In this digital age, where information is everywhere and easily accessible, customers are increasingly choosy about what they pay attention to and are adept at tuning out advertising and other messages that don’t interest them. Today’s customers only pay attention to content that they genuinely care about and want to consume. Seth Godin, the modern marketing guru, has said that content marketing is the only marketing left; meaning that the only way to reach customers today is by providing valuable information that entertains and delights them and, most importantly, engages them.
You may have decided that content marketing is an important element of your overall marketing strategy and have resolved to implement it but then face the question: ‘What content should I create?’ There’s lots (and lots) of content out there, but your content will only be effective when it’s changing the behavior of your customers and prospective customers and this can only happen when that content is desired and valued by them.
Why content marketing?
Content marketing is a response to the fact that customers don’t care about your products or services, they care about themselves and their wants and needs. It’s the answer to that most pertinent of all questions, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Your content must be laser-focused on answering that question and keeping your readers engaged. The only way to do so effectively is to either inform or entertain them (or both).
Your goal in content marketing should be to create valuable information about the things your customers are passionate or concerned about and that motivates them to take action; it is the only way that you will get their attention. This cannot be overemphasized: some think that creating any old content will work, that sprinkling a few keywords in a 500-word article will be enough, but this is not content marketing.
Today, to connect with customers, you need to solve their problems, tell an engaging story and focus on them. Your content needs to inform, engage or amuse them to drive a desired action. It needs to establish a relationship with the customer that builds trust in your brand and enables you to nurture prospective customers towards a purchase, conversion, or some other profitable goal.
If your content engages and informs but does not further your business goals in some way (whether a sale, signup or other action) it is not content marketing, it is simply content. Your content must constantly work to attract and retain customers by engaging them and driving them to a desired action.
This engagement relies on trust: you must be proactively trustworthy by providing valuable information to the customer. This is in an inverted approach to traditional marketing: you need to sell by not selling which means that only when the customer trusts you will the sale occur. You will only see the long-term returns of content marketing when you have an engaged audience that trusts you. Once you do, however, the benefits are enormous and long-lasting.
Understanding your audience through a customer persona
A customer persona represents an idealized version of a customer for your goods or services: it is effectively a set of characteristics that will represent the target audience for your content marketing. It is best to consider your entire audience as distilled into the attributes of this one person and their desires, goals, problems and demographics. It should be as complete a view of the customer as possible, including their values, the challenges they are facing, where they get their information, their occupation, annual income, age and so on.
The purpose of this is to hone your content so that it speaks to the person who matters in your marketing effort. If you were selling printers, for example, this persona might reflect the characteristics of a purchasing manager in a company of a certain size and so on. If you were selling to expectant mothers, the persona would, naturally, be completely different.
As a content marketer you should focus on identifying the following about your ideal customer when creating a customer persona:
- Priorities. What are the problems and issues that this individual dedicates time, money and energy to solve?
- Success Indicators. What does this person consider to be a measure of success: growing revenue, increasing sign-ups, getting conversions, and so on.
- Barriers to Adoption. What are the perceived factors that cause them to question whether they can achieve success with the proposed solution (prior poor experience, competing interests, for example)?
- Purchase Process. How does this person go about deciding to purchase a particular solution that overcomes their barriers to success?
- Decision-making criteria. What criteria does the person assess in evaluating competing solutions?
The important point to remember is that the better you understand your desired customers the better you will be able to help them on their buyer journey starting as a prospect and leading to a sale. Customers want a better experience when making a purchase and content marketing can help you do this. You must, however, always keep your buyer persona in mind and understand the stage of the buyer journey they are at (aware, considering, deciding) and produce content for each phase of that journey.
Creating a content strategy
The content you create will depend on your business objectives and the needs of your customers. Every content marketing plan, therefore, is individual but it fundamentally relies on knowing your customer who is the audience for your content. Every piece of content depends on its intended audience (a children’s book and an executive summary, for example) and this must be the starting point for deciding what content to produce. While you can’t duplicate someone else’s content strategy you can learn from the way that other companies have engaged their customers.
An effective content strategy relies on doing the following:
- Identifying the customer’s pain point. Your content needs to solve a problem that the customer has or that affects them positively in some other way. Your content needs to be about their lives, the issues they are facing and the conversations they are having about them.
- Creating content for the pain point. The techniques of effective content marketing are the same as traditional methods for getting people to buy products: focus on the customer’s problem or pain point, discuss and prod the issues around that pain point and then provide a solution to the problem.
- Including a customer action. While content marketing relies on building strong relationships with customers without indulging in undue selling, it must nonetheless be written with some goal in mind. This may depend on the point of the purchase journey the customer is on but there must always be a desired action that is the goal of the content.
