Once upon a time, long, long ago (around 2005-ish), a plucky little technology company hired a young freelance writer, and set her loose to see what she could do. Let it be known that in those ancient days of yore, the term “content marketing” was yet half a decade away from its public debut, and a strange new animal called “the business blog” was a rare creature generally considered to be of minimal value to its possessor.
Nevertheless, this young writer set out to bring a blog to life for her new employer. She knew very little about data storage, but she was determined to learn. She asked the sales people to show her how the equipment worked. She researched business problems related to data storage, and asked a lot of dumb questions to get her little head around the big issues everyone was talking about.
Then she wrote.
That first blog entry started a conversation, and the conversation started a relationship, and the relationship started a sale that would yield the plucky little technology company several hundred thousand dollars in revenue within weeks.
That young lady was me, and I would love to say that I have repeated that success with every blog entry I’ve ever written, but of course that’s not true. At the time, content marketing was so young that no one in my employer’s market was doing it. All we had to do was produce valuable content and wait for people to start talking about it.
Now, though? Whew. If I were to blow into your company and guarantee I would net a hundred thousand dollars for you with a single blog entry, you’d be justified in shooing me straight out the door again. In today’s competitive content marketing environment, companies must invest in strategic planning and dedicated, long-term execution in order to expect results from their content marketing.
Most marketing departments understand this reality, and would rightly laugh at my younger self’s maverick performance.
Since those early days, I’ve learned a few things. For instance, I’ve learned that simply writing competently about a topic is no longer good enough. To stand out in a competitive environment, content marketing must be built on a firm understanding of who you want to target (your buyer), how they talk about the business problem they’re trying to solve (their challenge), and how they make purchasing decisions in regard to it (the buyer’s journey).
As you’re planning your content strategy for the next quarter, here are five questions you should answer.
Question One: How Does Your Buyer Research?
Today’s average B2B buyer consumes more than 10 pieces of content before contacting a salesperson. The question, therefore, is not whether your buyers conduct research before they contact you, it’s where and how.
To succeed, your organization has to reach buyers before you even know a specific buyer exists. To accomplish this feat, you have two main options:
- Saturate every possible platform with advertising in hopes of reaching the right people at the right time.
- Invest in research to determine where and when your buyers conduct their research, and be there to meet them.
Once you understand where the buyer’s journey begins, take the time to map out where they go from there, and plan content to meet them at each point along the way.
Question Two: Where Does It Hurt?
Pain is a powerful motivator. As much as we wish our prospects would all come looking for us proactively, the majority of buyers are in the market because something hurts. Perhaps it’s supply chain issues, environmental problems on a property, or the knowledge that competitors are getting ahead because they have better financial analytics.
In addition to these primary pains, remember that your buyers are people, too, and they will experience personal pains associated with the purchase they’re considering. It may be that their annual bonus is tied to performance. Perhaps they’re vetting calls on nights, weekends, and holidays because of problems with the supply chain. Uncover the buyer’s personal pain points, and use them to develop a list of talking points and content topics.
Question Three: What Are They Afraid Of?
Sometimes the buyer may not be experiencing immediate pain, but knows that she must act if she’s to avoid some future unfortunate circumstance. Perhaps she fears messing up the company her father built, or not getting that promotion she’s hoping for. Fears often have to do with the competition, and what they may or may not be doing.
Many B2B purchases require lengthy implementations, which carry significant risks. Making the wrong decision can lead to both business loss and career damage. Becoming clear about the particular fears your buyer experiences will help you to position your messaging to address and ameliorate any fears related to your product, while using other fears to drive action.
Question Four: What Are Your Buyer’s Aspirations?
Pain and fear are powerful motivators, but hopes and dreams get a person out of bed and ready to roll in the morning. It’s important to understand what your buyer hopes to gain from purchasing your solution, and it’s equally important to understand the buyer’s big picture aspirations.
If you’re marketing to junior executives, there’s a good chance they hope to make it into the C-suite someday. If you’re marketing to users or technical employees, their aspiration may have to do with job satisfaction, productivity, or that next promotion. Try to think about what the person’s life looks like now, and what they want it to look like in the future.
Aspirational content can play a powerful role in top of funnel content. At this stage, the buyer may not have a clear idea what their solution will look like or even what the underlying problem is, and they will respond best to marketing that makes them feel the way they want to feel.
Question Five: What’s Stopping Your Buyer From Making a Decision Right Now?
The first four questions help you understand where to be and with what types of content in order to meet your buyer’s needs. This last question helps to close the loop and convert these carefully nurtured prospects into actual leads.
Assuming you’ve successfully connected with the buyer at each stage of their journey, there are still many potential factors that can stop progress toward a decision. For instance:
- He’s not convinced this solution is important enough to prioritize
- She doesn’t have time to mess with it right now
- He doubts his organization’s ability to follow through
- She thinks another solution will provide more value
- He doesn’t have a sense of urgency about the solution
Sales conversations and surveys can help you identify which of these obstacles your buyers experience. In addition, content analytics can help identify where in the buying process they’re dropping off, and therefore what you need to do to keep them moving. Once you understand the buyer’s obstacles, you can plan content and sales conversations to overcome them more effectively.
Content marketing has come a long way since the ancient days of yore. There’s more competition, higher customer expectations, and a lot more options for content distribution. But ultimately, the fundamentals are precisely the same as they have been since the early dawn of commerce:
Buyers are still people, and people still buy from people they trust.
It’s just that in today’s environment, you have to build that trust before you ever actually speak to the buyer. Use the answers to your five questions to build a strategy that helps buyers in a meaningful way, and your marketing will be more effective than ever.