling information that addresses the specific questions of each type of buyer or influencer.
The change in B2B buyer behaviour also means sales teams are going to change. Sales staff are being involved at a much later stage of the customer’s evaluation of a product. The earlier stages will be managed either by marketing or by a reconstituted sales team. Many B2B marketing units are starting to do some of the work sales teams traditionally did, from lead generation and qualification through to providing pre-recorded online demos, technical briefings, business cases and ROI calculations. Marketers can now use online video, animated product tours, webinars and other interactive and dynamic content to provide a ‘virtual sales demonstration’. While you cannot fully recreate face-to-face meetings online, you can get pretty close through the use of web conferencing software, video and the telephone. This enables you to provide product demonstrations and presentations over the web that traditionally would have been provided ‘on site’ at a customer’s premises by sales and pre-sales staff.
Another change to the roles of sales and marketing is that companies are automating the acquisition of potential customer contact details through registrations on web-pages and blogs. They will spend more time trying to profile prospective customers that they attract online so that they don’t pursue people who are uninterested and so they can quickly pinpoint those prospects that have the greatest likelihood of purchasing within a defined time period. For example, today if someone registers to download a document from my website they have to supply me with their name and email address. From this download registration I can see if they have been on the website in the past, I can look up their IP address and their broad geographic location, and I could pull further information from networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook. These techniques enable companies to build a more detailed profile of their visitors which helps them determine whether they are more or less likely to buy their product now or in the future. For instance, if the same person has repeatedly visited your website in the past 5 weeks and downloaded every document or case study you have then this indicates some level of interest. If in addition you find that 4 of his colleagues have also visited your site and downloaded documents, you might want to consider having one of your sales guys give them a call. This kind of profiling can be automated, and can lead to more rapid generation of high quality sales leads that can then be passed more efficiently to sales teams to close and generate increased revenue.
So going back to the original question, I think Marketing departments will become more technically oriented, more process oriented and more fully automated. Their contribution to demand generation will be more visible and more easily measurable. I think Sales will share some of the online promotional tasks and lead qualification tasks with Marketing, and I think there’s going to be a significant drop in on-site sales visits. Miller Heimann will still be used to analyse and handle large corporate sales opportunities that have been fully qualified as real prospects, but this will be the tip of the sales and marketing spear that began with the initial acquisition of a contact or lead from online activities.
What do you think?
People don’t buy things they way they did 10 or 15 years ago. Whether it’s a hotel room, a house or a $200k software system, their search begins online. This means that your prospective customers need to find you online, and when they find you there needs to be enough compelling information (a.k.a. “content”) for them to choose you over a competitor. Creating demand for your products and services depends on creating the right kind of content for your potential customers, meeting their information needs as they move from being aware of a potential problem they want to solve through to selecting a particular solution and vendor. You put that content online on your website, on your blog and on third party sites and then take steps to ensure it’s easily found by your prospective customers. As your prospects access that information you interact with them, establishing your relevance and persuading them to choose you as their preferred solution provider.
In the last post I highlighted advice from the MarketingSherpa B2B Lead Generation Handbook on the ‘information need’ phases through which buyers move as they begin to consider a product purchase (from Awareness, through Consideration and then to Risk Avoidance/Decision). (We will come back to the question of modelling buyer behaviour in later posts, using a technique called Buyer Persona Analysis).
Once you understand the ‘information needs’ of your buyers at different stages in the buying cycle, you can start to match that up with corresponding types of content. The output will be a table or matrix that lists
- each of the buyer types who are involved in a typical purchase of your product or service,
- the phases they go through during the purchase cycle, and
- the specific types of content you should offer them at each point in that cycle.
Here’s a selection of some of the types of content MarketingSherpa suggests you should consider for your marketing programs:
- Research – people like to know what’s going on in their industry and specialisation. You can meet this need by publishing research and survey results – there are a host of online survey tools that can help, you can run in-person surveys at conferences, or you can commission an academic or research firm to carry out the research for you.
