Turning audiences into buyers

buyersIn my book, Content Marketing Revolution, I focus on the five crucial steps to building a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with your customers. It’s no secret that in the digital age content marketing is key to attracting, engaging and retaining an audience. But your audience only becomes valuable when you start converting them from people who read, watch and listen to your content to people who buy your stuff. This is where content that aims to nurture shifts to content that aims to sell.

Later this year, I’m publishing a book focusing on per-campaign transitions from content marketing to sales content, so I’ll be talking more about this over the next few months. But right now, I want to look at what it actually means to sell in the content age. Specifically, why does content play an increasingly important role in the customer’s journey towards a purchase?

Over the last decade, the entire journey a buyer takes when they make a purchase has fundamentally changed. In the digital age, 24 hour/365 day access to information via websites, apps and social media has revolutionised buyer behaviour. In the past, consumers had to work a lot harder to get reliable information to help them make a decision – to a greater extent they were guided through their journey by a salesperson, more overt marketing or simply a combination of need and lack of knowledge.

These days though, the buyer can be just as savvy and informed as the seller on the benefits and disadvantages of a product, how it compares to competitor products and even which vendor offers the cheapest price on the planet. The likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook have pulled the wool away from the buyer’s eyes – through product searches, ratings and millions of conversations – more than ever before, the consumer is going into a sale with eyes wide open.

While this information provides the consumer with more power, by using content strategically, the seller can channel this power and use it to inspire a purchase rather than block it. Using great content in the transition from content marketing to sales in a way that contextualises the buyer’s knowledge actually contributes to the sale, rather than complicating it.

There is a stage on your buyer’s journey that your content marketing must be accompanied by more sales-focused content if you are going to efficiently convert your audience into customers. During this stage, you must start to use your content to tell customers to buy – your content marketing should make the reasons why obvious.

In my next post, I’m going to talk about identifying the transition period between content marketing and sales content, highlighting the methods that will help you to start directing customer actions.

In the mean time, take a look at my book Content Marketing Revolution, which dissects the buyer’s journey and guides you through the five crucial steps that lead up to the big sell.

By Dane Brookes, Director at Group Dane and author of Content Marketing Revolution.

Let go, start selling

sellingSelling isn’t a comfortable gear for most people to shift into. For a lucky few it comes naturally, but if you’re not a born salesperson, you probably find the whole idea of selling yourself, your ideas or your products unsettling.

Why is this? For some people, it comes from an inherent distrust of salespeople and the scenarios and types of persuasive messaging associated with them. We’ve all been in situations with salespeople on the phone, in person or online that have been uncomfortable or annoying. But equally, we have all been helped by salespeople that have encouraged us to buy great products that we genuinely wanted or needed – the difference is we probably didn’t think of them as salespeople.

Whether your job involves selling products or not, if you don’t adopt a sales mentality, you’ll struggle to get what you want in business, your career and your life. We all know people who seem to get everything they want more easily than everyone else – most often these people are just great at selling. Whether that means shifting more stock, securing promotions, or even getting to choose which restaurant you meet them at.

Start by changing the way you think about selling in general. Let go of any negative perceptions you may have about the ‘S’ word. Remember that the people who make you feel uncomfortable or pressurise you into making a poor decision are not selling – they are bullying. For me, selling isn’t about persuading people to doing something that isn’t right for them; it’s about making a robust and highly-personalised case for all of the genuine benefits the buyer will reap.

Ultimately, at the sharp end of any decision, the person in the hot seat needs to be clear on the reasons to act and have confidence in you and your proposition. There’s no room for uncertainty at the point of closure – so you must be ready and willing to persuade. It’s time to start selling.

Here’s why your content marketing doesn’t ka-ching

You could say I’m a content marketing evangelist. I’ve written a book about it (Content Marketing Revolution) and I’m just finishing my second book on the subject. I believe in it. I help other businesses to do it. It works.

