Understanding the needs of your customers is a vital element in the definition of content marketing. Those insights lead to one of the biggest trends in Content Marketing: we need to develop content for the every stage of the buyer journey.
And often that means filling significant gaps in the early and middle stages. Few companies have too much product content. But almost every company shows gaps in the earlier stages.
Not every piece of content can be solely for lead generation. Content that hits across the customer life cycle creates more influence over buyer decisions. And influencing buyer decisions is what marketing is all about!
In this article, we look at some B2B content marketing data to point to the biggest trends. And yep, it all comes back to the customer. Companies that provide customer value through content mapped to each stage, are able to show better business outcomes.
- The biggest content marketing trend in 2020 is moving an audience-centric content marketing strategy.
- In order to do that we must place customer insights ahead of internal demands.
- Then brands need to map content to each stage of buyer journey and fill the gaps.
- The final step requires aligning those journeys with content strategy decisions and ROI measurement.
The State of B2B Content Marketing
Let’s look at how much B2B companies are using content marketing. You may assume B2B companies are all in with content marketing. It is a top tactic. And, adoption rates of digital content marketing are high. Almost 88% use it, up only slightly from 4 years prior.
But, most companies aren’t at a mature level of content marketing. Only 25% of B2B firms feel they are optimizing their efforts. A full 58% are not using it, just exploring it, or starting on their way towards scaling their B2B content marketing programs.
These data points prove high adoption and optimization aren’t always relative. Use doesn’t equal success. We all know it’s much more complex than that. But how can you get to that point? And what does it mean for the customer journey?
We need to start by reframing B2B content marketing strategy to be audience-centric.
Becoming Audience-Centric and Why It Matters
It’s easy to get distracted in the details of your content marketing strategy. Many companies make that mistake. The biggest lesson of all? The star of your content strategy shouldn’t be you. It should be your audience.
I can’t emphasize this point enough. Content has more legs than engaging buyers before they purchase. It also supports loyalty, retention, and adoption. There’s even more value to communicate after they buy.
If you look at why B2B marketers use content, you’ll find it does cover the full customer life cycle. It must be relevant to where a customer is on her journey. If it’s not, it has little value. It doesn’t mean the content is bad. It’s just not relevant.
In a survey of decision-makers about the content they receive, there were complaints about relevance. Almost 35% of respondents said it lacks personalization to their stage. Another 41% said it isn’t relevant to their companies.
It’s not that you don’t get relevance. It may be a disconnect between your content marketing strategy and audience needs. The good news is that this is fixable!
You Can’t Just Write Anything and Expect Results
We have been advocating for years that B2B brands need to reject the choice between quality and quantity in content. Your audience is searching more and consuming more content. And they need help. The buying committee is getting larger. The new entrants are not experts. Basic, foundational, and educational content is the biggest gap.
It is critical in B2B Content Marketing to keep the publishing engine going. It needs to be compelling to your audience. You achieve this by knowing them. Their needs, motives, and demands must influence what you write.
Having this thought process lets you transform. Your strategy becomes audience-centric.
Key Steps to Transforming into an Audience-centric Strategy
Factors that impact your content strategy are wide-ranging. But the customer should always be the priority. These steps can help you improve your strategy.
Understand user intent in search
Define the buyer stage and “intent” of a customer when searching. Intent means why. It could be informational, transactional, commercial, and task-oriented. Informational searches seek answers. Transactional describes typing in a brand. Commercial consists of buying language. Task-oriented is specific to an action.
Analyze audience behavior
Data matters! To personalize content, analyze how customers interact with it. Take those insights to find the best topics. It also tells you about formats they like.
Develop focused buyer personas
Go in-depth with your personas. Know their world and what matters to them. Narrow it as much as possible. It’s okay to be niche. For example, look at FreshBooks. They provide small business accounting software. When a buyer arrives at their site, they can see it’s a product for them.
Listen for signals
Be aware of your customer’s current pain points. To do this, use tools. Social listening is one option. Creating Google alerts for keywords is another. Finally, pay attention to industry happenings. Do this by subscribing to trade and industry group blogs.
Keep up with the competition
Competitor content analysis tells you a lot. Look at the content that’s performing well. Find opportunities to use those same topics. Just do it better.
What to Consider Before You Start Mapping Customer Journeys
You’ll need to do some prep work before mapping. Do this together with your audience-centric strategy. Those exercises you did above inform the next steps.
- Collaborate across the company: All customer-facing roles should be in the conversation. They are a source of valuable information. Listen and learn.
- Define segmenting: There are many ways to define audiences. There is no “right” way. It depends on your content marketing goals. For example, being role-specific might be helpful. Maybe your audience is healthcare. That’s broad. There are lots of segments here. Being more specific gives you a stronger voice.
- Conduct your research: Bring together all your research. Take it further by interviewing buyers and customers. This data allows you to have a 360-degree view of decision-makers.
- Assess touchpoints: Bring your team together to brainstorm about audience engagement. This process includes marketing and non-marketing touchpoints. Peel back the layers to understand interactions. When you do, you can be more strategic.
