You’ve heard it ad nauseum, perhaps: Content is created to help your customers — not for you to talk about yourself. You should be focusing on their problems, not on your products. But if the ultimate goal of content is to drive sales, then how do you create content that promotes your product, speaks to your customers, and also helps you reach your business goals?
If you’re overwhelmed by the struggle to combine all of these factors, take a step back and ask yourself the four basic questions below. These are the beginning steps for documenting your content marketing strategy — a process that will keep you from haphazardly creating random content that isn’t relevant to your goals.
Step 1: Learn which audiences can help your company grow
Sure, you should develop buyer personas. But you can’t spend a lot of time targeting prospects who won’t open up their wallets for you. The question is, how do you know who wilI pay for your product?
Do your most promising leads have a particular job title, or work within a certain type of organization? A specific industry? Has sales pinpointed a specific account to target this year?
Once you’ve effectively refined your personas to focus on the target audience most likely to grow your company, you’ll be more prepared to create content that speaks to their needs.
This is much more relevant for B2B products or considered consumer purchases because in these cases multiple decision-makers seek out a wide range of content before deciding on purchasing. Your job is to figure out what content that is and deliver it to them.
For example, Crowe Horwath, a public accounting and consulting firm, decided to target C-level prospects in financial institutions with $1 billion or more in assets across the buying cycle. The company’s content marketing plan included 48 pieces of content in four different topic areas, with content marketing tactics including executive briefs, case studies, infographics, checklists, Q&As, and a video.
Below is an example of an infographic they created for this targeted high-yield market. The content homes in on one challenge the firm’s target audience is likely to be concerned with: understanding how to make sure they are in compliance with the latest financial regulations — a task that’s difficult to do, considering how detailed and involved these issues can get:
The results? According to Top Rank Blog, the infographic resulted in a 70 percent open rate and 778 engaged contacts — two of which ended up bringing in $250,000 in revenue for Crowe Horwath. The company even moved up in the ranks this year to the eighth place in revenue growth in the accounting industry (it had been ninth for several years in a row)!
Step 2: Research the relevant trends and spending habits of your target audience
It’s vital to have a detailed knowledge of issues your target audience members face, trends that impact them, and where they are spending their budgets when it comes to solutions. And if your market is very dynamic, expect to do this on an ongoing basis to make sure you are staying updated on your audience’s priorities.
Also, it may be helpful for you to read up on the lingo for your target’s field. If everyone in that industry is talking about a certain topic, your content should be able to present an informed conversation on it, too! If your content shows that your company is keeping current with industry needs, prospects in your target companies are more likely to listen to you as a trusted partner in the industry. And if your content shows them that you have an understanding of the challenges they currently face — and new ones that are likely to emerge, as a result of other changes on the industry landscape, they’ll be even more attentive.
Step 3: Determine your business’ unique value proposition (UVP)
Why should customers choose to buy your product over one from the competition? Is it easier to use? Faster to implement? Does it offer features that cater to needs their market currently doesn’t have a customized solution for? To learn the answers to these questions, start by checking out your competitors’ content. Thoroughly research how they are positioning their products in the market by analyzing both the format and the substance of their content marketing efforts:
- How do they tell their brand story through their content?: Do they use mostly text-based content, or are there a lot of visuals? Do they have their own blog, or do they mainly publish on third-party sites? Are they active on social media and do they allow their customers to help them tell their story, or do they simply provide one-sided conversations? Does their content use humor, or some other means of attracting attention, or is it more straightforward and serious?
- How well are they serving your audience’s industry?: Do they focus on key customer needs, or simply provide information on their own products and services? Are there gaps in the types of content they produce? Are there certain relevant topics or issues that they are failing to discuss or provide information on?
Armed with this information, you can start to decide how you want to tell your story in comparison. But even if your product has the same value of other products out there, don’t panic. Many products sit in similar fields, with similar solutions. The trick is to find one value that your company excels at, and to communicate it clearly and effectively in all of your content to generate leads and sales.
For example, web hosting is a crowded market. But WordPress hosting company Synthesis distinguishes itself by highlighting the add-on services it offers: content marketing and SEO tools.
Step 4: Use the information you’ve gathered to build your content marketing strategy
Combine the information you’ve learned about your industry with all the details of your UVP to create your key message: one that positions your product as a solution for major pain points experienced by decision-makers in your target audience.
From there, you can start to build your strategy around the specific techniques and tactics you will use to craft this message into content — and to deliver it in a way that your audience will find helpful when making a purchase decision.
To do this, you’ll need to learn where your prospects are looking for the content you intend to create, and how they prefer to consume it. You may even want to (gasp!) talk to real customers, asking them what types of content they think would help them most. An eBook? A webinar? White papers? Something else entirely?
Wrapping it up
After you’ve determined the fundamentals of your content marketing strategy, you’ll be ready to start creating content that serves the goals you’ve outlined, and executing on your plan for delivering it.
With this approach, you’ll be prepared to produce content that focuses on the needs of your best prospects, and drives home the messaging you want to deliver to them.
Want more instruction on how to manage today’s biggest content marketing challenges? Sign up for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Access over 35 courses, taught by experts from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.
Cover image by Ryan McGuire, Bells Design, via Gratisography