Marketing content drives business. Buyers are searching for information that will inform, educate, or help them solve a problem. In order for content marketing to be successful it must accomplish two things. Whether it’s a datasheet, white paper, demo script, or webpage, marketing content needs to speak directly to the needs and wants of your prospects and customers. Secondly, your content must address every stage of your buyer’s journey – from building brand awareness, to driving demand, to expanding customer relationships.
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 – perhaps 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 seven specific characteristics that most, if not all, successful marketing content shares.
- Speaks to a targeted audience
- Fits a specific place in the buying cycle
- Tells your story with customer-centric examples
- Uses meaningful images
- Can be used in interesting, varied media
- Employs a clear call-to-action
- Can be parsed into additional pieces for optimum use and visibility
Let’s take a closer look at these seven best practices for developing content that resonates with your target audience, no matter where they are in the buying cycle.
1. Know your target audience and speak to them only
Imagine pitching specialty cat food to a dog owner or dog food to a cat owner. 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.
This throw-everything-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method is common ‒ much too common, according to Doug Kessler, co-founder and creative director of Velocity. “It’s amazing how much [content] is published without ever answering the questions, ‘Who is this for?’ and ‘What do I want her to do?’” he says.
When it comes to marketing, using a scattershot approach and writing for “everyone” is precisely the wrong thing to do. Trying to appeal to everyone is a rookie marketing mistake. 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. If you do this, you’ll aim for everything, but hit nothing.
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 steps when making a purchasing decision. By understanding the stages of this process, and aligning your content with them, you can satisfy buyers’ and potential buyers’ concerns, answer questions, ease objections, and increase their confidence at each stage – all of which prompts them to take the next action.
Common buying cycle steps include:
But regardless of how many steps you identify or what you call them, the takeaway idea is to have a well-planned buying cycle for each persona. This will help you craft content that appeals to each type of customer no matter what stage they’re in.
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 used – or is being used – to solve specific problems or achieve specific goals.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- customer success stories
- case studies or use case scenarios
- solution briefs
- best practice summaries or reviews from existing customers
- matrices showing outcomes or ROI comparisons
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
The benefits of using graphics in your content marketing are well documented. Whether people are viewing intriguing photography or informative illustrations, countless studies have confirmed what we all know: The human eye likes pictures.
Images make everything better – at least everything online, that is. They can make your marketing content pop, improve searchability, and increase interest and engagement. Case in point: According to 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.
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. Used wisely, images relate to your prospects’ needs and your content’s message. Used unwisely, they may have the opposite effect. For example, don’t use irrelevant stock images or overused images that have become clichéd. “One or two stock photos are fine, but how many more beautiful women standing in server rooms can we take?” points out Paul McKeon, president of The Content Factory.
The key is to ensure your images are meaningful to your target audience and that they communicate original and relevant information. Use real people, real quotes, customer logos, infographics, charts, and photos of actual customers using your product.
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 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 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 you are about this, 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 and address 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 “the Rule of 5” (which states that each and every content development project should produce content that can be used at least five different ways). 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 key practices, with examples, to help kick-start your brainstorming.
Build content that can be used in several different ways:
- Have a meaty white paper? Extract two main ideas from it and create two briefs, a handful of blog posts, and an infographic.
- Planning a webinar? Make it available on-demand from your website, iTunes, or YouTube. Post the presentation deck on SlideShare. Create a Q&A from the session.
- Conducting interviews for future content? Consider turning these interviews into thought-leader Q&As, capturing them as videos (each with its own landing page), or creating a webinar.
Cross-promote content to increase traffic and extend brand reach:
- Include social and share links in your content whenever and wherever appropriate.
- Distribute your content across as many appropriate social media platforms as possible. Social media management tools can make this a relatively quick process.
- Link to previously published content. For example, if you mention a complementary piece of content in a blog post, link to it. By cross-linking your content, readers have more opportunity to spend time with your brand and get introduced to other content (expertise, offers, products, and services). The cascading effects of this practice can be significant.
Ensure content can be found by the search engines:
- Incorporate keywords and metadata appropriately and correctly – including what the audience sees and what the search engines see.
- Write compelling headlines to draw in potential readers. Be sure to leverage keywords.
- Unsure how to optimize for search? Our white paper, SEO 101: The Basics (and Beyond), can help. (See what we just did there? If not, re-read the “cross-promote content” section directly above.)
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.
Watch for Content Creep
Now, a word about getting complacent about your marketing materials. 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. This is particularly relevant if it can be replaced with content that is new, fresh, 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, the primary one 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 demonstrating that your company is active and engaged in the industry, which increases the perception of credibility and authority. It’s all upside.
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 all 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.