But not everyone gets it right. One of the reasons that some content marketers fail to see an increase in actual customers is that they get so lost in the idea of “not selling” that their activities stop moving prospects along the buyer’s journey. Regardless of how engaging your content is, if you aren’t selling later down the line, your efforts may be all for nothing.

Don’t loose sight of the fact that selling is the ultimate aim of all marketing activity, so it makes sense to be thinking about the endgame throughout all of your activities. Even if the purpose of your content marketing is to attract or build a relationship with your audience, you always want it to lead to a sale.
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If you’re creating great content without thinking about how it contributes to a sale, you might as well be blasting it up into space and expecting a return.

In my book, I talk a lot about identifying your audience (or target customers) and building your content efforts around influencing these groups. A big part of this is getting to grips with the buyer’s journey and working out exactly what they need at each stage. If you align all of your content marketing activity to the journey you want customers to travel, your content will be working for both the customer and you.

Whether you realise it or not, your content already appeals to specific stages of the buyer’s journey, so it’s important that you acknowledge these milestones in the way you deliver it: from tone and purpose, to considerations about branding and calls to action, etc.

While the principles of content marketing might be right for hooking in your audience and building a long-lasting relationship at certain points in the journey, the same principles might not be right when you get closer to the sale. Take a logical approach to how you communicate with your customers and remember that there comes a time in every buyer’s journey that more direct, sales-led content is crucial. Don’t allow content marketing to cloud certainty about your product at the sharp end of the sale.

The bottom line is: if you want to improve the impact content marketing is having on sales, it is crucial that you recognise when to use apply the principles of content marketing and when to use content to all out sell.

By Dane Brookes, Director at Group Dane and author of Content Marketing Revolution.

Monitoring is key to content marketing success

A few years ago, I did some acting. I started off with stage plays, before going on to do quite a lot of short films, web series and a couple of b-movie features.

In some ways, being involved with film productions felt more glamorous than theatre. This was partly because of screening events in swish venues (basically parties), those glossy publicity photographs and, of course, the strangely satisfying IMDb records, preserved online for all eternity. I was young and I felt like a movie star! Yet, I desperately missed something about performing on stage…

The intimacy and the immediate audience connection just isn’t there when you’re performing for the camera. After all, it can be months, even years, between the Director shouting “it’s a wrap” and the audience seeing the final edit. As a theatre actor, on the other hand, I had the audience right there with me. My eyes and ears were like real-time monitoring devices that enabled me to test and validate my performance on-the-fly. Moment by moment, I could adjust and adapt according to silences, laughter, tension and applause.

As a content marketer, I still feel like I need that instant audience validation. I’m always looking for their approval and seeking the rewarding feeling that comes with knowing my efforts are valued. The only way you’re ever going to succeed with content marketing is if you’re obsessed with wooing your target audience. Indeed, it’s the pursuit of that satisfying feeling that makes me successful in my efforts. And let’s face it, what are your customers going to do with their approval? They’re going to pay it back in loyalty, advocacy and years of repeat business. Get obsessed with giving the audience what they want!

I’ve found that content marketing is not a million miles from theatre acting in the way you can monitor and adapt to your audience as you go, using real-time analytics and social interactions as our eyes and ears. Are they enthralled or bored, cheering or booing? You can use this instant feedback to continually adapt your performance, make sure you’re holding attention and confirm in your own mind that you’re giving the audience everything they need from your story.

Across all industries, there is a real problem with the measurement of content marketing activity. Just 8% of businesses consider themselves to be ‘very successful’ at tracking content marketing return on investment, according LinkedIn Technology Marketing Community.

Most businesses fall down by looking too broadly at general numbers like page views and shares, without interpreting this data into actionable insights. In fact, according to research by Contently, 90% of marketers don’t feel that their key content metrics effectively measure business results.

Why not take this as an opportunity to get ahead of your competitors? What do you need to look for and how can you translate your findings into actions that will help tip the scales?

