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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistThu, Jun 18, 2020 17 min read

How To Apply Content Marketing To Different Stages Of The Buyer Journey

Content Marketing Strategy

Or In Other Words: What Types Of Content Are Right For People During Their Buyer Journeys?

Match Content To The Propsect Buyer JourneySo many different types of content are in most content marketing plans today. You are looking at content across the spectrum, from short-form conversation starters used on social media to long-form educational content like research papers.

But in between you have video, podcasts, presentations, webinars, educational emails, e-books, whitepapers, infographics, blog articles and more.

The question we’ve been getting more and more is this: How do we effectively and efficiently distribute content to prospects at the right time in their buyer journeys to move them forward proactively so they turn into new customers faster and more frequently?

Here’s how to think about the different types of content all across the Cyclonic Buyer Journey.

Pre-Awareness Stage Content

To remind you, people in the Pre-Awareness Stage don’t know you or your company, and they might not even know your products or services exist. They may not even know they have an issue or challenge, but you know they’re probably a good fit for what you do because other companies like them already use your products or services.

The key to getting through to people in the Pre-Awareness Stage is disruption. You have to cut through the information clutter and disrupt their status quo. This means using short, emotional and compelling content designed to shake them up.

Because you don’t know them, email is out of the question. You can’t violate CASL, GDPR or CCPA regulations, but you can reach out via social media. This means you’ll need short messages with links to additional content recommendations.

We typically refer to this type of content as micro-content or conversation starters short messages that get their attention for use in LinkedIn Connect messages or Twitter direct messages after you both follow each other.

The sales reps assigned to target these key accounts almost always deliver these conversation starters. The goal is to gain a connection first and then engagement second. That means you’ll also need highly contextual and personal content to drive engagement.

Typically this requires new research or new long-form content that is industry- or role-specific, and the asset titles will need to be highly disruptive to get people who barely know you to share their email address in exchange for the new content.

Awareness Stage Content

GettyImages-494645456This stage of the buyer journey includes people who are starting to realize they might have an issue or challenge. They are on the lookout for content but not proactive in their search.

Content that works for people in this stage is what we call “edutaining.” In other words, it’s part educational and part entertaining.

Content like videos is key here. Short videos that tell a compelling and emotional story do well here. Podcasts that entertain and educate do well in this stage too.

Instead of sharing an entire podcast series, consider sharing a single episode that is related to a potential issue related to industry or role.

Another type of content that works here is case studies. Not full-blown written case studies, but perhaps videos featuring customers telling their story in their words.

This is effective in continuing to push prospects into more proactive stages of the buyer journey. If they can relate to other businesspeople like them who have had real challenges and seen real solutions, they can be moved into the next stage of their journey.

Education Stage Content

In this stage, your prospects are now active (even proactive) in their search for information, and all content is on the table.

Since people are vested and OK investing time in their educational process, they are willing to read longer-form content, like e-books, whitepapers, playbooks, research and slide shows. They might even be willing to binge all 12 of your podcast episodes.

However, you have to be aware that this is also where content overload and content blindness kicks in. You’re not the only one trying to educate this person. They are getting content sent their way via email, social, direct and shares from everyone they’ve connected with during their buyer journey.

Your content has to cut through the clutter, and you should also consider what we call “snackable” bite-sized content.

Examples of snackable content include one-page items like checklists or tip sheets. You can also do short videos that are snackable (usually under a minute in length). You can also provide templates and shortcut tools as snackable content.

You want content that has been cut down to quickly deliver a point, cut through the clutter and engage the prospect to come back and get additional snackable content or richer, more long-form content.

This stage is also where nurture campaigns are critical.

You have to serve up additional content that pulls prospects through the buyer journey, gives them a chance to signal to you that their journey is progressing and keeps your story front and center as they are peppered with content from direct competitors, substitute competitors and the always favorite option — do nothing.

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Consideration Stage Content

This is a middle-of-the-buyer-journey stage and usually signals progress toward wanting to make a purchase decision. People in this stage are narrowing down their options. They’ve decided doing nothing isn’t an option and they’re looking at all of their options.

Since they’re more invested than people in earlier stages, the content options open up substantially.

This is where webinars work well. This is where online assessments, graders and quizzes work well. People in this stage are more open to giving you more information about them if the result is more company-specific content.

Over the last few months additional content options for this stage have emerged. Examples include live sessions like ask me anything, panel Q&As with experts or short interactive sessions, and daily recorded talk-show formats like our On The Horizon show, which ran in May during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Also, how-to videos, short vignettes around software features and free online training content can go a long way to helping prospects get to know, like and trust your company.

Since the next step is to engage with a sales rep, the more emotional a connection you can make at this stage, the higher your MQL-to-SQL conversion rate is going to be and the more sales leads you’ll be providing to the sales team.