- Deciding on a content medium. The medium in which you present your content will depend on your audience and the format in which they consume information whether this is text, video or audio. The medium is less important than the story you want to tell and the voice you use to tell it. Knowing your audience will help you to decide which channel is the most effective at reaching them.
How to create content your customers want
To create effective content you need to understand your customers, prospects and audience to speak to them effectively by creating a buyer persona. By engaging them and addressing their problems and concerns the goal is to turn them into long-term customers. This is easier said than done, however, and sometimes it is difficult not to fall into the habits of creating traditional marketing content. Following are some suggestions about what to keep in mind when creating your content so that it will engage customers:
- Meet a need. Your content needs to provide information about how to fulfill an unmet need, solve a problem or answer a question for the customer. It must be useful in some way to the customer. This is extremely important. It is not enough to describe the merits of your product or service, you must explain how it will solve a problem or meet the customer’s needs.
- Be human. Your content will connect best when it does so on an emotional, human level. Do not be afraid to be yourself and to have a unique voice: people connect best with this. This means you can be funny or sarcastic, even sad or angry as long as it serves the purpose of reaching the customer at some ‘gut level’.
- Have an opinion. Your content does not need to be journalism, a technical description or an academic report. Don’t be afraid to give your opinion on things that matter to the customer and their problem. You should position yourself (and by extension your company) as having experience and expertise to share.
- Don’t sell. The content you create is about the customer and their problem. Avoid sales speak or being overly promotional. Your product or service should be mentioned naturally within the context of providing a solution without seeming forced. Your goal should be to help and educate the customer rather than overtly selling to them.
- Create the best content. The internet is awash with information and customers will quickly turn elsewhere unless what you’re offering is the best of breed. It is not enough to simply produce mediocre content and hope for the best. Producing the best content takes time and research and, even if you don’t achieve it right away, you aim to provide the best content available in your industry or niche that delivers amazing value to the customer.
- Always deliver. When you set out on a content marketing strategy, whether it be blog posts or video how-to’s, your content needs to be published on a regular and consistent schedule. Whether you explicitly promise this to the customer or it is implied, you must consistently deliver content that is valuable and useful to them once you have begun. This establishes trust and shows you can be relied upon to meet the customer’s needs or answer their questions.
Examples of the types of content people want
While it’s all very well to talk in theory about the type of content people want, here are some example ideas for content that people are always interested in consuming:
- Tells a story
- Takes us on a journey
- Covers overlooked basics
- Provides an unexpected twist or alternative view
- Inspires action
- Reveals secrets
- Reminds us we are unique
- Confirms or challenges our assumptions
- Educates while also entertaining
- Provides a fresh view
If you want to get people’s attention, engage them, provide them with useful information while also helping to promote your products or services, there are several types of content topics that are great for content marketing:
- Changes and trends. Discuss the way that a changing market landscape or a new trend is impacting your customers and how you are addressing it or responding to it. You can talk about causes for the trend, the current situation and your recommendations for how to avoid harm or take advantage of it. This is particularly effective for businesses that are involved in coming up with new solutions in response to changing business conditions.
- How to. This type of content helps people to do something. It should provide information on how to solve a problem or achieve a benefit in detail and should include the specific steps or actions that they need to take. This positions you as someone that cares about your clients’ success and wants to achieve a good outcome for them. This is only effective, however, if it is written in response to a problem or goal that clients genuinely care about and that offers tangible benefits.
- Working with. Similar to the ‘How To’, this type of content gives the reader practical advice on how to work with your business. It should list the issues and factors that will lead to the best outcome for a client and describe how you worked together to achieve them. It should also discuss problems and issues that arose and how they were overcome. This works best for customers that are looking at purchasing a commodity where there is high competition and your efforts as a service provider makes the difference.
- Case study. This is an evergreen topic for content marketing since it allows customers to see how your products and services can help them to solve a problem or improve their performance. Once again, however, if they do not reflect problems that most of your customers have or aren’t properly developed they can come across as boring or irrelevant. As a guide, they will value case studies when they contain information your customers can directly apply and should consist of:
- Description of the problem faced
- Listing of all the actions performed, and processes used, to resolve the problem, including any issues that arose and how they were dealt with
- Description of the outcome and how it benefited the client
- Outline of the lessons learned and techniques used that will benefit the reader
Content marketing is a highly effective way for customers to find out about your products, to engage them with helpful information and, finally, to convince them to buy. For it to be effective, however, you’ll need to produce the content your customers want. The better you understand your customers and provide relevant information that focuses on them and solves their problems, the more effective your content marketing efforts will be.