Although you’ll measure and monitor each piece of content continuously, you’ll probably want to report more broadly on your activities at certain points. When you set out your content marketing strategy, hopefully you were clear about what you wanted to achieve. Are you getting there? At the end of the day, you need to be able to answer one question: is it working?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus only on metrics that directly relate to your aim, goals and objectives. Don’t waste time collecting data and reporting on anything else. In my experience, information that doesn’t prove or justify your activity will just distract you from those actionable nuggets of insight, not to mention bloat your reports and encourage extraneous questions that are impossible to answer.

In a nutshell, by only monitoring the right things, you’ll keep your wits sharp and be empowered to cut loose ineffective efforts that are slowing you down.

The concept is simple: collect the right information, make informed judgements and change things that aren’t working. The mantra goes like this: ‘GAUGE – ACT – MEASURE – ADAPT’.

by Dane Brookes, Director at Group Dane and author of Content Marketing Revolution.

If you build it, will they come?

Last week, I caught a bit of the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams. If you haven’t seen it, the story starts with the main character hearing a mysterious voice one night in his cornfield saying “If you build it, he will come.” As the story progresses, Costner feels compelled to take action and ends up building a baseball field in his yard…and of course, he does come.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAaXAAAAJDc0MjZmMzZiLTYyN2MtNDhhYy1hOTE4LTZhYzZmM2I0ODE5YwThis got me thinking…

I meet a lot of businesses that have built great products and services, yet are struggling to succeed because not enough people are coming. This is because, generally, businesses don’t sink or swim on the quality or utility of their product alone; it’s only when there’s a sense of appeal that customers start switching on. In reality, the product’s existence isn’t ever reason enough to attract the volume of customers you want.

When these businesses realise nobody is coming, they often turn to special offers, discounts and even drop the price in a bid to attract customers. But this thinking is fundamentally flawed if the overall objective is to attract new customers – especially if they aren’t be aware of the product (or its value) in the first place. The actual problem is the product’s obscurity in the customers’ world – it isn’t inside the bubble they’re living in yet. If they don’t understand the value of the product, a drop in price isn’t going to create appeal.

Appeal is built on attraction, urgency and perceptions of demand. For some businesses, creating product appeal using content marketing will be easier than others, but the same basic ingredients usually apply:

  1. Attraction

Attraction in this context is the power of evoking interest in or liking for your product or brand. Here, you need to think about how you can attract customers without just telling them that you think your product is great.

My book, Content Marketing Revolution, talks about how today’s consumers are increasingly making decisions based on useful information, valuable engagements and brand affinity. To expand on this, I strongly believe customers hardly ever make decisions based on the product itself – in most cases customers don’t buy products – they buy brands. It’s usually more about the way they feel about the seller, brand or provider.

Think about how you can use informative and educational content to demonstrate how your product or service is solving a problem or making something better. Whether it’s hard facts, tutorials or user-generated content, you need to make sure your content delivers the message clearly and is appealing or relevant to your target customers.

  1. Urgency

In sales and marketing, urgency is often created with time pressures and scarcity. When attraction and urgency are paired, swift action naturally follows. Think about how you can create a sense of immediacy in the content you create. For example, you might make a download available for a limited period for a limited number of people, or maybe schedule a live webinar or Periscope talk on a specific date and time. The idea is to encourage your audience to take some kind of action before the opportunity passes.

  1. Demand

Demand is something every seller wants to keep and every buyer wants to get rid of (the buyer seeks to end “demand” by making a purchase). Often, this is heightened when their peers, influencers or even competitors also desire or advocate the product. Think about how you can use content to demonstrate demand within this group – endorsements, user-generated content and social conversations are a good starting point.

“Demand is something every seller wants to keep and every buyer wants to get rid of.”