Finally, this is a stage in which chat almost always plays a part. While chat is not content marketing by definition, it can play a role in content delivery. Chat bots almost always answer questions, and those answers are content. The way you deliver that content can influence people to move forward or move away.

Since the next stage in the buyer journey involves the sales team, enabling chat on your website and designing that chat experience to be fast, educational and remarkable will improve the number of sales opportunities, shorten your sales cycle and increase close rates.

Evaluation Stage Content

Content Marketing StrategyIt’s during this stage that most people move from marketing to sales. Marketing has done a good job providing content, answering questions and serving up website pages to help people move their buyer journey along, but now they have very specific questions and generally need a salesperson to assist.

This is also the stage where people have narrowed their options. They have decided to buy software and are looking at three options. They have decided to hire an agency and are reaching out to evaluate five agencies. They have decided to hire a consultant and are interviewing two or three consulting candidates.

The content here needs to be short, because people are working hard to make a decision. They’re not in education mode, they’re in selection mode.

Some examples of selection-oriented content for the Evaluation Stage includes:

  • 10 Questions Your Digital Agency Might Not Want You To Ask
  • How To Ensure Your Software Demo Addresses Your Most Pressing Challenges
  • The Demo Checklist Software Companies Don’t Want You To Use To Help You Compare Software Post-Demo
  • Sample RFP Templates

Content for the Evaluation Stage can also include content from off-site resources, like the Gartner Magic Quadrant, company rankings from directory sites or independent third-party reviews of your product or company.

All this content is directly contextual to the stage your prospect is currently engaged in. Delivering content in context is one of the best ways to keep the process moving and keep the prospect feeling like you’re listening and guiding, not trying to sell.

Rationalization Stage Content

This stage of the buyer journey is very interesting. In most cases, the prospect has already decided or is leaning in one direction. They’ve made their emotional decision. They like you, but you’re not selected yet. A handful of rationalization questions still need to be answered.

Content here has to be very efficient. For example, references are common at this stage. They like you, but they want to check your references. Sound familiar?

In this stage, content has to be designed to fast-track the sales cycle. Instead of letting the prospect and your top three customers email back and forth to set up their calls, which could take weeks, why not give the prospect a video with the same customers? This reference reel does a wonderful job of eliminating the need for references 50% of the time, cutting the sales cycle down by weeks.

Other content might be required here as well, such as content that answers rationalization questions. One question we get asked often is this: How much of our time is going to be required? To answer that, we created a PDF that outlines sample time requirements by role for the first 30 days of our engagement.

The sales team sends this before prospects ask for it, and it shows them how proactive and prepared we are for their questions.

By now you’re getting close. The final decision is coming up, and the content changes again accordingly.

Decision Stage Content

You have a verbal agreement. Everything looks good, but until that agreement or contract is signed, you don’t have a new customer yet.

A lot could still go wrong. Your content marketing strategy needs to be complete through the decision-making process.

In this stage, your actual agreement becomes a piece of content that tells your story. If you hand a non-legal person a legal contract, you’re going to scare them, cause them to send it to legal and wait weeks for it to come back redlined for your review. The result? More back-and-forth messages and more delays.

You can blow it here with your payment terms, onboarding plans or even team configuration. If your emails don’t strike the right tone, you could blow the deal right before you reach the goal line.

Companies are judging your every move. If your tone appears to be difficult, argumentative or defensive, you could scare them away.

Make sure your content, your contracts and all of your communications are completely buttoned up, templated and in line with the story and experience you’ve been cultivating all along.

This is one of the most overlooked areas of the buyer journey and, by far, one of the most important.

Ongoing Delivery Stage Content

Content for Customer ServiceYou got the deal and you have a new customer. Everyone is happy! But the work is just starting.

You have to make sure that the customer journey continues as positively as the prospect experience was before they became a new customer.

That means you need customer onboarding content. Training might need to be delivered. Information is shared and information is requested at this point. You might have a hand-off from the sales team to the customer service team.

At this stage, content needs to be highly informative. Customers are more likely to invest time to have a positive experience. They are also more likely to have questions and expectations. Make sure the content answers these questions and sets the right expectations.

Video does wonders here. It can be fun, entertaining and highly informative. It can easily be shared or shown to multiple people at the same time, making onboarding or training easy and efficient.

FAQs are also highly effective here. Resource centers are equally effective but in some cases overused. If you’re providing a 100% self-service experience, recognize that this could make some customers frustrated. It might feel like they’re doing all the work when you should be doing some too.

Creating an onboarding experience that spoon-feeds the content out in bite-sized chunks and delivers the content with a personal guide, concierge or advisor could create a remarkable experience that drives referrals, reviews and many more references.

Regardless of your approach, knowing that you’ll need different content and different content approaches depending on your prospects’ buyer journeys and their stages in those journeys will put you in a position to realize better marketing performance and better sales performance.

The result will be higher conversion rates early in the prospect buyer journey, higher close rates later in the buyer journey and a shorter buyer journey across the entire experience.

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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.