To effectively drive content execution, successful go-to-market initiatives include a well-designed content marketing strategy framework. The goal of content marketing is to create and promote content that is relevant, meaningful, and consistently integrated into the buying / selling process. Content should attract, engage, retain and evolve audiences—it must be perceived as valuable. By providing value, a relationship is formed between the content provider and the individual, and this relationship becomes the foundation to support customer acquisition, up-sell, cross-sell and retention.
Content Strategy and Execution Should be Focused on Addressing Individuals From Three Aspects:
- How do they think about their role and contribution in the company?
- What actions do they take when involved in a buying decision? and,
- What content would resonate and motive them to move forward or complete the purchase process?
The good news is that successful models developed by consumer marketers exist to address these issues and savvy B2B marketers have adapted these concepts for B2B sales.
The “what” and “how” of developing a content marketing strategy framework is typically the first obstacle an organization faces — and often it seems insurmountable. Content marketing is both a huge challenge and as well as a huge opportunity, and companies that ignore content marketing or execute poorly will simply not be considered in many purchase decisions. Worse than that, they will be unaware that the opportunities ever existed. Organizations that are best-in-class with content strategy and execution will be shaping what is said, how it is said and who are credible sources on the important topics. It goes without saying that this becomes a huge advantage in terms of getting an at bat and setting the agenda.
Why is Content Marketing Strategy and Execution Such a Big Deal Now?
- Social media has shifted the power from vendors to buyers. Social media provides the infrastructure for peer-to-peer networks to gather, synthesize, editorialize, communicate, promote and share information about companies, products, services, support, etc. without any dependence upon the company in question.
- Buying teams have become more sophisticated as a result of consensus buying. These teams of individuals research technology, companies and products (public information) without a vendor’s awareness that a company has expressed interest in their offering.
- Many buying decisions are based on a short list of vendors. Brands have either established a position in the buyer’s mind (unaided awareness) or a brand will emerge from peer discussions, analysts or research. Establishing a direct relationship with a buyer before a need arises is a huge advantage.
- More often than not, the first time a vendor interacts with a company will not be the precise moment that that company is ready, willing and able to purchase. Continuously seeking out new entrants to the served market and bringing them into the fold is the first step to forming a positive opinion and a sound relationship.
As a result, it is advantageous for a vendor to leverage all resources and communication vehicles to broadcast:
- Their unique selling proposition
- The value that they provide to specific buyers
- Their unique differentiation, validation or proof through customer stories, anecdotes, research, analysts and influencers and content
Doing so requires a content plan, strategy and execution as well as synchronization with sales. And, it is a marathon versus a sprint.
The goal for content marketing is to establish a position for the vendor’s solution in the mind of the prospect – either before there is a need or as early in the buying process as possible. This does not mean that a vendor should be pitching product and pricing on the first touch. What it does mean is that successful brands will build a relationship with buyers based on value.
In general, customers value insights that a vendor can bring to the table, i.e.:
- Educating a buyer on market trends, issues, opportunities and threats
- Sharing what competitors are doing in the market
- Providing market insights to buyers not seen previously
- Summarizing best practices
- Sharing survey results
Content Marketing Strategy Framework – The First Step is Awareness & a Plan
Unfortunately, because “content” is the first word in a content marketing strategy framework, many companies rush to create content. However, it’s a content marketing best practice to develop the strategy before jumping into execution. Another best practice is to build a model to provide focus and guide resources. Specifically, there are three concepts that consumer marketers pioneered and which B2B marketers are now embracing:
Personas – in general, a Persona is a fictional character used to represent a specific segment. In user design, Personas tend to be focused on specific users, and in sales they may represent the various roles within the buying process.
Buyer Behavior Model – A Buyer Behavior Model provides a model for understanding the way a persona interacts over the lifecycle of a brand.
Journey Board – A Journey Board illustrates the information needs of a prospect throughout the buying and sales processes. It details the assets the organization can use to successfully fulfill a prospect’s needs and keep them engaged.
It’s important to note that these three concepts must be constructed in the sequence listed above — and all three are required. Building a Persona by itself is not sufficient to drive an efficient and effective content marketing strategy.
