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Please don’t ask me how to introduce your product to new prospects. You’re bound to get an earful. One that begins with one word: Don’t.

At absolute top of funnel stages, you don’t yet have permission to talk about yourself; your prospective buyer won’t tolerate it, and it’s not effective marketing.  In fact, a recent CMO Council report shared that the two most frequently stated characteristics that are disliked by B2B buyers as related to content are “blatantly promotional and self-serving content,” and “too many requirements for download.”  Ouch!  Let’s be real here, your buyers have 3 to 5 top priorities on their plate and those are the things they are laser-focused on.  Until you hitch your messaging wagon to one of those things, add value and earn the right to talk about yourself, anything you produce is just noise to them ‒ just like the sound of the adults in the Peanuts cartoons, “mwah mwah mwah, waaaaahh.”

Top funnel content needs to address at least one of these top buyer priorities and get the buyer to start thinking about it in a different way ‒ seeking a path that ultimately leads them to your door.  As a marketer, this requires in-depth knowledge about the buyer and a very strategic approach to content.  Despite this, only 32% of marketers have a plan that maps their content creation to their buyer’s journey (what types of content are needed early in discovery stages versus later in consideration and evaluation stages). Not presenting the right type of content at the right time presents risk.  Presenting product information when a buyer is at the discovery stage, for example, could be an opportunity killer and cause overall brand damage.

The challenge remains that creating all the different types of content you need to be successful with your content marketing strategy is often more than most marketing departments can handle.  Only 32% of marketers feel they are able to publish sufficient content to meet their needs. This capacity issue is a challenge with better conversions and customer acquisition costs hinging on the ability to execute content well at scale.

So what is a content marketer to do?  Well, here are my 5 rules for effective content marketing:

1. Do the research and document buyer personas.

Yes, it is a lot of work.  No, you can’t make it up from what you think you know about the customer.  Speak with both customers and non-customers to ferret out exactly what each of your buyers wants to know at each step in their evaluation process. You’ll want to speak with customers, those who chose a competitor, and even people who have not chosen a vendor for your solution type.

2. Translate to your content strategy:

Use persona interviews to give you a sense of the buyer’s journey, the buyer’s decision-making criteria, and where buyers go for information in each step.  This information is gold; your buyer has essentially told you what they need you to say in your content and when and where they will go to find it. This is the starting point of your content marketing strategy.

3. Recognize the buyer’s journey is not linear.

Andrew Davis (@tpldrew) did a HILARIOUS keynote last week at Content Marketing World about this topic, taking us on a schizophrenic quest for meatloaf in a world where Google is often the cruise director of the buyer’s journey.  The point of his meatloaf story is that buyers can discover you in a variety of ways that are not always neat and easily mapped.   Marketers need to be cognizant of this and develop content that is properly targeted and topically relevant across owned, earned, and paid properties to establish many “starting lines” for the buyer’s journey.

4. Curation and third party content, when used properly, can give you an edge.

When provided from a recognized trusted resource, third party content gives you the street cred you need with a prospective buyer to get them to pay attention.  When written to the buyer’s priorities, it gets them to start down the path to your door.  When strung together strategically with your content, it loosens the status quo with the buyer, helps them rethink their options, introduces and builds the credibility of your brand, and leads to them evaluating your product.  And, it significantly alleviates the bandwidth burden of content creation. ‘Nuff said.

5. Measure the heck out of it. 

Leverage all the metrics at your disposal; the more the merrier.  Establish a dashboard that helps you understand what content is working with which audiences.  If you don’t like the results, change the content.  Buyers’ pains and the marketplace change regularly and what worked today may not work tomorrow.  Get ahead of that by understanding baseline performance so that you have the resolution to see when something begins to shift.

Do you have any additional content marketing rules which you recommend? What content marketing tips can you share? Add your insights in the comments below.

For more on content marketing best practices, download our free reports, 5 Habits of Highly Effective Content Marketers, and Content Marketing ROI: Quantifying the Value of the Difference.

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