This blog post is based on a presentation made to the Social Media Strategies Summit in February 2021, "The Art and Science of Content Marketing: Building a Strategy that Engages AND Drives Traffic"
Content that engages an audience and compels them to act is at the heart of every successful marketing campaign. From informational content driving early stage awareness to detailed content needed at the decision-making "buy" stage, content in many different forms is the infrastructure on which marketing and sales success is built.
Yet too much content is unread and unloved: rehashed brochure copy, prosaic social posts, and deadly-dull web content completely out of sync with the interests of the audience for whom it's been developed.
How to fix this?
Start by thinking like a journalist in order to truly engage your audience with compelling content. At the same time, keep in mind the content implications of the buyer's journey and, therefore, how content directly links to marketing and sales success.
Just as journalists research their stories and sources, compelling marketing content starts with research too. You want to understand what your customers are most interested in at each point in their purchase process, and match that interest with original and insightful content about your product or service. Well-researched content will always be compelling enough to keep someone engaged — not turning the page, scrolling down the screen, or turning the channel. And it will add value, just as journalists' stories are designed to connect with the reader, viewer, or listener by being timely and relevant.
Here are three steps you can take as a "content journalist" to create engaging content that fulfills its marketing mission:
Curiosity is a journalist's most important skill — conducting research and asking questions until they get the facts to put together a story.
This same skill is vital for marketers, who need to understand the buyer's journey and what type of content is needed for each part of it. A common buyer's journey covers three key stages — awareness, discovery and consideration. Whether it's B2C or B2B, most audiences will begin with initial awareness, follow it up with research, and then consider taking an action, such as by comparing multiple alternatives before buying the product.
You might have some background given to you by a sales director or project manager that just focuses on the benefits of the service or product. To create a successful strategy and compelling content, you'll need more insights about your audience's wants and needs and how they relate to the product or service.
To get a clear picture of the journey of your key audiences, you'll want to ask some questions of your sales, product development and R&D teams, such as:
- Why was this product or service developed? The product developers had to sell this idea internally — find out what they said to get the funding they needed to create it
- What need(s) does it fill for your audiences? This is where you can marry the insights of an audience persona to a product/service that meets their needs
- Who are the main competitors and what differentiates this from their products? This insight is vital to show how you fill an unmet need in the marketplace
- How is the sales team positioning this product with potential buyers? Learn how they tell the story to a skeptical audience
- How long is the buyer's journey? If it takes months, or even years, your content strategy will need to reflect that
You'll also want to conduct research on relevant digital channels:
- Website analytics for all of your website content, where you can learn what most interests your audiences
- Social media engagement stats, which can provide insight into the type of content — such as videos, infographics, etc. — that resonate the most.
- Competitor activities, to see what they are promoting and where they are succeeding (or not)
- Conversations about your product, company, and industry through online listening
This is where the journalistic approach pays off. Your research and understanding of the buyer's journey now combines with your ability to develop engaging topics and tell a compelling story.
First, bring together all the conclusions from your interviews, data analysis and other research.
- A chart that shows the buyer's journey and the type of content you'll develop in each stage
- The top challenges your key audiences are facing and how your product/service can solve them
- Data that shows the content your audiences are engaging with the most on your digital platforms
Next, look at what's going on in the world around you. How do outside influences — such as a pandemic, economic conditions, and technological changes — change your customers' wants and needs in relation to your product or service? Some of your best content topics might come from these changing situations. This was the case for many of our clients in the last year — assumptions that were true in early 2020 in building products, the food industry, and higher education were dramatically different just a few months later.
Now it's time to brainstorm with your team. Make sure to "wear the hat" of your prospect or customer to best represent their interests, concerns, challenges, and dreams when you're developing ideas and topics.
Finally, remember to focus on providing valuable takeaways for the target audience. Keep the self-promotion to a minimum, or else people will tune out.
Before you produce your content, know what your goal is. What does success look like?
Set KPIs for a range of measurement points, including:
- Open/clickthrough rates on emails
- Web visits via social media
- Engagement measurements on social media
- Leads generated
If you see trends that show momentum in a positive or negative direction, take that into account. A marketing team's content calendar should be flexible, just like a media organization's assignment planning and story prioritization will adjust multiple times each day based on what has the most audience interest.
Taking a journalistic approach can improve your story planning and drive more engagement for your content. By ensuring your audiences receive the information they want and need. when they need it — you'll ensure content plays a critical role in your successful marketing campaign.