On its face, content marketing sounds easy – toss up a couple of blog posts, release a white paper or two and you’re in business. In an ideal world, this would be enough to earn your company the brand presence and devoted readership that are the hallmarks of well-executed content campaigns. But in practice, most businesses find the results of these cookie-cutter efforts to be lackluster, with no hint of the page views and viral sharing promised by content marketing experts.
Unfortunately, the seemingly-simple nature of this practice leads to one of the biggest mistakes content marketers make – failing to tie their content creation efforts to their sales funnel.
Here’s how this happens… Imagine that you’re a new company promoting a SaaS accounting program. You know that the most successful content campaigns center on regular posting, and – since you’re an expert on accounting – you preload your website’s blog with dozens of articles on bookkeeping tips and tricks and best practices. Your posts go live and they fall flat – but why?
One very likely reason is that the people coming to your website don’t want to become accountants themselves! While this type of content may be helpful in branding your business as an expert in your industry, it may be the wrong fit for your website visitors’ place in your sales funnel. As a result, you’ve wasted a very valuable opportunity to provide them with the education and resources needed to move them to the next step in your buying process.
To see this model in action, take a look at the following graphic from Kuno Creative:
In this model, there are four prospect stages being considered:
- “Traffic” – General website visitors who come to your website for broad content, including blog posts, press releases and web pages.
- “Leads” – Top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) visitors who are willing to take small steps to engage with your brand in exchange for cheat sheets, white papers, guides, “how to” reports or short videos.
- “Prospects” – Potential customers who have moved to the middle of your funnel (MOFU) by overcoming moderate barriers to receive longer videos, eBooks, subscriptions, case studies or assessments.
- “Customers” – Closed customers or those at the bottom of your funnel (BOFU) who are close to becoming customers and are willing to fulfill high barriers in exchange for executive summaries, demos or brochures.
Obviously, your organization may have a more complex sales funnel, depending on the length of your sales cycle. As an example, if you sell a high-dollar product like a piece of marketing automation software, you may find that each of the four stages described above is broken into at least two additional steps, based on the level of relationship each prospect has cultivated with your company.
Now, let’s go back to our SaaS accounting example… If all you’ve done is create blog posts that aim to educate readers, you’re missing content that will appeal to those in the leads, prospects or customers stages of the model above. Hell, you’re probably even missing out on some of the content needed to move visitors from traffic to leads, as not all website visitors will respond well to the same entry-level content pieces.
To improve your content marketing efforts, start by brainstorming different questions that people might have at each point in your sales funnel. The following are just a few that could result from applying the above model to our SaaS accounting example:
- What is SaaS accounting?
- Why do I need a SaaS accounting program?
- How can a SaaS accounting program help me?“
- How should I choose a SaaS accounting program?
- What would a SaaS accounting program look like at my company?
- How does a SaaS accounting program compare to my traditional accountant?
- Why is this SaaS accounting program better than its competitors?
- How will this SaaS accounting program secure my data?
- How has this SaaS accounting program worked for other companies?
- What pricing/contract terms does this SaaS accounting program require?
- How will this SaaS accounting program onboard my company?
- Is this SaaS accounting program financially stable compared to its competitors?
As you can see, the complexity of information required at each stage in the buying process increases as prospective customers get closer and closer to pulling out their credit cards. If your content marketing efforts address only a small part of these questions, you’re going to have a hard time getting your campaigns to generate a positive ROI!
Once you have a list of potential questions that could be asked at each stage of your company’s unique sales funnel, begin to map each question to a particular content piece. For example:
“Traffic” – “What is SaaS accounting?” – Blog post or series of blog posts that educates website visitors on how this type of program works and why it benefits its customers.
“Leads” – “How should I choose a SaaS accounting program?” – Cheat sheet comparison of your product’s key features stacked against other programs in your industry.
“Prospects” – “How has this SaaS accounting program worked for other companies?” – Case studies hidden behind lead generation forms that show how other businesses have successfully adopted your program.
“Customers” – “Is this SaaS accounting program financially stable compared to its competitors?” – Executive summary document detailing your company’s financial health available upon request to qualified prospective customers only.
Certainly, creating all of these content pieces will take time. But if you’re willing to commit fully to content marketing by delivering resources that answer prospect questions at every stage of the buying process, you’ll ultimately find it much easier to guide website visitors through each of the steps listed above. Putting more of the load on your site’s content minimizes the effort required by your salespeople – freeing them and you up to invest your energy elsewhere in your company.
Even if you don’t have the time or energy to create advanced content pieces like case studies, videos and executive summaries, you can still apply this principle to your blog posts alone in order to capture more initial interest at the top of your sales funnel.
At the start of this article, we discussed the common trap that many would-be content marketers fall into – the challenge of only writing blog posts on a single subject of interest. If you do nothing else after reading this post, take the time to brainstorm every possible question you can think of that your early-stage prospects might have or every possible piece of information they might need to move forward with your company. Then, write a blog post that responds to each of these needs, to be released on your site in conjunction with press releases and product-oriented articles.
Once you become comfortable with this process, expand your efforts to include the other types of content described above. Building a strong foundation of information that responds to your prospective customers’ needs – not your own content creation preferences – and then growing your campaigns accordingly is the only way to be truly successful when it comes to content marketing.