Creating great content is a bit like baking a cake. You know what the outcome should look like, you have the ingredients and, if you follow the recipe, it should all turn out fine. But we all know that isn’t necessarily the case. For example, your oven might not work at the correct temperature, the humidity in the air could affect the mix, the quality of the ingredients could vary, or someone might have an allergy to something. So, the simple answer is that you adapt the recipe to make a customised cake.
It’s the same for content – forget following the same old routine, time and again, churning out the same materials. Just like the cake analogy, people’s tastes and requirements change. Therefore, as marketers, we need to understand our target audience and provide the content they need at precisely the right time.
But how do you know what to offer, and when?
The answer lies in analysing and understanding your customer’s journey. After all, your content is a reflection of the message you want to get over to your audience, depending on where each prospect or customer is in the journey. You want to help them make an educated purchase decision and select your products or services over those of your competitors.It’s content that’s at the heart of lead generation, and it’s essential to get it right.
Leads or Content?
As a digital marketing agency, we see first-hand how clients are desperate to generate leads, turning immediately to social media, SEO or PPC. The problem with the briefs we often receive is that there is no content to serve up to prospects looking for more information.
It’s all very well having a social media campaign, but if there is no reason for the customer to engage, that’s a very expensive lost lead. You might send your prospects to your website, but what happens then? What is the user experience once they get there? Do they immediately click away because there’s nothing there to hold their attention?
Content must be strategic
This is why content needs to be firmly at the centre of strategic marketing planning. And yet, very few organisations put content first. Sadly, it’s usually an afterthought once the decision has been made to run a digital marketing campaign.
But, by focusing on the customer journey, you’ll naturally gravitate to a customer-centric approach and ensure that the content meets the customer’s needs at each stage. This, in turn, will help to maximise your return on marketing investment.
Remember, you have just a few seconds to hold someone’s attention before they drift off to the next thing. That’s why it’s essential that your content gets your main strategic message across quickly and succinctly or encourages your audience to spend longer with you through active engagement.
Instead of pushing your products or services, focus on their benefits. You should give your audience something useful to move them along their journey. So, your content needs to be relevant and deliver perceived value in exchange for your audience’s time.
More than words
Content takes many forms – not just the written word. We find, for example, that video tends to do much better on our clients’ social media than static images and text. But anything that has some value for your target audience will lead to better engagement and more leads.
So, at the start of the journey, when the research is fairly generic, you’ll want to offer educational content such as guides and infographics. Then, as customers progress through their journey, you’ll want to nurture them with content that helps to narrow down their choices, such as reports, comparisons and checklists. Then, when it comes to the final purchase decision, you might include case studies, online demos or webinars.
Of course, creating great content takes time and money. So, you’ll need to consider how you can optimise your content and give it a longer shelf life. For example perhaps you could create social media posts at the same time as your longer blog, repurpose older (but still relevant) content or create shorter video clips from one longer animation.
Interestingly, some organisations are now moving towards longer content but on a lower frequency. You may have heard the term ‘digital storytelling’. At its most basic, this entails telling a story about your product, brand or service to attract an audience, getting them to take action and creating a true connection with them. It goes deeper than a marketing campaign to build a long-lasting relationship with them.
Digital storytelling typically involves a wide variety of media to keep the audience’s attention with everything from social media to billboards and content such as infographics, video, audio and text. Some innovative companies are even using augmented reality (AR) to create a truly cross-platform experience.
Creating a content plan
A good content marketing plan will mimic the overall marketing plan, including objectives, strategy, tactics and measurement.
Before starting on a plan, it’s a good idea to run a content audit first to see what you have available, how old it is, what’s performed well and not so well. Existing content can be freshened up with new information. Identify any gaps in your content library and consider how you will plug those gaps. It’s a good idea to brainstorm with as many different departments as possible; seeing the challenge from the sales or customer services teams’ viewpoints can bring new perspectives.
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you put together your content plan:
- Who is my audience? Can I create personas to help me understand what makes them engage?
- What is their preferred media and content, e.g. whitepapers, short videos, webinars, infographics?
- Which social platforms (if any) do they use?
- Do I need to create new or update existing content? Who will create it and when?
- How does new content fit with existing content? Is there any conflict in messaging?
- Does the content naturally move the customer along the buyer journey?
- Which channels will I use to promote my content?
- What are my competitors offering in terms of content, and is it successful?
- When should I launch my content?
Consider creating a calendar to help you schedule how and when you’ll serve content to your different audience segments. This is an excellent way to avoid bunching and overlapping campaigns that will only end up competing with each other for audience attention.
Focus on the customer, not your business
Whenever you’re working with content, don’t make the mistake of being inward-focused. Instead, look at every touchpoint from the customer’s perspective and ask yourself if it will help them on their journey. If not, it’s not adding value.
And if you haven’t already prepared personas, now’s the time to do it. It’s the perfect exercise for understanding what makes your audience tick and getting your content strategy right. For example, short-form videos work well with younger consumer audiences, whereas high-value white papers are perfect for C-level business audiences.
Content creation and management are essential to the strategic marketing plan. As we’ve already seen, it plays a key role in achieving your marketing and business goals.
Great content isn’t just about creating the best video, the most aesthetically-pleasing post or the most detailed research paper. It’s about creating content that resonates with your target audience and offers them greater perceived value than your competitors.
You can have the best content in the world, but it will be completely ineffective if it’s served up to the wrong audience on the wrong platform. That’s why we believe that a good content plan is probably the most important element of your overall strategic marketing plan.