Best-selling author and former dot.com business executive Seth Godin famously said, “Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left,” in 2008. His point was that the creation and dissemination of useful and relevant content through new digital media channels had taken over the reins from traditional media as the dominant force in marketing. Eighty-one percent of consumers conduct research online before making product purchases, according to research compiled by Tribe.
Much of the business buyer’s journey is now completed online prior to communication with a company sales rep. These factors point to the tremendous importance of well-crafted and executed content that is available online. Consumer and business research typically begins with a search, so search engine optimization is vital to content marketing success as well. The role of SEO will be discussed in the next blog post.
How Content Marketing Has Changed
Content marketing and SEO have changed significantly in the last decade, for the better. Search engines have become more artificially intelligent, which requires businesses to create content that is more useful and relevant to both humans and search engines.
Businesses must take a customer-centric approach to building a successful content strategy to not only generate traffic through search engines, but also to convert visitors into subscribers and customers. Historically, content creation was centered on strategies to quickly attract and convert people based on keyword and topic searches. Now, content marketers must think more long-term.
The goal of an effective contemporary content strategy is to create virtual breadcrumbs that build rapport and trust, and subsequently lead a person looking for help toward your business. Proper sequencing of content, with appropriate calls-to-action along the way, guides an individual through his or her buyer path.
Building Buyer Personas
Any marketing plan should begin with discussion of the target audience and market segments for the business, and particular types of solutions. Historically, target markets were defined with general descriptions that attempted to cover the vast majority of typical buyers a company served.
For instance, a trendy, upscale fashion retailer selling clothes for the young professional might describe its market as, “Women, 21–34, making $30,000 to $60,000 per year, looking for quality clothes to match their busy, professional lifestyle.” An improved, contemporary approach to target marketing is to identify a buyer persona. With this approach, a company creates a semi-fictional character with very specific traits and lifestyle attributes that best represents the ideal customer profile or the prototypical person the company wants to hone in on for its business or a given solution.
Creating a buyer persona helps you improve your ability to personalize content because your company views prospects and customers as individuals with real characteristics and emotions, rather than a general description. It allows marketers and sales reps to build more impactful message strategies based on a deeper understanding of the needs, interests and motives of individuals within the marketplace. Looking at the same fashion retailer in the previous example, converting the target market description to a buyer persona could lead to the following profile:
- Name: Gillian
- Gender: Female
- Family: Married with 2 young children
- Occupation: Mortgage Broker
- Income: $50,000
- Hobbies: Arts, Culture, Local Events
Naturally, not all prospects within the target market will match this precise description. In fact, you may not have a single customer who matches every trait described. The point is to get a strong sense of who your buyer is as a person and a professional, so that you can best match your delivery channel and message strategy to motivate a response.
To add depth to your profile, identify key problems and concerns of your targeted persona, along with common questions this person ponders when executing a query in a search engine.
Your content strategy should emphasize accurate, thorough answers to these common questions with broad and deep coverage. This methodology to crafting content helps you meet expectations of users who want useful and relevant information and resources, which not coincidentally helps you meet the needs of algorithms used by Google and other search engines when prioritizing results.
Understanding the Buyer’s Journey
The buyer or customer’s journey is the path that a person takes from initial awareness of a need through the purchase, and into post-purchase implementation and evaluation. The journey begins with awareness that a need or problem exists, moves into the “consideration” stage, during which the prospect begins to evaluate alternative solutions, and continues to a “purchase.” In some illustrations of this journey or path, the process ends at the point of purchase. However, as the goal is to not only attract a customer, but also to retain him, successful companies view the path as including one or two more steps.
The fourth stage is labeled “post-purchase evaluation,” “implementation” or “retention.” During this time, the new customer utilizes the solution to attempt resolution of the need or problem, and perceives a certain level of satisfaction. For a business to earn a repeat purchase, it must deliver a high level of satisfaction that at least meets, but ideally exceeds, the customer’s expectations. A series of strong, positive purchase experiences ultimately contributes to loyalty. When a business secures an emotional attachment, or loyalty, it is able to generate increasing revenue and profits and better insulate its relationship with the customer from competitors.
The most complete models of the buyer journey include a fifth stage, which is “advocacy.” In this stage, a customer is not just loyal to a business, but he gladly shares his experiences with peers through in-person conversations and online through social media and other channels.
An increasingly common approach to building a buyer persona is to create journey based or stage-based personas. With this strategy, the company targets prospects and customers based on where they fall within the customer journey, as opposed to focusing on personal profile traits.
The journey-based approach is especially common in business-to-business, where a person’s interest in a solution is often fueled by the status of his company’s operation and level of need. For instance, a company promoting a brand new technology-based solution may create the following stage-based personas: Unaware Aaron: Aaron runs a small business or young company that is not on the cutting edge in its industry with the use of technology.
Aaron is strapped for time as he tries to lead his business and meet the demands of a growing customer base. He is unaware of the ways in which our tech solution could improve operational efficiency, and contribute to lower costs and increased profits. Intrigued Ian: Ian is familiar with the type of technology our company offers and has done some initial research on its benefits.
He hasn’t quite taken the next step toward serious purchase consideration based on uncertainty of the full array of benefits offered, and concerns about the required investment. Eager Emma: Emma is not only familiar with our solution, but has done a lot of research and is on the cusp of making a purchase. Regardless of whether you develop personas centered on demographic, geographic, firmographic, behavioral or journey-based qualities, an effective content marketing plan identifies the right types of content to deliver through the most appropriate channels to a buyer based on his stage in the buying process.
In the stage-based personas just described, the content provided to Aaron should offer a basic introduction to what the technology does, and the ways in which it benefits companies within his industry.
Since Ian has a pretty good understanding of the technology, he is ready for content that more specifically identifies the value of our solution relative to competitors. This content includes more in-depth product descriptions, customer reviews, testimonials and case studies. A sales rep is normally involved at this point to nurture Ian toward the point of purchase. With Emma, communication from company reps and targeted content is aimed at closing the deal.