This post is adapted from a chapter of my e-book B2B Content Marketing 101: Becoming Your Customer’s Trusted Advisor. To obtain a full copy free of charge, click here.
In the last post we looked at what content marketing actually is, and I casually threw in Cisco as an example.
Now I don’t know you yet, but I’ve got an idea of what you might be thinking.
“Hang on a minute. Cisco are huge – I don’t have that kind of money to invest in content marketing”
I hear you.
Thankfully, you don’t need a huge budget to make content marketing work for you. In fact, being smaller actually works in your favour.
No matter how hard Cisco try (and they try very hard) it’s almost impossible for them to forge a personal relationship with their customers. Of course, their larger customers will have Cisco account managers, but that’s not quite the same thing.
Regardless of how good their content is (or how good their executive bios are) Cisco will never appear to be as personal or likeable as a smaller company can be. In that sense, they’re a victim of their own success. There’s no doubting that Cisco are the experts, or that they’ll do a good job… It’s just that they’ll never be able to provide that personal touch.
So how does content marketing work for those of us who don’t have billions of dollars to play with?
The simplest way to explain it is by looking at the ‘Customer Engagement Cycle’.
Yeah, I know. It sounds like something a management consultant would say.
But bear with me, I promise this is useful.
It’s Not a @#$%ing Funnel
You’ll probably notice that this diagram closely mirrors the traditional sales funnel. Rather than looking at this purely as a business transaction, however, the cycle represents the journey your content will usher people through.
I’ve included the typical sales funnel terms of ‘Lead’, ‘Prospect’ and ‘Conversion’ to demonstrate the similarities, but there are distinct differences as you’ll see shortly.
Each stage of the cycle represents a section of your potential customer base and their level of interest in your company.
You’ll notice that at each stage the cohort gets smaller. Again, this is similar to the standard sales funnel. In fact, just like the sales funnel, this process is as much about pushing away people who aren’t suitable as it is about pulling in those who are.
The idea is that you produce a range of valuable content which gradually ushers people through the engagement cycle. If you’re familiar with the sales funnel process, this is similar to keeping leads ‘warm’ until they’re ready to buy.
At this point I’d like to draw a distinction.
The sales funnel is concerned only with people or businesses that might become customers. The engagement cycle relates to anyone who could benefit from your content.
That’s an important distinction. There will be people who enjoy your content, but who are not suitable prospects. This could be because they can’t afford your product or service, they’re outside of your geographical remit, or any one of a hundred other reasons.
Regardless, they form a part of your audience.
And that’s the crux of the engagement cycle. When you start providing valuable content, you start building an audience. Some audience members will be qualified customers that progress through the cycle. Some will get to a certain point (probably stage three) and never move on.
And that’s O.K.
Believe it or not, there are genuine advantages to having a large audience, even if many of them never buy anything. Here are a few for your consideration:
They provide feedback – If you give people the opportunity to say what they do and don’t like about your content, they’ll tell you. Whether they’re buying or not, this feedback is vital to the ongoing engagement of your audience.
They tell their friends – If people like your content, they’ll share it. Imagine that – People who’re never going to buy from you marketing on your behalf. This is the real power of social media, and it’s one of the reasons why good content marketing is so successful.
They’ll tell you what they want – So there are members of your audience who can’t or won’t buy your products or services. But you know what they will do? They’ll ask you for other products or services that they do want. Perhaps it’s a lower spec product for smaller companies. Perhaps it’s an in-depth information product that doesn’t exist yet. The point is that you’ve got the best research tool you could ever dream of, and if you’re willing to listen you’ll find new business opportunities by the handful.
And creating lower value products can actually perform a similar function to your content marketing. You might have a dedicated audience member who’s considering making a big purchase. She loves your content, but she’s not quite sure if she wants to commit to a large expense right away.
Now imagine that in addition to your main product, a software training course, you also offer an e-book that helps people to get started on their own. She’s happy to lay down a bit of cash to pick that up, and once she’s got everything she can from it she’s far more likely to fork out for the course itself.
Even if she decides against the larger purchase, you’ve still sold her the e-book. She’s still a loyal member of your audience. There’s a good chance she’ll buy more from you in future.
But even if she never pays you another penny, she’s still providing value.
If you remember nothing else about the engagement cycle, remember this:
Products are for customers. Content is for your audience.
Take Your Audience by the Hand…
So you’ve seen the engagement cycle, and you understand the value of building an audience. How do you move your audience through the cycle, thereby getting the rewards you deserve?
The simple answer is that your content attracts potential customers to your audience and then keeps them ‘warm’ until they’re ready to buy. It’s well established that playing the ‘long game’ results in far more conversions than asking for sales at the first point of contact.
