Why your content strategy is failing

In December 2016, the UK Entertainment Retailers Association reported that for the first week ever, vinyl LP records outsold digital downloads. At that time, media analysts saw marketers increasingly shift budget dollars back to legacy broadcast television advertising. Does that mean everyone will soon stop streaming Spotify™ or that we should all abandon our content marketing in favor of thirty-second commercials? Of course not. These are, however, telling examples of why treating customers’ search and consumption patterns as monolithic hinders most organizations’ content marketing strategies and makes them less effective than they could be.

The ideal customer conversion journey doesn’t exist.

Many content experts oversimplify what is necessary to launch a successful content marketing program and preach a simple mantra: “People are tired of ads. Generate informative long-form content and lots of it—keyword optimized and contextually relevant—and customers will beat a path to your door.” Let’s assume for a moment that your long-form content does, in fact, rank highly in organic SEO against your product category keywords. Whether it’s the right content to generate a conversion or a sale depends on several factors:

  1. The customer’s content consumption habits and preferences—visual, audio, or text
  2. The customer’s stage in the purchasing journey (e.g., awareness, need recognition, information gathering, evaluation, purchase, or post-purchase reinforcement)
  3. The specifics of your sales cycle
  4. The amount of competitors’ content that addresses similar issues

So how do you create content that addresses this variability? Simply put, focus your content on solving specific user needs. Let’s look at three customer types and how each requires a different approach to presenting content.

The instant gratification seeker

Users who demand instant gratification fall into two camps. The first type has a specific pain point, right now. The second has an unpremeditated whim it followed. If either doesn’t see an easy, obvious, and quick route to conversion, it will be gone. If you’ve been relying on a common strategy of funneling users by having them register to download white papers then following up with a sales call or a webinar invitation, you’ve lost this group. If you desire to capture more conversions from this type of user, think about creating fast, proof-point-driven content like infographics or short-form videos. In their haste, both groups will be on the alert for decision-making shorthand, like marks of professional affiliations or certifications, awards, or customer testimonials. Further, you may want to add some faster bridges to conversion on the content landing pages (e.g., quick-quote forms or click-to-call). With this group, even looking for a standard “Contact Us” link in the main navigation may be too much work.

The hunter-gatherer

Hunter-gatherers are the customers most traditional content strategies have been designed for. They are anywhere from thirty days to three months out from any transaction—and they’re doing their homework. It is important to create content focused more on memorable engagement than on immediate conversion. That white paper/webinar routine mentioned above is actually a smart approach for this type of prospect. You may want to look at creating a blend of both graphically distinctive, “snackable” (and Pinterest-worthy) content (infographics) and longer-format content or a content series (e.g., podcasts, webinars, or newsletters). The trick with these customers is to keep engaging them throughout the cycle—to remain top of mind so that when they finally move to instant gratification, you have already established your position in the consideration set.

The browser/grazer

Browser/grazers have no definite time frame or immediate need beyond their current curiosity, but they are most likely in it for the long haul. They peruse a wide variety of sources but will eventually narrow down their options and make a purchase. The more you can command their fickle attention spans, the greater your chance of being in the right time at the right place. “Too long; didn’t read” (TL;DR) is less likely to apply to this group who will happily consume content created for the above two prospect groups, if it strikes their fancy. They likely also have an increased appetite for entertainment alongside information. So you may want to consider adding more interactive content (e.g., simulators, surveys, quizzes, quick how-to videos, or quickly digestible social content). Ironically, the interactive content that is produced to garner the attention of this segment probably delivers the lowest ROI and the highest level of investment.

Ultimately, create for users first

Whether you create content for every type of potential customer segment or prioritize against a few, you can forge stronger connections at any point in the purchasing journey by designing and creating content experiences built around users’ needs rather than the messages or products you’d like to sell.