Beyond this, how can you fortify the connection between the brand and the buyer to increase demand? A great way to do this is to create an intrinsic connection between the content you’re creating and the buyer’s relationship with the product. How about creating exclusivity with a club, a newsletter, or a social profile that offers exclusive content, advance access to offers and information?

Whatever your product, whether it’s a new idea, an improvement to an existing one, or even just an offering that’s new to your business, the product’s existence isn’t enough to attract buyers. Instead, be proactive and start creating your market right now with valuable content that directly appeals to your prospects.

If you set your target and build the content, they will come.

 

by Dane Brookes, Director at Group Dane and author of Content Marketing Revolution.

Content marketing: Driving quality

Every day for work, I wear a suit and tie with a pocket square. Over the last few years, this has become a sort of trademark among people that know me. But, for me, it isn’t just a style choice – when I’m wearing these clothes, I feel like I’m ready to take on anything that comes my way. Batman has his cowl, Superman has his cape and I have my pocket square! Ok, a bit much? Bear with me…

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The way we present ourselves, sends out a clear message to the world. What do you want that message to be? For me, it is about demonstrating effort, professionalism and attentiveness. Whether I’m meeting clients, colleagues or rivals, I want them to know I’m there with full commitment and strong conviction.

Whether we are meeting customers at the cash register or speaking with them through our content, the way we present ourselves will dramatically influence perceptions of our brand.

I’m not suggesting we make all of our content overly formal like my clothes, but we do need to let an air of quality and reliability permeate everything we do.

VOLUME & VELOCITY RISKS

It’s easy to get carried away with the idea of filling space and pumping out masses of content in all different formats, across a range of platforms. But, the more content we are producing at pace, the more quality and consistency comes under threat, particularly if we’re stretching limited resources.

Consider the ‘Speed – Quality – Cost Triangle’. For every piece of content we create, there is a trade-off between the speed we can deliver it, the production cost and the quality of the end result. It’s not possible to have more than two of these factors working in our favour at any one time. For example, if we’re looking to deliver the content quickly to a high quality, it will be expensive to produce; if we want it to be high quality and inexpensive to produce, it will not be delivered quickly. The final option is the one we’re to avoid at all costs: delivering quickly, but inexpensively – this is where quality fails.

Picture1Problems with our content reflect badly on our brand; if customers spot quality flaws, they will expect the same sloppy effort from us when it comes to our products and services.

We can mitigate these risks by complementing our style guide with a quality assurance framework that all work must pass through before it is published.

The process can be as simple as a manual checklist, or it can involve automated devices or sophisticated checking systems. In all cases, there are some crucial factors to consider before we hit the little red publish button.

COPY 101

The most obvious and easy way to manage quality checks are for spelling, grammar, punctuation and language, yet these are some of the most common content flaws.

No matter how compelling our content, simple typos and grammatical errors will immediately create the perception that it is low value and less authoritative.

Just as these errors are easy for us to check, they are also very easy for audiences to pick up on. It is beneficial to set up a process for checking the basics, making full use of the tools built-into our text editing programs as well as human proof reading.

APPROPRIATE MULTIMEDIA

Multimedia like videos, slideshows, photos, playlists, audio and photography can be highly engaging, but only if it is produced to an appropriate quality.

We might not need every piece of content to be top notch, but we do need to make a judgement call on whether or not the media is appropriate quality for the context it’s used and the target audience.

Lower-quality multimedia might be acceptable if it’s user-generated, deliberately ‘home-made’, or it fits into the context of its channel, such as Vine or Periscope. But in some cases, the context of the content will call for higher, even professional-quality media. For example, if we’re recording a podcast series, we’re probably going to want the content to be as professional as possible.

One aspect we can never compromise on, however, is the quality of the message. Whatever context, regardless of the audience, the message is the purpose of the content. What do we want it to say? What statement do we want to make? Is this clear enough?

