Here at Salted Stone we often find ourselves in meetings with clients who have come to us looking for a quick fix to their website conversion challenges. They know the traditional outbound marketing tactics they've been relying on don't work as effectively as they used to, and they're anxious to get up and running with a solid content marketing game plan to spark new sales.
The challenge for us is that many of these clients don't realize that in order to gain the most value from their investment with us, it's essential that our team takes the time to map out a content marketing strategy that is based on research and actual customer information.
We find that many new clients expect us to jump in and start producing content immediately based on our best guesses as to what will engage their audience. This is when we do our best to educate them about the importance of completing a thorough investigation into the messaging strategy that will resonate the best with their buyer personas.
This is because having a comprehensive understanding of a client's buyer personas, and the way in which those buyers arrive at purchasing decisions, is fundamental in developing a successful content marketing strategy.
In fact, research from the Aberdeen Group reveals that marketers who align content to specific stages of the buyer's journey yield 73% higher conversion rates.
How We Develop Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are not the same as demographic or industry identifiers. Developing a buyer persona isn't something you can just make up based on one person's experience with your customers, or on personal experience. Developing a buyer persona that contributes to a solid foundation for your content marketing efforts usually takes a bit of time.
For our clients, we interview their customers, talk to experienced salespeople, research industry pain points, and scour LinkedIn groups, blog posts, and industry journals to become as informed as we possibly can on the audience we'll be attempting to attract with our content.
According to HubSpot--the inbound marketing industry's heavyweight player--a buyer persona is a "semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better."
Adele Revella, CEO of the Buyer Persona Institute, talks about the importance of interviewing current customers to understand the story behind why they started looking for a solution to the problem in the first place. What happened? What did they do to research the problem? What was the process?
This is important information because once we've clearly identified a client's buyer personas, we begin to break down the buyer's journey based on the information we've gathered from the buyer persona research.
So what exactly is the buyer's journey? Basically, the buyer's journey has replaced the more traditional idea of the sales cycle.
Understanding the Buyer's Journey
The buyer's journey refers to the various steps a consumer takes on her/his way to making a purchase. The steps usually include discovery, research, evaluation, and then a purchase. The main thing to understand about this process is that buyer's today walk along most of this journey on their own and (usually) prefer to handle these stages of the journey without the direct assistance from a salesperson.
There are three stages in a typical buyer's journey:
1. Awareness Stage: A person discovers they have a challenge or problem and start looking for information to help them understand the problem completely.
2. Consideration Stage: The person has defined the challenge they're facing and are now researching potential solutions.
3. Decision Stage: The person has now reviewed all of their options for solving their problem and are at the point where they are deciding which company can help solve their problem the best for their situation.
Aligning Content Effectively
Now that we understand the steps people take before making a purchase, and we've completed the buyer persona research to understand who we'll be creating content for, it's time to begin mapping out our clients' content marketing strategy.
By aligning specific pieces of content with the three stages of the buyer's journey we're able to help our clients to be helpful to their potential customers rather than annoying. Remember, most people are not wanting to talk to salespeople during the majority of their buying journey. This means it's super important to drop helpful, relevant content along the path that your customers will likely take.
In the awareness stage we aim to highlight the problem or pain that the personas are experiencing. It's important to keep in mind that many of your potential customers won't even know they need a solution yet. So it's up to us to educate them.
In this stage, if your messaging is focused on what your company does or how your products work, most buyers will not respond. Messaging language like, "We help you manage and improve finances," or "we're the industry leader," will not resonate.
This is the part of the content plan where we begin to address the buyer's perceptions of a product, industry, or our client's company. We want to make sure we've taken an honest assessment of things from the buyer's point of view and that we address the objections that might be feeling.
This is also the time to continue educating the buyer on how your product or service works to alleviate their pain point--the one that was uncovered in the awareness stage.
At this stage in the journey, buyers have already decided that they will be making a purchase, so it's important now to provide marketing collateral that helps them finalize the decision of which company they'll work with (or buy from.)
The buyer persona research comes into play again in this stage because we need need to ensure that we're using the language and vocabulary they would use to help them understand that our product or service is perfect for them and will meet their buying criteria.
Which Content Resonates?
Deploying collateral with messaging aligned to the right stage of the buyer's journey is important, but it's also necessary for us to consider the content consumption habits of our buyer personas.
Do they read blogs? Listen to podcasts? Subscribe to industry magazines? Frequent a specific social media channel? All of these things matter and should be considered before beginning to produce your content marketing collateral.
That being said, we often find the following types of content work best within each of the three stages of the buyer's journey:
Awareness: ebooks, whitepapers
Consideration: webinars, case studies
Decision: competitor comparison guides, pricing comparison sheets
Investing in the Foundation
As mentioned earlier in this post, marketers who align their content to specific stages of the buyer's journey enjoy 73% higher conversion rates. And this is exactly why our team takes the time at the beginning of each client engagement to explain the importance of investing in a solid foundation before jumping into the production side of things.
Is a Growth Driven Design strategy the right approach for your next web redesign? Get the A Web-Dev's Guide to Growth Driven Design ebook.