- Education – this means providing tutorials on specific topics, using multiple media ranging from .pdfs through webinars and online videos. The key here is not to make them overtly product-promotional i.e. provide information that is generally useful to a broad audience, rather than a spruced up user manual for your own product.
- Tours and overviews – an animated or video tour of your product or service could be the most effective way to communicate its differentiators and benefits. It also appeals to prospects who can’t make the time to read a white paper or product brochure.
- News – try to generate news that will be of genuine interest or value to prospective buyers. This could be a round-up of online blogs on a particular subject, or updates on recent industry analysis.
- Thought leadership – this is the creation of content that helps you develop a reputation as someone with real knowledge and insight in your particular sector. Developing thought leadership isn’t easy – there’s no easy way to fake it. You have to work at it yourself or else buy-in the insight. If you have clear views on your industry or speciality based on experience and reflection then it is worthwhile recording and sharing these . Alternatively you can hire someone to prepare a paper for you or else pay to re-use a paper from a research firm such as Gartner or Forrester
- Case studies and success stories – case studies help explain the application of your product or service clearly to your prospective buyers and they build your credibility as someone who can deliver a successful solution. With low cost web-video cameras it is worthwhile seeing if you can get customer to provide a video case study in addition to or in place of a written case study, as a ‘direct-to-camera’ interview is generally more compelling.
- Q&As – an easy type of content to create once you have someone willing to respond. Send an expert a list of your questions and publish the answers
- Company and product information – this is the kind of information needed when a prospect is seriously evaluating your product or service, and they want lots of it. Provide as much information as you can about the company and its products, including press releases, product fact sheets, technical implementation, buyers guide and competitor comparisons.
- How-to tips – short articles illustrating how to overcome a problem or achieve a particular result, illustrated with graphics or charts and augmented by video or audio where possible.
Over the coming months I’ll come back to the topic of how to plan the creation of content as part of your overall marketing and sales plans. I also want to look at how you can develop a better understanding of your target buyers and how to reflect that understanding in your online presence, through your web-site and blog and through the kind of content you make available to your audiences. And I’d also like to look at how you can reduce the effort in producing content – what are the easiest ways to generate content, to re-use it in different ways, to make the most use of what you have? You want to spread your content over the web, having it proliferate in as many places as possible to achieve maximum impact, so we’ll look at the tools that can help you do that, from Twitter to Slideshare.
Business to business marketing depends more and more on creating ‘content’ – material that provides information that is not necessarily sales or marketing related. Examples include business articles, technical white papers, YouTube videos and presentations. The purpose of generating this content is to indirectly influence your target audiences – if they think what you have to say is interesting and insightful then they’ll come back to talk to you when they’re buying your kind of product or service.
MarketingSherpa (www.marketingsherpa.com) provides some great tips on the kind of content you can use to promote your business in their B2B Lead Gen handbook. They provide some important points to consider:
- the content you create should always be about your audience, their interests and their industry, not about you, your company or product
- you should create different types of content targeted at different audience segments
- you should create content for each stage of the sales cycle (or buying cycle, if you think of it from the prospective customers’ point of view).
On this last point they recommend your content should suit the information needs of potential customers as they move through three broad stages:
- Awareness: at this stage you are trying to make them aware of the problem you solve, persuade them it’s a problem they should be concerned about, and make them aware that you’re the best vendor to solve it
- Consideration – here you’re trying to provide information that helps them educate themselves in a bit more detail e.g. what do they need to know to pick the top 3 vendors; what information do they need to finalise a purchase decision for your product type
- Risk Avoidance/Decision – how can you convince them that you are a safe brand; that you are the best fit for their needs; what do their peers or market commentators say?
I think this is a great starting point when planning the kind of content you will need to generate to support your marketing plans. It also prompts you to think about the information needs of the different buyers you are trying to influence. Does a technical buyer move through Awareness, Consideration and Risk Avoidance/Decision the same way someone working in procurement does? Do you have to provide content for both of them? In the next post I’ll summarize the types of content you can generate to meet the information needs of buyers.