GRAPHIC DESIGN

When producing anything that has a visual element, use a professional graphic designer or the best in-house resource. Whether it’s a flyer, an infographic or a web element, try and not be tempted to do it without the right skills or experience. Not only will an inferior attempt be less likely to get used or shared, there is also a chance it will damage perceptions of our brand. Is our business slapdash, unprofessional or dated like that homemade infographic?

LAYOUT

The layout of the content will affect its usability, so we must ensure we deliver the best possible experience by presenting the content in a logical format. Huge blocks of text are difficult to negotiate, especially online, and could cause your audience to skim read.

If we are not thinking about our audience’s needs when creating our content, they simply will not use it.

DON’T GET STUFFED (WITH KEYWORDS)

Let’s acknowledge for a moment that we have an ulterior motive at play. Although we’re working really hard to create content that our audiences will find useful, interesting or entertaining, we are doing this because we want something: a place in our target customers’ minds.

Naturally, in our quest to get our content out there to as many of the right people as possible, we’ll want to search engine optimise it with relevant keywords. But be careful not to diminish the overall quality and readability of the piece with unnatural keyword stuffing or phrase manipulation. Our audience won’t like it and, actually, neither will the search engines.

Your brand may not be the biggest or most influential in the marketplace, but what makes you the BEST in your niche area? Is it your unique relationship with customers? Or, perhaps your passion for the topic? Whatever the proposition, the clarity of your voice and the quality of its delivery will define your customers’ perceptions.

Next time you’re about to hit the publish button, stop for a moment. How much do you believe in this piece of content? Do you genuinely see where it delivers value? Don’t allow things like the pressures of a publishing schedule or a rapidly emerging opportunity to cloud your judgement. Quality concerns should trump all other commitments!

Remember, delivering quality content is your obligation, your privilege, your raison d’être.

by Dane Brookes, Director at Group Dane & Author of Content Marketing Revolution, Giant Leap Media, 2015.

Revolutionise: Change your conditions, attitudes and operation

Whatever your situation right now – in life, career or business – you probably want change of some kind. Whether it’s about a personal milestone you want to reach, a financial target you want to hit or even another place you’d physically rather be, there is probably a voice within you that calls for a shift from the present situation. For the most ambitious people, this desired change will be so big it amounts to a revolution of sorts.

revolutioniseWhen I think about revolution in the context of business, I think about massive, forced change for the better. I’m talking about conscious changes that dramatically improve the way things are done, the way customers respond to our products or services, the way people relate to our brand, or the way we think about our own business. Revolution, in general, is appealing. After all, who doesn’t want to supercharge performance, radically improve a process or identify fresh thinking to deal with a recurring problem?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, revolution is “a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.” So, what can you do to drive forward a fundamental shift in your current situation?

Conditions

We’re all “contained” to some extent by our present situation. These containers might be might be financial limitations, knowledge/expertise gaps, confidence issues or perhaps conservative leadership of the organisation – whatever the specific factors, these are the conditions that are helping to keep you in your current situation. It’s only when you have a good understanding of these conditions that you can think about the steps needed to change (or work around) them. You’ll find it difficult to drive forward any kind of meaningful change while you’re working within these containers.

Attitudes

Sir Winston Churchill famously said “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” How are you and the people around you thinking about problems and opportunities (if they aren’t the same thing)? The attitude you adopt in any given situation is a choice – you also have more power to control the attitudes of the people around you than you think. Positivity, creativity and enthusiasm are contagious – maybe it’s your job to spread the bug. Can your team get to where you want to be with their current attitude? If not, work on changing it.

Operation

Sometimes it feels like the safest way to do things is the way they have always been done, but you can’t then expect the results to be any better. If you’re looking to make a big change in performance, you have to make a big change in what you’re doing or the way you’re doing it. Remember what Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” What action do you need to take to drive that change?

If you’re looking to radically improve any aspect of your current situation, remember that just one shift in gear in the right area is one step towards the outcome you want. So, what will be your first move?

by Dane Brookes
Author of Content Marketing Revolution and Director at Group Dane.