Building a great content marketing strategy is a lot like building a great relationship—or it should be. As a business you should seek, court, and woo your customers with many of the same tactics you use to find Mr. or Mrs. Right.
Businesses often map their customers’ journey from the meeting to the sale in the form of a marketing funnel (the shape noting the concept that there are many at the beginning, and less at the bottom). Funnel mapping is a great way for businesses to take a look at the way customers find them and make predictions about how many people are at each stage of the journey.
However, many businesses forget the most important part of the marketing funnel, and that’s to develop a system that guides the experience for customers in the way that is most comfortable and delightful for them. If you remember to treat each step of the journey like you would an in-person relationship and you won’t go wrong.
Here’s a quick overview of the step-by-step breakdown of how to build a plan you can start using tomorrow.
Step 1: Pick your type
Every business has an ideal customer. The one who buys your core product, uses it just the way you intended, sticks around, tells their friends how great it is, and buys more. You need to find as many of those customers as possible.
So, take a long, hard look at your ideal customer and start noting characteristics about them.
Start with the basic demographics:
- How old are they?
- Are they predominantly male or female?
- Where do they live?
You can accomplish this a few different ways. The fastest is usually to just ask them. Take a survey of your current customers and document the results. SurveyMonkey is a quick and easy tool that you can use to quickly poll your customers and get a good breakdown of their basic demographics.
Step 2: Find out what they are into
After you’ve identified their basic characteristics, you need to go a little deeper and start evaluating how they make decisions. Again, real world relationships help as a guide here—just knowing you prefer tall, dark, and handsome doesn’t mean that everyone with that physical description is “your type.” Their personality, values and interests need to be a match. In marketing speak, demographics are only a part of the story. You also need to delve into psychographics.
Psychographics are the more personal characteristics that tell you how people make decisions. What are they trying to solve by purchasing your product or service? When you combine demographics with psychographics, you have a much better view of your perfect customer.
Now, break them into two to three main category types. For example, a landscaper may find that they have three main types of customers looking for help:
- Those that need seasonal help cleaning up
- Those that need year-round help
- Those that are looking for a one-time major yard refresh
Each of these groups is going to look for information differently and ask unique questions. So to truly find messaging and content that suits their needs, you need to create different content packages for each of them—but we’ll get to the creation in step seven.
Step 3: Start hanging out where they do
Once you learn a few things about your target audience, it’s time to find out where they spend their time. What do they read? Who do they respect? What communities do they belong to?
Susan Baier, from Audience Axis, explains that finding where your customers spend time is particularly valuable for small businesses who struggle with limited budgets and limited time to get it all done. Understanding your audience helps you focus on the right places to put your message.
When you are doing your research and spending time where your customers hang out, remember to pay close attention to the language they use, the things that ask each other, and the issues that they are interested in. These will all be important tools to use in your content creation.
Step 4: Pick your opening line
Now that we know a little about who you are looking for and where they typically hang out, let’s go start a conversation with them.
Imagine you are at a gathering, and a stranger comes up to you and starts talking, what topic almost always leads them to asking more about your product or service? What are the issues that they are trying to solve that you are the best fit to answer? These are your businesses crucial issues.
Let’s try the relationship angle again. If you strike up a conversation with a stranger and they only talk about themselves, how likely are you to want to continue to get to know them? But what if instead they asked about you and your interests? And not only did they seem interested, but they had great insights and knowledge on things that mattered to you? Now THAT conversation would lead to another conversation.
As a business, you need to get clear on your critical issues for your audience, and develop useful and entertaining content about these topics, so that you can build a natural and helpful conversation with your customers.
Make a list of the top five, as these are the issues that you will begin to create content around.
Step 5: Respect the journey
One of the most crucial parts of developing any relationship is respecting the level of familiarity you have with the person. The same is true for your content marketing strategy. Would you walk up to a stranger and ask them how much money they make? I doubt it. And yet every day marketers are asking personal questions about their customer’s salaries, business revenues, and other personal information long before they have ever built a trusting relationship.
To make sure you don’t fall into the same trap, I recommend writing out your customer journey, and mapping that out next to a “relationship journey.” This can help you evaluate the level of conversation, tone and familiarity to include in your content pieces. Here’s an example:
One you have these mapped out, you are ready to start planning and creating.
Step 6: Build your plan (map out your first few dates)
To start your content marketing plan, I recommend keeping things simple. Begin with a few of the questions that you identified in Step 4, and plug them into a basic spreadsheet. Then identify which audience is most likely to ask that question (sometime they will have multiple audiences), what stage in the journey they are, and what format is the best way to get across the information.
Once you have plugged four to five topics into the spreadsheet, take a look through and see if you have a nice mix of audience types, stage, and format. Now—here comes the exciting part!—it’s time to create.
Step 7: Make the magic happen
One of the scariest parts of the content marketing moment is the creation.
(I confess that even I freaked a bit when I was asked to write this blog post.)
However, I promise that the leap is worth making. Take the list you created and start writing about, creating, and sharing what you know and what your customers want to hear from you. I guarantee that you are more of an expert in your area than you know or admit, and your customers need the information you have to share. So create, create, create. Publish, publish, publish. And finally, test, test, test.
Once you have taken your content and sent it out into the wild to be consumed, make sure to take the time to evaluate the success. Did some pieces generate more traffic than you expected? Great, create more of that. Did a piece perform poorly? Don’t sweat it, make note of it, and move on.
Like any good relationship, you don’t get it right all the time, but if you keep trying you’ll continue to get better and better.
So get out there, find your ideal match, and get them to love you with your great content strategy.