The Internet: unlimited access to online information
The free access to digital information has disrupted every single traditional business operation and the seller no longer controls the message. Instead, the Internet, and its proliferation of user generated opinion and media, has put the buyer in the commanding seat.
Online, buyers will take all the time they need to consider a product or service and to ensure it meets their need. The vital stage of customer “consideration”, which once took place in the confines of a relatively secluded and safe environment, now takes place in the open, in full view of other businesses expressing similar challenges, and offering their opinion on the best solution.
The content marketing challenge
The response from companies to this online shift has been to bolster their presence by investing in SEO and carefully managed digital content that increases their discoverability online and which pushes them higher up the search engine results.
But every solution has its downside and the volumes of content distributed are so overwhelming that, unless crafted carefully, deter a sale rather than help it.
Sales and content marketing joined at the hip
That’s why sales and marketing teams need to join closer at the hip and get their approach to content marketing right. And that approach needs to align with the three traditional points along the customer journey.
The 3 stages along the customer journey
Stage 1. Awareness is the first stage in which buyers become conscious of the fact that they have a gap or a challenge they need to address. In this stage buyers come across issues online, in industry sector newsletters, events or magazines that act as a “wake up call”. They know the status quo is not sustainable and that change is inevitable.
Stage 2. Consideration is the point along the customer journey at which the buyer has accepted and committed to change and explored potential options. In this phase, the buyer is committed to a solution but not to a provider. And the solution needs to be calibrated using a cost/benefit analysis and other measures of ROI.
Stage 3. The Decision stage is the final stage during which a solution is justified and the provider is selected. In this final phase, the best overall value proposition is selected.
Aligning content to the customer journey
Content has many forms online and includes emails, video, webcasts, white papers, case studies and audio podcasts. To be effective and avoid the problems of redundancy, the content needs to be designed by marketing to help sales teams connect and sell more effectively to buyers. The more aligned the content is with the buyer, the more likely a sale will be.
Aligning the content with the journey
Smart evergreen content that can be shared, such as guides and practical information tips works across the entire journey.
But each stage requires a different focus in the content.
- In the initial Awareness stage, white papers and webcasts that provoke and offer tools for assessment work well. These should be easy to read, concise, relevant, graphic, well designed.
- In the consideration stage buyers want to explore options so written case studies and videos that testify to success work well. Videos should be short and easy to stream. Any content that is fronted by someone in authority figure will be very effective in moving the customer toward the end goal. Case studies from research and study institutes that support the business case are the best.
- In the final decision stage when the customer is seeking to select a single service or product provider, the best content will offer tables of comparisons that demonstrate the comparative benefits and value for money.
It’s only by taking a smart and rational approach to content marketing that companies can work harder to support the sales effort with relevant content and to influence the customer’s decision be it online or offline. Which are the companies in your sector that manage this process effectively and which companies fail at it?