Getting customer attention is challenging, and even more so when you are a small technology company. There is not only an abundance of “noise” marketers have to contend with, but once you get that coveted attention, the chances are your buyer is not ready to buy. This is where content plays an important role, moving a customer deeper into the marketing funnel.
Content helps build customer relationships and thought leadership, empowering your brand and market positioning. What does your company stand for? What makes your products and services unique? Why should I trust your people and organization? Using content strategically is a foundation for marketing and business success.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 survey, content marketers have used content in the following ways, in order of success: to create brand awareness, educate audiences, build credibility and trust, and generate leads.
Surprisingly, building subscriber lists ranks much lower at number nine out of 10. For B2B organizations, getting e-newsletter subscriptions should be a top priority – the majority of buyers coming to your website are hardly ever ready to purchase immediately.
A Simplified Content Marketing Framework
A content marketing pipeline requires a simple framework, matching buyer personas or your ideal customers with the content they desire at each stage in the buyer’s journey.
The challenge for marketers is pipelines are typically non-linear in the real world, with prospects moving in and out of the buying process. Marketers need to understand how their customers research and buy products, and be aware of the importance of reaching customers at the right moments in the buyer`s journey that most influence purchasing.
A process mindset is also recommended when using a pipeline model, not only encouraging marketing and sales collaboration, but instilling a focus on the customer. Remember it’s not about you, but creating value for customers.
A blog is a key element of a content marketing strategy, showcasing your expertise and knowledge; often the first experience customers have with your brand.
The 3 Stages of the Customer Buying Cycle
One suggested funnel framework consists of three phases: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision/Acquisition. Additional stages and circular frameworks can be incorporated into our model, but for more simplified content planning purposes, we can better align content during each stage of the buyer’s journey.
In the initial Awareness stage, buyers are likely unaware of your company and may even be unaware of their need for your products or services. It’s important to create awareness, so that buyers can understand what you do and how you can help them.
In this stage, content should be focused on general buyer “pain” points and not on your specific brand offerings.
Buyers are primarily looking for educational materials in this stage. Content options for this stage are plentiful and include: blog posts, infographics, whitepapers, e-books, tip sheets, checklists, how to videos, educational webinars and email newsletters, to name but a few.
Expert Tips During the Awareness Stage:
Think search! Google is the number one place where a buyer’s journey begins. What are the popular keywords buyers are using when searching for your products or services?
By incorporating popular industry keywords and terminology into your content, the benefits of organic SEO can be quickly realized. Always maximize your organic SEO efforts first, before going the paid route.
It’s crucial to get visitors to your website to do what you want them to do, such as signing up for a newsletter (a number one priority), registering for a webinar, or downloading an educational piece.
Pay special attention to what is visible “above the fold” on your website’s home page. This is prime real estate: Your value proposition needs to be clearly articulated; don’t make people search your entire website for this information. Main product/service summary descriptions should also be placed here.
Blogging is an essential awareness tactic: A blog is a key element of a content marketing strategy, showcasing your expertise and knowledge; often the first experience customers have with your brand. Frequent blogging not only has SEO benefits, but answers the important question: Why should I do business with your organization?
Consider highlighting up to three blog posts on your home page, and place them below the fold.
For B2B marketing, LinkedIn is the number one platform to participate on.
Share “digital nuggets” of your blog posts on social media. For B2B marketing, LinkedIn is the number one platform to participate on. Share content with your network, including a number of targeted individuals and LinkedIn groups. Chances are your target audience is found on LinkedIn.
Don’t forget the importance of subscribers: Add a subscription box at the top of your blog home page and include a mechanism for subscribing to your company blog in each post. This “Top-of-the-Funnel” or TOFU call-to-action tactic, helps start the customer relationship and maintains awareness.
In the Consideration stage, buyers take a deeper dive into your offerings for vendor comparison purposes, and first begin reaching out to your sales team.
47% of B2B buyers consume 3-5 pieces of content prior to engaging with a salesperson, according to DemandGen.
