Following my post on how re-purposing content will build your reputation and stretch your marketing budget, I’ll now run through all the different types of content at your disposal – and which types of content help the most at each stage of your customer’s buying cycle.
Understanding the Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey or decision funnel” is how we describe the path a potential customer takes before they’re ready to make a purchase.
Every customer takes a slightly different route, but all encounter the same basic stages:
- Awareness: The buyer learns about your brand, but may not be aware of why they need your services.
- Consideration: The buyer considers their options, but is still researching other choices and discovering their pain points.
- Decision: The buyer is ready to make a purchase, but needs to be convinced that you’re the best option.
- Retention: The buyer has made a purchase, but might not be ready to make repeat purchases.
Understanding your customers’ decision-making process is useful for creating more successful marketing campaigns. The goal is to develop an inbound marketing strategy—to make content that makes customers want to visit your website, no matter what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re in.
Why Content Marketing is Key
In this day and age, the buyer’s journey is more like a sieve than a funnel. It’s still useful for analysing buying trends, but it’s naive to assume that you’ll retain a customer’s attention throughout the entire buying process.
You’ll lose some customers midway through the journey. You might pick up others on the cusp of their decision-making. And, according to Marketing Automation Benchmarking Report 2015, most of your customers are 60% of the way through their purchase decision before they ever make contact with your sales team.
That’s where content comes in.
Content is the new sales pitch. It’s how you reach your audience, even when they’re not approaching you for a consultation. Carefully crafted content should act as a guide, leading customers deeper into the buyer’s journey…
Mapping Content to the Buyer’s Journey
There are many types of content. Some types of content work at certain stages, but other types are ubiquitous.
For example, the trusted blog post works well at any stage of the buyer’s journey. Short, topical blog posts are great at ushering new leads into the top of the funnel. Long-form, in-depth posts might appeal to users in the consideration or decision-making stages. A consistently updated blog with relevant industry news will entice your audience to check in regularly, ensuring retention.
Other mediums (e.g. videos and interactive content) are similarly flexible and can be applied to practically any stage.
Note: while the following list aims to be comprehensive, there will be a lot unmentioned cross-over; many types of content can be crafted for more than one stage of the buyer’s journey.
Content aimed at potential customers in the awareness stage should make a loud and positive first impression. Often times, you’re crafting content for total strangers, which means that it has to grab their attention quickly, and then entice them to keep reading, watching, or listening.
This content should aim to entertain or inform your audience (or both, ideally). Highly visual, succinct, and interactive content tends to win the most awareness, which is why short form content like vines, memes, and quizzes work so well in this stage.
Your goal here should be to engage your audience, let them know who you are, and give them a reason to care or keep reading. If possible, this is also the time to reveal some pain points they may have been unaware of… pain points you can solve.
Awareness stage content includes:
- Blog posts (short)
- Curated lists
- Editorial content
- Guest posts
- Instagram posts
- Interactive lookbooks
- Live events
- Media coverage
- Personal predictions
- Promoted posts
- Reddit posts
- Viral videos
Customers in this middle stage understand their pain points and they’re looking for solutions. You want to create content that gets your leads thinking about the next step, which means producing deeper content than you crafted for the awareness stage. This content might be entertaining, informative, persuasive, or convincing, or it might combine any number of these elements.
For example, demo videos and how-to guides provide both educational facts and convincing arguments, whereas case studies make for powerfully persuasive and convincing pieces of social proof.
Your goal here should be to answer questions, overcome objections, and equip your audience with all the information they need to make a purchase. You also want to build confidence in your brand, so that your solution remains a contender when your customer is ready to buy.
Consideration stage content includes:
- Analyst reports
- Blog posts (long-form)
- Case studies
- Company/industry news
- Data sheets
- Demo videos
- Expert guides
- Free samples
- How-to guides
- Interactive demos
- Mind maps
- Photo galleries
- Product reviews
- Production specs
- Resource pages
- Solution builders
- White papers
This is your last chance to swing a sale your way, after a buyer has educated themselves and sits poised to make a purchase. Content in this stage aims to persuade or convince your audience. You already know they’re interested—you just want to set their mind at ease.
Social proof, such as user ratings and customer testimonials, goes a long way in this stage. Content that lets your customers calculate exact costs and ROI are also powerful, which is where interactive solution planners and calculators come in handy.
Your goal here is to overcome any final objections and resolve lingering feelings of risk. You want to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that your solution will solve their problem, and showcase why it outstrips your competitors’ solutions.
Decision stage content includes:
- Blog posts (in-depth)
- Celebrity endorsements
- Customer testimonials
- Estimates & Quotes
- Feature guides
- Free trials
- Instructional videos
- Performance reports
- Pricing guides
- Product comparisons
- Reference checklists
- ROI calculators
- Solution planners
- Trend reports
Finally, one of the most overlooked stages in content marketing is the stage that happens after you land a sale. If your customers had a positive experience, they should no longer need very much convincing—but you need to provide enough value to make them want to return.
Creating free apps, tools, and plugins that solve daily problems for your customers and keep them thinking of your brand is a great way to keep yourself relevant. Alternatively, you might implement a loyalty program, or keep your audience informed through content-rich e-newsletters.
Your goal here is to encourage customers to come back, time and time again. This means maintaining a consistently valuable content experience.
Retention stage content includes:
- Community forums
- Company/industry news
- Loyalty discounts
- Plug ins
- Scheduled blog posts
- User-generated content
How to Use Your Content
Now that you have some ideas of what types of content are out there, don’t let them be a “one then
done” deal. Take your long-form assets and repurpose them into material that will reach a wider audience, and span more than one stage of the buyer’s journey.
For example, you can take an e-book or white paper and:
- Block out the content sections for a series of blog posts.
- Turn the stats into an infographic.
- Stick the most eye-catching information into a quiz.
Or you might repurpose your webinars, if you…
- Approach the same topic from a different angle in a video or podcast series.
- Turn your main points into an interactive assessment
- Build a comprehensive Q&A section, addressing your audience’s concerns.
And with your product specs and price sheets, you can always…
- Offer comprehensive calculators.
- Create customer checklists.
- Transform the information into a comparative review or blog post.
With so many options available and so many ways to repurpose, content marketing should never be boring. But, to be clear, not just any content will do.
You need well-produced, high value content that purposefully appeals to your customers and encourages them to move to the next stage of the decision funnel. High value content is content that fills a gap in your industry, satisfies a need, and addresses your customers’ pain points. No matter what kind of content you choose, make sure that quality is your top priority.
If you need inspiration about what to focus your content on, check out Richard’s “Ideas that Work in Content” series [1,2,3,4], or Jon’s post on Creating Content Ideas from YouTube Playlists or his talk on Making Content Work.
Are there any types of content you love that I’ve overlooked and need to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.