Content Marketing Strategy Framework – Personas
The term Persona is currently in vogue, yet the understanding and definition of this term varies widely. Thus, the term is nearly useless without a serious discussion. Personas do not represent any one person. Personas are fictional representations of characters created to represent the groups that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way or buy a product or solution. And, there are flavors of Personas.
From a purist point of view, Personas are created based on primary research – research that has to be designed, developed, executed and internalized – which is time consuming and expensive. Since most companies do not have the time, money or internal expertise to pull off Persona generation, they opt for a flavor of Persona development — often called Provisional Personas.
Provisional Personas may be constructed from historical, anecdotal, statistical, secondary research, internal insights and customer, analyst and influencer interviews. This approach leverages a number of sources and it requires some art and some science to orchestrate the combination of these resources. It goes without saying that this method is dependent upon the sophistication of the marketer and the consistency of execution to provide meaningful results. An applicable metaphor is razor blade. A razor blade is a great thing because it provides a lot of value (a clean shave) for the user. However, while the user can place the blade in a razor and shave, doing so could also result in a trip to the emergency room for the do-it-yourselfer without the required expertise.
A Provisional Persona is often captured in a one-page document that includes behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment. It also usually includes a few fictional personal details to make the Persona a realistic character. Depending upon the target use (product development, sales, etc.) more than one persona is usually created. However, fewer is preferred to more as each Persona has unique content needs — and organizational resources are commonly scarce.
Content Marketing Strategy Framework – Buyer Behavior Model
A Buyer Behavior Model provides a model for understanding how a Persona interacts with a brand. The Buyer Behavior Model seeks to answer the behavioral activities which exist as a Persona engages in a buying opportunity (conception through purchase or abandonment.)
The example Buyer Behavior Model is broken down into six key steps:
Trigger—What events or other situation(s) might trigger this audience to have an awareness/understanding of the offering?
Consider—What benefits or satisfaction might this audience think about in their consideration of this solution?
Search—What information might this audience want to collect in their search of this solution as an option? From where? How? How much?
Choose—What attributes and differences might this audience compare in their process of choosing the solution?
Buy—Once they have decided to purchase the solution, what steps do they take and how would they go about it?
Experience—Once they are using the solution, what is involved in achieving success?
For each of the six steps in the Buyer Behavior Model, try to provide answers to five guiding questions:
- What is the buyer doing?
- What are they thinking?
- What are they feeling?
- What are the communication opportunities?
- How can the brand take advantage of this?
In many cases, elements between the various steps of the Buyer Behavior Model will overlap or be duplicated. This is because often they are not discrete steps—the door reopens due to new information or indecision. Additionally, the priority and emphasis of the various steps will be different depending on the audience.
Content Marketing Strategy Framework – Journey Boards
A Journey Board illustrates the key content or assets in a relationship lifecycle with various Personas by depicting the buying and sales process. This journey presents an opportunity to establish and nurture the relationship with an individual and advance them through the sales process. Built as a comprehensive and linear process, the Journey Board model includes all touch points conceived with the corresponding content. The reality is that the vast majority of buyers will never move through this model in a serial manner nor will they consume each piece of content. However, the Journey Board model is a best practice to build a model that is comprehensive and integrated, as opposed to randomly building one-off paths in an ad-hoc manner.
Conclusion: Go-to-Market – Content Marketing Strategy Framework
In keeping users at the center of the approach, there are three key components critical to creating a successful content marketing strategy framework: Personas, Buyer Behavior Model and Journey Boards.
Content Marketing Strategy is not a marketing thing but a practice, and it needs to be embraced and supported by the entire organization. The desired outcome is an organizational benefit: create, nurture, evolve and sustain relationships between the company/solution and the buyer. The lynchpin is value, and the vendor needs to continuously provide value to the Personas by:
- Delivering content relevant to how a Persona thinks about their role
- Understanding the actions a Persona takes in a buying decision, and
- Knowing what would help them advance or close the purchase
Once these concepts are embraced and developed, a solid framework emerges for an organization to develop a relevant, meaningful and engaging content marketing strategy. Attention then can turn to execution.