In fact, 47% of B2B buyers consume 3-5 pieces of content prior to engaging with a salesperson, according to DemandGen. Prospects are determining if your offerings are aligned with their needs, and evaluating your abilities in helping them achieve ROI and improve their bottom line.
Content must not only speak the language of IT, but also address business audiences, including the C-level suite. Less tech or gizmo wording, but more business content works well. Save the technical documents for when your company has been shortlisted.
Content options for this stage include data sheets and service descriptions, demo videos, product/service webinars and FAQs.
Expert Tips During the Consideration Stage:
In the Consideration stage, content should address popular industry topics and position your company as a leader.
A dedicated Web resources section is recommended. Many smaller tech companies may find it challenging to develop a resources section filled with comprehensive, industry white papers; a more cost-effective approach is short, two-page documents that bring attention to the issues that matter most to your audience, incorporating your perspective.
Begin tracking interest and getting customer feedback, before investing in more in-depth and costly content production.
Consider producing a Sales Playbook – helping customer-facing sales reps communicate more effectively – utilizing the most appropriate content, at the ideal time, during the buyer’s journey.
HubSpot offers an excellent free resource called “The Ultimate Guide to Creating and Using a Sales Playbook.”
In the Decision/Acquisition stage, buyers are ready to select their vendor and need specific proof points that your solution is the best one matching their exact requirements. Buyers will want to better understand what it’s like working with you, including initial preparation, project implementation, and post-launch support services provided.
In this stage, you want to be highly brand-specific about your service offerings. Content options for this stage include participating in more in-depth consultations and providing ROI calculators. Some organizations will offer product trials.
Prospects also want to see and understand what others achieved by choosing your organization as a provider. Case studies are highly recommended in this stage.
Expert tips During the Decision/Acquisition Stage:
Develop a number of case studies that can be placed on your Web resources section, serving as important proof-points – ideally using quantitative success metrics.
When interviewing a customer for a success story, 10 important questions should be asked:
- The challenges and objectives that led the customer looking for your offering?
- Who was involved in the buying/selection process?
- What was most important to the customer when evaluating the various options of your offering?
- How long did it take to get the solution up and running?
- Who was involved in the process during implementation?
- Who is using the product or service?
- Is there a particular aspect of the product or service that is relied on most by the customer?
- What are the key ROI and benefits of the solution? Numbers (quantitative) are absolutely needed.
- How has the solution addressed the customer’s challenges and solved their problems?
- Ask your customer about their future plans and their vision in using your technology going forward.
Final Thoughts: The Four Sources of Credibility
Credibility is critical to an organization’s success. There are four main sources of credibility:
1) Owned Media
Your website and blog are typically under your control and called Owned Media. Customers are searching for information and want it to be from a trustworthy source. The first customer touch point is often a vendor’s website. Tell a compelling story, build emotional connection, and educate your customers.
When researching your company (and its leadership team) what will potential customers see?
2) Earned Media
Credibility can be enhanced through Public Relations (PR) and is termed Earned Media. Examples include winning an industry award, a product review, speaking at an event, or being featured in a respected publication. PR is more cost-effective than advertising and offers a third-party endorsement.
3) Borrowed Media
Credibility can be Borrowed in a number of ways: an industry association listing, being part of a large, recognizable partner ecosystem, such as having a special Microsoft partner status; or through social media channels, whenever someone likes, comments or shares your content.
4) Paid Media
Credibility can also be generated using Paid Media such as pay-per-click, banner ads, trade shows and other event participation, and sponsored content. Don’t solely rely on earned media. With paid media you can further extend your reach and audience, and craft your messaging for best possible alignment with your target audience.
Where do you begin? Start with what you have full control of – your Owned Media. Get your house in order. Follow by tackling the other media sources with a multi-channel, holistic approach.
All forms of media need to work together, similar to the spokes of a wheel, providing the necessary stability, as you peddle forward in building your firm’s reputation and trust barometer.
Irving Frydman is Chief Branding Officer and Principal of B2B Marketing Insights, a digital marketing consultancy, serving the Information Technology (IT) industry and other sectors. The firm provides services in public relations (PR), content marketing, and social media.