Consider the basic premise of telemarketing. Some companies will put together a list of prospects, call them up and ask for the sale. I like to call this the ‘piñata method’.
If you stumble around swinging your stick for long enough you’ll eventually get some sweets.
Smarter companies have come up with a better method for creating business with telesales. They have their sales people call up prospects and talk to them about their products. If a prospect indicates that they’re interested, the salesperson offers to send them an email with further information. The email might include the benefits of the product, example cases studies, promotional materials, etc.
What it doesn’t include is a sales pitch, or ‘call to action’.
Once they’ve had a chance to look through the information they’ve been sent, the prospect will receive another call. The salesperson will ask what they thought of the information and whether they need to know anything else. Depending on how this conversation goes they might provide further information, or arrange site visits. If the prospect is unsuitable, or simply not interested, they’ll be scrubbed off the list.
That’s an improvement, right? We’re no longer swinging wildly in the dark hoping to score a hit on the papier-mâché candy-bomb of potential customers. (What the hell is up with piñatas, by the way?)
Now we’ve got a strategy.
It’s certainly true that the second of these processes is far more effective. It’s also reasonable to wonder whether it could be made even better.
How about instead of a single email, the prospect received between three and ten emails spread over a few weeks – All providing further information and gradually warming them up for the call to action?
Now the process looks like this:
Initial Call -> 3-10 automatic emails -> Follow-up call
Think that’ll score more conversions? You bet.
But we can take it further.
What if each of those automatic emails (they’re called autoresponders, by the way, or sometimes ‘lead nurturing’ emails) included links back to your main content platform, perhaps your website or blog. Now not only are they getting loads of information that could help their business, they’re getting a weekly reminder to check out your website for more of the same.
And that’s the basic idea behind content marketing – Reach your audience, demonstrate how you can solve their problems and then keep them ‘warm’ with great content so that they become a loyal member of your audience. Once they’ve reached this point, they’ll be far more likely to buy from you, and you remove the outdated idea that a single conversion is the ultimate goal.
Getting Noticed in a World of ADHD
So that was a great example of how content marketing can work hand-in-hand with traditional marketing techniques like telesales.
But can it work on its own? Hell yes.
If we remove telesales from the mix, all we’re missing is a way of driving traffic towards your content. The good news is that there are many ways of doing this.
As a starting point, direct mail or email can be used as a lead generation tool. Conversion rates for email are lower than telesales or direct mail, but it has the advantage of being exceptionally cheap and reaching a wide audience.
Alright, I know that most businesses aren’t mad about the idea of cold calling, direct mail or email campaigns. They’re just not targeted enough for many people’s liking, and I can see their point. But it is vital to have a plan for driving people towards your content. There’s nothing more dispiriting than producing loads of great content but not knowing how to tell anyone it’s there.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that Google will come to their rescue. They’re sadly mistaken for reasons that I’ll in later posts.
There is a basic principle that underpins all good content promotion: You must find out where your desired audience are hanging out.
Once you know that, you’ll be in a great position to signpost them towards your content.
Let’s imagine that your business sells security software. You’re producing great content that would be valuable to anyone who cares about cyber security.
But nobody yet knows where to find you.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’re targeting small to medium sized businesses looking to improve their IT systems.
Given their interested in improving their IT systems, where might you find your target audience?
Perhaps they’re reading large technology blogs for ideas.
Perhaps there are online publications devoted to the general subject of cyber security (there are).
Are there relevant trade publications? Podcasts? Video blogs?
There’s a tendency for people who’re new to content marketing to assume that since their content is online, they should do all their promotion online.
That simply isn’t the case.
What you need to do is identify existing audiences that overlap with your desired audience. Once you know where your desired audience members are hanging out, you know where you need to go to signpost them back to your content platform.
There are loads of great ways to promote your content, here are a few for starters:
- Write guest posts for popular blogs
- Be an expert guest on relevant podcasts or video blogs
- Get traditional media coverage through magazines, newspapers, trade journals, or even appear on documentaries
- Use public speaking as a way to give away more information for free, and drive people back to your main content platform
- Use links to your content to help answer questions posted on forums (Don’t spam…)
- Invite readers to share your content via social media
- Share your own content via social media
- Use paid promotion techniques, such as adwords or social media marketing campaigns
And whatever promotion techniques you use, make sure you’re signposting people back to your content.
Raising general awareness is great, but what you really want are solid results: a link, or direct ‘call to action’.
There are many great ways to promote your content, it’s simply a case of being creative and jumping on every opportunity.
I hope you enjoyed this post, which was adapted from my B2B Content Marketing 101 e-book. The next post in this series will be a case study of content marketing in action, but in the mean time why not download the e-book for free and get caught up?