- Set goals: Customer journey mapping is fruitless without objectives. Outline the actions you’d like buyers to take as they move through the life cycle.
Building Your Customer Journey
Customer journeys are unique. It should be specific to your brand and customers. It’s not a cookie-cutter exercise. You may also have multiple customer journeys. That’s normal. Don’t think you can only have one.
We’ll start with a framework.
B2B Customer Journey Map Framework
The customer journey should reflect the buyer’s perspective. Major point to keep in mind! This framework guides you to create content for customer journeys. We’ll use the four stages of the conversion funnel. Then also look at the post-conversion journey.
- Buyer recognizes a need.
- This is the broadest stage with most content.
- Introduce solutions and concepts.
- Buyers search heavily, so SEO matters.
- Funnel is narrowing because you’re losing potential buyers.
- Focus on solving your buyers’ problems.
- Buyers become more aware of your offerings.
- Buyers are deciding which product to buy and comparing possibilities.
- Content in this bucket should be persuasive.
- Brands must overcome objections.
- Peer recommendations are important here.
- Buyers realize the value of the solution and weight any risks.
- Comfort is a driver of the purchase decision.
- Support the conversion by removing any friction or barriers (i.e., making checkout easier).
Post-conversion journey: retention and advocacy
After conversion, your content efforts don’t stop. One sale does not make a buyer loyal. You also want them to continue to learn. Learning isn’t only about training. Continue to build their knowledge. Use thought leadership content to do this.
Onboarding is a huge step in the post-conversion journey. Streamline the process and over-communicate. If onboarding goes south, all your hard work will be for naught. Work with onboarding teams to get this right.
Continue supporting their journey to maintain retention, upsell, and engage. Never forget about your current customers. It’s much more expensive to replace an existing customer than attract a new one. Don’t abandon them. Keep building a connection.
Marketing Analytics Support Customer Journey Tracking
Do you know where your audience is within the life cycle? It’s no easy feat. Marketing analytics can help. You know more about each buyer after they become a customer. You can track all their interactions and usage. But what about before they convert? How do you monitor this?
Things to consider in monitoring:
What is the source?
How did the inbound lead come to you? Different sources mean different things. If a buyer completes a form for an awareness level ebook, they are information-gathering. A buyer that completes a demo form is farther down the funnel.
What content did they consume?
Through cookies and scoring, you can understand their path. These insights are valuable. Use them in producing content for customer journeys. You’ll learn what content makes them act. You’ll also know formats they like.
How often is engagement?
Buyers that visit often could be warmer. They may be sales-ready. Track engagement across channels. This helps with understanding key touch points.
What are the most important signals?
Look for signals in your marketing analytics. A signal is an action that leads to funnel movement. For example, new content with high traffic tells you it’s popular. Popular means relevant. Look at what happens after they read it. Do they ask for pricing? Or request a demo? Those are funnel movers.
How are your scoring leads?
Marketing platforms allow you to score visitors. In scoring, you’ll define a marketing inquiry vs. a marketing lead. Assign points to actions. At a certain score, the buyer moves from inquiry to lead. It’s then time for sales to take over.
Content Strategy and Customer Journey Alignment
Your content strategy is your marketing bible. Its purpose is to ensure you share content across the journey. You’re building content from its goals and guidance. Thus, there must be alignment between a content strategy and customer journey.
Awareness typically has the most content. According to CMI, nearly half of efforts go toward early-stage content. This makes sense. It’s content that has to do a lot of work to gain attention.
Early-stage content (awareness)
Early-stage content plays many roles. It establishes credibility. This stage is where you state your case. It’s not blow your own horn. Instead, you’re creating connections. Your content speaks to their challenges.
It also must spur action. This content should generate leads. So, it must have value. If it does, buyers will share their information. Once you have their email, you have a channel for communication you own.
SEO also matters in early-stage content. You have buyers searching for answers. Optimize your content to be the answer to these. High organic rankings bring visibility.
Middle-stage content (consideration and intention)
Middle-stage content keeps the party moving. Buyers are aware. They are aware of you and your competitors. This content needs to be more personal. It needs to express uniqueness.
You’ve made the shortlist. Now it’s time to drive a deeper connection. Focus on how a buyer’s life will change with your product. Let them know what success looks like.
Think case studies and explainer videos. You should address specific decision-makers here. This can change over time. It’s time to nurture. Do so with great content.
Late-stage content (conversion)
Late-stage content pushes buyers to buy. Show the buyer the results of making the purchase. An ROI (return on investment) calculator is an example. Also, empower your internal champion. This person is saying yes. Give them custom content to inform others.
Post-conversion stage content
This content focuses on onboarding and adoption. These topics are first. Content should focus on getting started. It can include guides of the process, training materials, how-to guides, and demo videos.
After this, keep the relationship healthy with useful content. You want to drive loyalty, advocacy, and retention. Use topics like new features, new challenges, and up-selling. Further, this is a chance for your customer to be part of your content. Interview them. Give them praise for what they are doing. Let them tell their story. Advocacy comes from making your customers part of the conversation.
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