Building Your Content Strategy
With research being such a critical part of the decision making process, you need to become a part of that research process. Content is the way to do just that.
According to Hubspot, a leading marketing software company, “Content marketing is a strategic marketing and business process focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content… to attract and retain a clearly defined audience.”Great content is a powerful tool for pulling in your target customers and building trust with them.
In this chapter we will cover how to build compelling content that aligns with our target customer’s buying process, and we will learn how to maximize the impact of this content by leveraging multiple channels and formats.
Select Target Audience & Brainstorm Topics
Every good story has an intended audience, and business content should be no exception. As human beings, when we read something helpful and relevant to our situation, we feel understood. This is how we start to build trust.
Recall Apollo’s five stakeholder types introduced in chapter one.
- Approver: The project cannot proceed without their consent.
- Sponsor: Someone capable of driving the decision-making process and aligning the other decision makers around their preferred option.
- Contributor: A key member of the core decision group, with a significant contribution to make to the final decision process.
- Gatekeeper: Someone who has the potential to veto or delay the decision - typically on technical, commercial or legal grounds (e.g., IT, procurement or legal).
- Influencer: Someone whose opinions are sought by the core decision group but who is not part of that group.
Start by selecting one or two of these roles as your initial target audience. Next, review your customer’s buying process. If you have mapped their procurement process, use this map. Alternatively, you can rely on the generic stages from Gartner’s 2019 study:
- Problem Identification: We need to do something.
- Solution Exploration: What’s out there to solve our problem?
- Requirements Building: What exactly do we need the purchase to do?
- Supplier Selection: Does this do what we want it to do?
- Validation: We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.
Create a matrix with your customer’s purchase journey stages and selected stakeholder types. Then, brainstorm the questions they are likely to be asking within each box.
A useful tool for brainstorming questions that your stakeholders may be searching for is AnswerThePublic, which listens into autocomplete data from search engines then quickly cranks out useful phrases and related questions. Here is an example output:
Other places to look for intelligence gathering include:
- Social media groups (Facebook and LinkedIn both have excellent user groups for technical subjects… Yes, Facebook has industrial B2B groups with countless professionals actively discussing business topics).
- Industry association forums
- Product reviews sites
- GlobalSpec and similar sites
- Your own website analytics (where are people clicking on your website? What does their journey look like through your site?)
- Your sales force (what are people continually asking them?)
- Google’s “Related Search” section
- Google’s “Related Questions” for general keywords
Once you have brainstormed your questions, create a matrix of your stakeholder roles and the stages of the buying journey, and drop in the associated questions they are likely to be asking. It could look something like this:
Next, assess these questions against your value proposition map. Prioritize the questions that pertain most closely to your value creation (i.e., pain relievers or gain enhancers).
Pull Search Volume & Score for Relevance
Now you should have a set of questions that key stakeholders within your target customer accounts are interested in, mapped across their buying journey. The next step is to review the search volume of these questions and the key search terms they contain.
Using Google’s Keyword Planner tool in your Google Ads account, enter keywords from your questions and export monthly search volumes for each. Once you have collected estimated monthly search volumes, drop this information into an excel sheet. Add a third column and make a qualitative assessment of the relevance of each keyword or phrase.
Questions/search strings with keywords relating to supplier selection, purchase, or validation of your product should be high (i.e., indicating purchase intent), while more general search (e.g. about your industry) should be low. As you build your list, carefully consider which of your keywords and questions are the most specific. These are commonly referred to as long-tail keywords, and they are a great place to start. While they have lower search volume, if they are highly relevant to your business and less competitive online, targeting these can get results faster.
Once you have built your list, prioritize your questions according to relevance, specificity, and purchase intent, while taking into consideration search volume.
Other keyword tools:
Run a Content Audit on Your Existing Content
Most mature organizations have content in many forms that can be leveraged for marketing. Take a quick inventory of your current assets and flag any content that maps to your questions list from step one.
- Website pages
- Blog posts
- Company newsletters
- Articles written for local news, trade publications, or other media outlets
- Press releases
- Customer bulletins
- Product FAQs, installation guides, user manuals, etc.
- Customer case studies
- Troubleshooting guides
- Expert interviews
- Social media posts
- Other marketing content
Content can take many forms, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to which content format will be best for your business. Think about your audience and any preferences they may have.
Consider the nature of your material. Does it naturally lend itself to one form or another? Don’t forget to consult with your authors for their preferences, since their buy-in to the process is key.
There are many options to choose from, and here are a few to consider:
- Blog posts
- Case Studies
- White papers
- Short videos
- Social media posts
Whichever you select, plan to multi-purpose it. In other words, take the content from your primary selection, and turn it into other formats after the fact. For example, if you publish an ebook, create a blog post that details one of the chapters for your website. Then take the key concepts and have a designer create an infographic, which you can post on social media.
Depending on the size and scale of your company, a good rule of thumb is to create one quality piece of original content each month (i.e. blog post, case study, white paper, etc.), and then turn that into multiple formats so you have weekly content across multiple channels. This also keeps your messaging aligned, so that your followers subconsciously follow the flow. People like to understand things and sudden topic changes can disrupt that pattern of understanding.
The best content will likely come from subject matter experts (SMEs) within your organization. These SMEs can be technical people (e.g., product managers, R&D leads, and applications engineers) or sales and business development people (e.g., regional managers, customer service staff, and field support techs). These are people who understand the details of your products and services, how your customers are using them, and the corresponding challenges and opportunities that exist.
Yet these people have full-time jobs that typically do not include writing white papers and blogs or recording videos. Therefore, the best practice is to use someone skilled at conducting interviews to meet with your subject matter experts to extract some of their knowledge. Expert interviewers will pose a series of questions to the subject matter expert ahead of the interview, and then conduct a well-structured and time efficient interview, with follow-up questions only as necessary.
All of your company’s content should be attributed to the author (i.e., your SME) and branded according to your company’s guidelines.
Create Your Content Calendar
Creating high quality, original content for your target audience must be done consistently. To that end, build a rolling content calendar so that your teams can plan and work effectively. A simple content calendar should include:
- Due date
- Author (Subject matter expert)
- Writer / Videographer
- Topic / Question the content addresses
- Target audience / Stakeholder
- Keywords (more on this in step four)
- Call to action (more on this in a subsequent chapter)
Publish & Measure
Simply publishing content on social media and/or your website is not enough. Effectively using content to grow your business requires some “tech,” as the software industry refers to it. Put more clearly: your company needs a way to quickly put this content on your website, optimize it for search engines, allow your customers to interact with it, measure its performance, and capture new leads. This type of software is called a Content Management System (CMS).
Measuring your content’s performance provides a critical feedback loop, allowing you to optimize your content plan over time and focus your resources where they are having the largest impact. It allows you to do more of what is working, and stop doing what is ineffective.
As you begin building your content strategy, remember:
Your customers don’t care about you, your products, or your services. They care about themselves.
– Joe Pulizzi, author of Epic Content Marketing.
This is a harsh reality. A sales-first message will fail. Instead, write for them, help them, and you will win their trust and earn their attention.
Suggested Reading: The New Fundamentals of Industrial Marketing.
This blog is an excerpt from from my book, The New Fundamentals of Industrial Marketing. For more in-depth look at customer profiles, and for tools and strategies to build your opportunity pipeline, grab your copy here.