Why are we still differentiating lead generation and demand generation programs? Isn’t the goal of any marketing effort to generate awareness, create loyal audiences who become sales leads, and then lead those audiences to conversion? While there may be some technical differences between lead generation efforts and demand generation efforts, the end result should be an increased awareness of your brand and more qualified leads and conversions for your sales team. After all, a lead generation goal of gathering more email addresses and a demand generation goal of getting more people to visit your website and consume your content – ultimately have the same bottom line goal, or at least they should.
As content marketing becomes an integral part of every marketing program, it’s time to start considering its usefulness beyond the awareness phase and create a customer-centric journey based on understanding your potential customers and current customers and their needs.
User segmentation and content hubs to fill the funnel
Since its inception, content marketing has been appealing to audiences who don’t respond to push messaging, who don’t want to be interrupted, and who don’t want to be cold called. Today’s customers are looking for solutions to the problems and needs they’ve self-identified. As they seek out solutions, they educate themselves all along the way until they are as knowledgeable as the sales person. By the time they’ve contacted your sales rep, a majority of prospects have enough information to give them leverage and confidence about the choice that they want to make from a product perspective.
To reach these audiences, content marketers must map the customer’s path to purchase and provide content to answer the questions they have all along the way. Using an enterprise SEO and content marketing platform, marketers can discover what audiences are doing, how they’re interacting with our brand on social and on our site, what content they’re consuming and in what order they consume it.
Creating a customer-centric program depends on knowing your audiences and focusing on the needs of individual users. Instead of just creating a bunch of content and expecting that to be a successful strategy, we need to understand the needs of our individual customers and respond to those needs by providing the content they need in the way they want to consume it.
Users aren’t coming to your website to read a blog or consume a white paper or watch a video, they’re coming to your site to get the answers they need. So, why not create hubs of content based on the solutions your users are looking for. Provide blogs, videos, slide shares, ebooks, webinars, and white papers grouped together by the solution or audience type they address. Fill your content hubs with content focused on the buyer’s journey and provide specific pieces of content to address everything from awareness and education through lead generation, nurturing, final consideration, retention and then, hopefully, evangelism and referral.
How is content marketing not just top of the funnel?
In its maturity, content marketing has evolved from a tactic to increase awareness and education about your brand and your industry to a strategy that’s intertwined in all marketing efforts. In fact, I would go so far as to say that everything marketing produces is content including:
- White papers
- Website landing pages
- Customer success resources
- Slide decks
- Speaking presentations
Everything from traditional marketing offerings, such as email sends to new content assets, such as video, are content and everything is measurable. From that perspective, you can start to look at content marketing as both a lead gen and a demand gen strategy that touches every aspect of the customer journey.
Given the level of noise and the competition for your content in search results, maintaining the customer-centric approach and getting noticed will require brands to differentiate and offer something that’s unique. One way to do that is to stop relegating certain types of content to specific places in the traditional sales funnel. Use search data to know your audiences, the questions they’re asking and how they like to consume their content. Then, be different and offer something unique to your audiences that bring value.
Use the data you collect to learn:
- What are audiences responding to?
- What content are they consuming?
- What do they spend time engaging with?
- Are audiences taking the time to comment?
- What do comments tell you about where they are in the journey?
- What content will help them take the next steps?
Use the insights from one channel to inform content creation on other channels or the creation of different types of content. If a topic is trending on social media, use those insights to create a video that lives on your website, post a presentation on SlideShare, or write a blog.
Content that works in every phase of the customer journey
A good example of a content medium that has been traditionally thought of as a “top of the funnel” asset is video. While we typically see video as a way to build awareness and provide education, video is actually something that works all the way through the funnel.
Video is often used as a medium for advertising or for an educational series to provide audiences with the knowledge they need to solve a problem or do their job a little better. If you start to think about all content assets as a way to meet your customer needs wherever they happen to be on the road to your solution, you can see how video (or any other content medium) can help you create more value.
