Content marketing is very popular these days, with no shortage of "how-to" articles and content marketing experts; even so, we find that most companies do it wrong - when content has no strategy and purpose behind it.
When your content doesn't have a clear strategy behind it, it leads to disorganized content and, more importantly, does not attract and convert leads into customers.
So how do you 1) attract real leads, and 2) convert them into customers?
First of all, your content marketing strategy has to address some important questions. For example, "What type of visitor/lead are you trying to attract?", "What information are they looking for?", and "Where exactly are they in the buying decision process?"
This last question, "Where exactly are they in the buying decision process?" is the focus of this post. If you are not familiar with the phrase, the "buying decision process" breaks the customer decision-making process into 5 different stages:
- Information search
- Evaluation of alternatives
- Purchase decision
- Post-purchase behavior
Great marketers understand that most buying decisions are not spontaneous; therefore, you have to guide your prospect/lead through all phases of the decision-making process.
1. Problem/Need-Recognition (Awareness)
This is where your potential customer is learning about a new problem, or discovering a need. To write good marketing content in this "awareness" phase you must know your customers extremely well - to anticipate their problems, concerns, questions, and needs.
At this first stage, your content (e.g. a blog post or social media post) is not meant to solve the problem but to acknowledge it. All great sales professionals will tell you, the first step is to listen - never rush into a solution. This is exactly how you should think about your "awareness" phase content.
Also, never try to hard-sell someone that is in the "Problem/Need-Recognition" phase. For example, a website that pushes aggressive call-to-action messages (or buttons) on new visitors is hard selling. Someone that has just discovered a need/problem is not ready to buy, so don't push them. Instead, publish the type of content that acknowledges their problem or need.
Content typically associated with "problem/need recognition":
- Blog posts
- General articles
- Industry news/information
2. Information Search (Showing Interest)
During the "information search" decision-making stage, the customer acknowledges a need or a problem and has started searching for a solution.
In this decision-making stage, your content's core objective is to demonstrate that you truly understand their problem/need. And that you have the expertise and experience to solve this need.
Content typically associated with "information search":
- How-to articles and videos
- About & Expertise sections
- Product/service demonstrations
- Solution overviews
- Customer benefits
3. Evaluation Of Alternatives
If the customer is reading your content during the "evaluation" phase, congratulations, you made the shortlist. Now is the time to get into the weeds and give them more information. At this point, they know about your solution, but they don't know all the details. For example, how many integrations does your SaaS (software as a service) solution support?
Publishing great content is especially important for new companies (startups) because they are often the "riskiest" solution on the table.
Content typically associated with "evaluation of alternatives":
- Comparison tools
- Implementation guides
- Thought leadership
- Technical specs / Datasheets
- Free trial (e.g., a landing page)
- Product architecture
4. Purchase Decision
The customer is almost there, they are ready to buy, so this is not the time to overwhelm them with information; therefore, try to remove as many distractions as possible. For example, all your content and CTAs (call-to-actions) should focus on the purchase.
That being said, you still need documentation that will support this decision-making stage. For example, ROI tools, warranty information, shipping details, and money-back guarantees. However, this type of content should never be the main focus (the purchase is).
Content typically associated with "purchase decision":
- ROI tools
- Shipping information
- Abandoned cart email
- Financing options
- Warranty & Guarantees
- Maintenance / Support details
- Comprehensive case studies
5. Post-Purchase Behavior
Congratulations, your content has attracted, guided, and converted a lead into a customer, so your content marketing efforts are done? Not quite. Many businesses skip this step, but in many ways, this is the most important step, if customer retention is critical to your business.
In this phase, you must minimize the chances of "buyer's remorse" and maximize the chances of creating a "brand advocate."
- Buyer's Remorse - Irrespective of how simple your product or service is, your customer may experience "buyer's remorse" if you don't support them adequately after the purchase.
- Brand Advocates - Always strive to turn your customers into brand advocates - customers who proactively share their positive experiences.
Content typically associated with "post-purchase behavior":
- Welcome email
- Thank you card
- Getting started (videos or articles)
- Net promoter score
- Customer satisfaction surveys
If you've read this post, it should be obvious by now why great content marketing demands a clear strategy, resources, and know-how. It cannot be an afterthought or a combination of random blogs and social media posts.
Implementing a content marketing strategy that sells is not difficult, but it certainly requires planning.