Guest Post by Matt Greener

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 80% of business decision-makers want their company information in a series of articles rather than in advertisements. Prospects are self-educating and really don’t like being ‘sold to.’ There’s a lot of talk about content marketing, but the true power and purpose of content marketing is to build an audience, not to blast prospects with advertisements on new channels.

When you focus on building the audience, this is what attracts prospects, converts and retains customers. Provide your audience the tools and confidence that they need with content that informs and motivates along each stage of their customer journey.

Stage 1 – Awareness

During the initial stage of Awareness, the prospect is experiencing a problem. The information should be educational and provide a framework to help them clearly understand and identify their problem. Common thoughts for people in this stage include:

  • What is going on?
  • Have other people experienced a similar issue?
  • What do the experts have to say?
  • What does the issue boil down to (i.e. a replacement part, servicing or new purchase)?

It’s important at this stage to provide valuable non-salesy (let me know if you have a better way to say this) information that educates the prospect. This is your opportunity to establish trust and allow them to tap into your community and resources for more information. At this point, you are there for them to provide insights for their specific situation.

According to HubSpot, content will be vendor neutral, establish requirements and help prospects identify their personal or business problem.

Some examples of the types of content at this stage are:

  • Self Assessment Tools
  • eBooks
  • White Papers
  • Analyst Reports
  • Blog Posts
  • Podcasts
  • Editorial Content

Prospects are looking for a clear general overview from authoritative sources that can guide them further along their search. They want to find out the trends and understand the vocabulary to properly frame their problem. Branded content, such as a website or magazine fits in this area as it builds trust over time.

An example of this type of content is Fujitsu: I-CIO. This thought leadership website uses content to address the needs of CIOs. Downloadable guides and regular editorial content focuses on the problems and challenges of their audience. The articles are thought pieces and opinions of experts in the field and are used to attract and engage their audience at this stage of Awareness.

Fujitsu builds brand recognition and positioning quietly with the information on this website, but does not promote their products or services within the editorial content provided to their audience at this stage.

Stage 2 – Consideration

As we move along to the next stage of the customer journey, Consideration, prospects are looking at all potential solutions for their problem. They have a clear picture of their situation and want to understand all of the alternatives and their price points. They are actively researching all appropriate vendors or companies. The customer is thinking:

  • What are the available options?
  • What alternatives fit within my budget, or other important factors?
  • How effective is each alternative as a solution to my problem?

The prospect will be comparing the choices that they find and develop additional questions along the way. During their research, they will identify a solution strategy and parameters for likely candidates.

At this stage, tailored content objectively compares alternatives for the audience. Information given by an expert with authority on the matter will be useful to viewers and readers. Examples of the forms of content that enable the customer journey at this point include:

  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • Product Info PDF’s
  • Expert/Editorial
  • Solution Comparison White Papers

Provide audiences with material that helps them make a fully informed decision. These forms of content help prospects gain a deeper understanding of alternatives while pointing out noteworthy features and benefits for potential customers.

One such example is Range Rover: The Journey. It reveals innovations and showcases the quality of the product. Films, such as “What is Land Rover Hybrid?” and “Is Hybrid Right for You?”, provide more insight into the products and ask questions not only of the product, but the audience as well.

Land Rover qualifies their audience by informing them who would most benefit from a Hybrid system. Similarly, Autobytel’s Top 10 Hybrid Cars Video Review allows viewers to understand the options available on the market and address difference values such as price, overall value, materials, and fuel economy. As of this time, the video has garnered over 53,040 views.

Stage 3 – Decision

The prospect has an intent and wants to purchase. At this final stage, a vendor or product/service will be chosen from within the prospect’s solution strategy. Typically, the prospect will start with a long list of all available vendors and products that meet their requirements, then generate a short list and finally make a selection (this process can be dramatically accelerated if your company stands out as superior).

Considerations during the Decision phase include:

  • What are the most suitable vendors to meet my personal qualifiers?
  • What support exists that validates a purchase with the company?
  • What value will I receive with my purchase?
  • Is there a history of use in a similar case to my own or can the product be adapted to meet my specific case?
  • What are the financing considerations and is there a payment program?
  • What type of return policy do they offer?

The prospect now needs very specific details on the product and vendor and reassurance to validate their possible choice. The more that they can engage with or see the product in action, the more probable that they will invest. Content to address this stage includes:

  • Product Literature
  • Trial/Software Downloads
  • Demos
  • Case Studies
  • Testimonials
  • Vendor/Product Comparisons

Aim to get the prospect as close as possible to experiencing the product or service. To visualize and feel their problem being solved. Enable those at this stage to test-drive the product and know all that they can about possible outcomes. Bring out the big names that have also used the product and demonstrate long-term satisfaction with case studies and testimonials. Make the prospect confident in their choice.

Trials offer users a sense that you stand behind your product or service with confidence that your solution solves their problem. Information on features and benefits needs to be delivered in context. Content needs to show why your option best suits their situation.

GoPro’s Shop By Activity, offering specialized camera and accessory bundles, allows users to identify the most suitable products. Detailed instructional and installation videos are useful for those requiring information on the use or implementation of a complex item or service. Your content is invaluable in assuring customers that you offer the best solution for their specific situation. Give them the details that they need to come to a final decision and motivate purchase.

Content Strategy Enables the Customer Journey

With all of this in mind, organizations need a cohesive strategy to address the customer journey. The content that is the outcome of such strategy both fuels and creates the journey as it happens. A map of content related to needs allows salespeople to easily offer relevant materials to their prospects at the right time. Of course, the salespeople need access to this content to address specific questions.

The problem is that only 44% of B2B content marketers have a documented content strategy. This makes it difficult for sales in the majority of organizations to quickly find relevant content that matches the needs of their leads. Can your organization afford to throw money away? Without a map, organizations cannot strategically adjust to change and make improvements.

Lacking a map, sales teams cannot address the needs of prospects along the customer journey and waste valuable time going back and forth with marketing to select and tweak content, without the proper plan in place.

Before any campaign, create a process that delivers content to parties as needed and can be adjusted based on engagement and consumption. With Smarketing, a term indicating the close alignment of Sales and Marketing teams, content is tailored to consumer needs and integrated with a strategy for delivery at the right time along the customer journey.

As Jon Bon Jovi would say, “Map out your future, but do it in pencil”. You need direction within your content strategy to power the ever changing customer journey.

How has content mapping affected your customer engagement? Share your findings in the comments or tweet me.

Bio:  Matt Greener is a marketing, digital and SEO leader that for over 14 years has employed a mix of strategic and tactical skills with businesses and entrepreneurs. He is the Director of Marketing at App Data Room. Follow Matt on Twitter @RealMattGreener or connect on LinkedIn.