Use video as a way to provide specific product information. If you want to talk about a product overview for your company and for your solution, video is a great way to present that material in a conversational style and allows you to mix both spoken and visual content for your users.
Instead of answering a FAQ in a long document, address the issue with a short video or with some other visual content. It’s a lot easier to show someone how to do something than it is to try to explain it. Not to mention, it’s easier for your users to consume and understand.
Consider providing case studies in a new way. If your user testimonials are mostly short quotes, expand on user experiences with video interviews. Let your audiences see your customers tell their stories and hear someone talk about how they have used your product to accomplish a goal and why they really love it. You can still provide a written version in the form of a blog post or with graphics in a slide deck. While you want to maintain a variety of content types on your website, you might want to stop thinking about specific mediums as part of a particular place in the funnel – or customer journey.
Another good use for videos is as a vehicle for whiteboard sessions. Videos are used very successfully by brands looking to change how their audiences are approaching challenges, or educating audiences in best practices. In general, it’s easier to understand something when you can read it and hear it at the same time.
Onboarding new users is a prime use for videos and other content such as slide decks. Any time you have a product that requires some level of instruction on how to use it, a quick video can be an effective way of providing instruction. Step-by-step guides in the form of slides decks with screen shots or other visual guides are other ways to make onboarding easier for your users. Making your users more independent and solving their problems in a way that is easy for them and doesn’t require getting customer support personnel involved will make your users happier and save you personnel resources.
In general, look from the beginning to the end of the customer journey, including retention and evangelism and use content marketing strategies and assets, as a way to fulfill prospect and customer needs.
Taking marketing channels out of the funnel
Just as content marketing has been assigned to the top of the funnel, other types of marketing are also stuck in funnel stasis. Getting audience intelligence and using every tool at your disposal will keep you and your brand from experiencing attribution paralysis.
Lately there has been more conversation about using social as an integrated strategy throughout the funnel. Traditionally, social media has been considered a vehicle for awareness and brand building, period. Social media is a good example of how specific channels have been limited to specific types of messages for the purpose of filling the top of the funnel. However, there are more opportunities with social than just brand awareness.
Building a community in your social media channels probably means that your customers are there too. This is a great place to build your referral program and to encourage your customers to refer you to other customers by focusing some content on the customers you already have.
The parts of the funnel that are too often left out of content marketing programs are the customer retention, evangelism, and referral stages. Considering it’s a lot easier and less expensive to retain existing customers than it is to attract and convert new customers, this is a part of the funnel where more content marketing efforts should be focused.
Since social media is the place people go and complain first, you can use this channel to identify problems and issues in the market and industry quickly. Social media has become a hot spot for sharing videos and images of all kinds. Take advantage of the channel and use it to keep your customers happy and engaged with your brand.
In our quest to get new customers and create new leads, we stop reaching out to customers and we forget to create evangelists and sources for referral. Find ways to use content assets to create happy customers and keep the conversation going. Take advantage of shared success stories and help your customers to tell their own stories for the opportunity to promote it both on their channels and your own.
Although the sales funnel still exists at some level, it’s not used in the same way. Since people are coming into your brand from all different places of the funnel, your content marketing efforts should mirror the path they’ve chosen – not the one you’d like to choose for them.
A good place to start is with measurement. Too often we’re paralyzed by all the data we have access to and if we haven’t set objectives, we end up spending a lot of time creating assets and responding to data that doesn’t properly inform our strategic decisions. Set your objectives in terms of what you want to achieve and measure your efforts to determine how to better guide or create a journey for your customer.
There’s a huge opportunity to move content marketing from a top of the funnel awareness initiative to a major marketing strategy that touches every aspect of marketing and customer success. Take what you learn – whether it’s from content, social media, organic search, or paid search and paid media – to determine how audiences are responding to your messages, creatives, and content. Then, map their journey from awareness to evangelist and answer their questions along the way. Be sure to shift your mindset from asset and channels types to simply solving problems and answering questions in the same ways your audience is asking them and providing the types of assets they prefer to consume.