Content drives business, and at any given moment buyers are searching for information that will inform them, educate them, or help them solve a problem. Whether it's a data sheet, white paper, demo script, or web page, marketing content needs to speak to the needs of your prospects and customers while being geared to targeted points in your sales process.
It can be a delicate balance, but getting the right message to the right person at the right time offers tremendous upside: it establishes credibility and authority, creates brand affinity, and - maybe most importantly - reduces sales resistance.
So how do you craft great marketing content that gets results?
While there's no cookie-cutter methodology for every business, there are specific characteristics that most, if not all, successful marketing content shares. This guide gives you the top seven characteristics - and also gives you the seven best practices for developing content that resonates with your target audience, no matter where they are in the buying cycle.
Great marketing content...
1: The targeted audience: Know who you're talking to
Imagine pitching specialty cat food to a dog person. Promoting the benefits of a buffalo steak to a vegan. Pushing a SaaS solution to a person who isn't familiar with cloud hosting.
We've all experienced it: mismatched promotions and messages that clearly demonstrate the sender either doesn't know what we're interested in, or doesn't know where we are in our information-gathering process.
Writing your content for "everyone" is precisely the wrong thing to do. Not only does it miss the key markers of your sales cycle, it also tends to be too general and diluted to have any meaningful impact.
Instead, pick a target reader - a specific persona - and direct your content to that person. By focusing on a single individual, you give yourself the freedom to pursue a meaningful conversation, which helps you create content (a single piece or a series) that addresses the person's unique issues, challenges and aspirations.
2: Know where content fits in the buying cycle
Whether they're prospects or returning customers, buyers go through several process steps when making a purchasing decision. By understanding these steps and aligning your content with them, you can satisfy their concerns, answer questions, ease objections, and increase their confidence at each stage, all of which prompts them to take the next step.
Common buying cycle steps include Discovery, Interest, Consideration, Purchase and Reconversion. But regardless of how many steps you identify or what you call them, the takeaway is to have a well-planned buying cycle for each persona, which will help you craft content that appeals to each type of customer at each stage of their process.
3: Tell your story with customer-centric examples
Storytelling works, particularly when it's relevant to your prospect's needs and concerns. So instead of describing your product's features, tell the story of its benefits, showcasing real-world examples of how it can be - or is being - used to solve specific problems or achieve specific goals.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
By positioning your messaging to focus on what your customers want and need, you'll not only increase your reach and readership, you'll also make your offering feel safer and more appealing to buyers.
4: Use meaningful images
Images make everything better - at least, everything online. Case in point: according to recent research by MDG Advertising, articles containing relevant images have an average of 94 percent more total views than articles without them. And when searching, 60 percent of consumers are more likely to consider or contact a business that has an image show up in local search results.
The benefits of graphics are well documented. From intriguing photography to informative illustrations, countless studies have confirmed what we all know: the human eye likes pictures. But just because you can capture attention doesn't mean you can keep it. In fact, the sheer volume of visual stimuli has made us somewhat inured to a lot of it.
So the key is to ensure your images are meaningful to your target audience, and that they communicate original and relevant information.
For example: use real people, real quotes, customer logos, infographics, charts, and photos of actual customers using your product. Don't use irrelevant stock images.
Images can make your marketing content pop, improve searchability, and increase interest and engagement. But use them wisely to ensure they relate to your prospect's needs and your content's message. Otherwise they may have the opposite effect.
5: Think beyond the PDF
Medium matters. Just as important as the content itself, the format it's delivered in plays a significant role in how well - or not - it speaks to your prospects.
Although PDFs still have a sizable fan base in the B2B space, today's digital options have essentially blown the doors off the old paradigm, opening a brave new world of opportunities in delivering information.
For example, instead of defaulting to the standard PDF, could you create a slide-share? Animation? Infographic? Video? If a PDF is still the best choice, could it be interactive?
As possibilities and reader preferences continue to evolve, be sure to consider your personas, messages, business type, and sales funnel when determining which format (or formats) are the best for showcasing your content.
6: Use a call-to-action
The goal of marketing content is to spur action. Whether it's a download, a phone call, a form completion, or a purchase, your content is ultimately meant to move prospects down the sales funnel and convert them into buyers.
To accomplish this, you need to tell readers what action you want them to take. And the more explicit, the better.
So rather than simply adding "contact us" at the end of every piece of content, create calls to action that match where your prospects are in the buying cycle - their questions and concerns. Be specific about what your prospects can do next, guiding them along and helping them take the next logical step.
7: Create once, amplify everywhere
After taking the (often considerable) time to thoughtfully develop and design a great piece of content, it would be easy to publish it and check it off the to-do list. Done and done.
But don't do that.
Instead, make the last 100 yards of your publishing effort about expansion - extending your content's reach in order to maximize its visibility and increase your brand's authority.
This concept goes by many terms including scaling, optimizing, repurposing, re-using, and Rule of 5. But essentially it's a form of "write once, use everywhere," where the goal is to capitalize on your primary content-creation effort by making it available in as many touchpoints as possible.
Here are the key practices, with examples, to help kick-start your brainstorming.
Build content that can be used in several different ways:
Cross-promote content to increase traffic and extend brand reach:
A note about content creep
It's a common problem among most businesses: they create new content but keep the old stuff. Sometimes for years. Even when it's no longer relevant.
Retiring aging content can feel wrong somehow, but retire it you must, particularly when it can be replaced with content that is newer, fresher or more up-to-date. A helpful guideline is to practice the 1:1 swap; that is, for every new piece of content, you retire an older piece.
Keeping your content fresh and current has several benefits, primary among them being that search engines love discovering new content. And since search engines are the main way prospects find you, a natural extension of new content is that it demonstrates your company is active and engaged in the industry, which increases the perception of credibility and authority. It's all upside.
Ensure content can be found by the search engines:
By keeping a strategic eye on these content optimization practices, you can expand your visibility, amplify your messages, and increase your authority where it counts: with prospects, current customers, and search engines. It's about working smarter, not harder.
Crafting the Conversation
No matter what business or industry you're in, creating effective, useful content is critical. Is it easy? No. Not if quality is your goal, which is should be - it must be - if you want to stay relevant and grow in a world overflowing with unprecedented competition for the most valuable of resources: time. But it's also completely doable.
By focusing on the needs, pain points, and preferences of your target audience, you can create content that encourages new conversations, provides the right level of information at the right time, and ultimately gets results.