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.

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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.

Stop creating content, start creating value

For businesses getting started with content marketing, it’s easy to get carried away with the idea of creating masses of varied content – in the hope that it will mystically help to market their products. So many blogs, articles and books about content marketing focus on maximising the volume of content you’re producing, spreading it across lots of different channels and carefully planning publishing schedules. The idea “if you publish it, they will come” is what gets many businesses into content marketing in the first place. But, like everything else worth doing, it isn’t easy. Before you can even think about volume, channel or publishing patterns, you really need to get back to basics and think about the most important thing of all: value.

Needless to say, the real impact with content marketing comes in the value of the message; the purpose and utility of the content. How is your content going to help, entertain or interest the target audience?

Five key things to think about when maximising the impact of your content

  1. Focus on worth

At the heart of your content is the value that lives within it. What is it actually worth to your target audience? What is the main reason the content will be useful, interesting or entertaining? If you aren’t certain the content is going to be valued by the people you eventually want to sell to, or the influencers of the people you want to sell to, the chances are it isn’t valuable. In such cases, you aren’t marketing – you’re spitting out used bubblegum.

  1. Quickly demonstrate purpose

It’s crucial that you show the purpose of your content early on. If it’s a video, let your audience know what they will get out of it in the first few seconds; if it’s an infographic, clearly highlight the key purpose; if it’s a blog, be upfront about what the point is. You get the idea. Think about how it’s going to help, improve or enrich the audiences’ lives and express this early on.

  1. Don’t dilute

Don’t fall victim to the idea of watering down each piece of content in order to spread it out over more channels and separate posts. Think logically about what the audience needs to get out of this single interaction with your content. What do they need to walk away with that will have helped or satisfied them in some way? What happens when you dilute something too much? It becomes weak.

  1. Get attention

You know those sounds that are constantly in the background. The hum of the air conditioning or the buzz of the refrigerator – you stop noticing them because they’re constantly droning on in the background. You don’t want to be a background hum – you want to be noticed – make sure every noise you make is worth listening to.

  1. Give more

If you think you’re giving away too much for free, it’s probably a good sign that you’re doing content marketing well. Nothing in life is free, you know that. Your audience may not be paying for your content with money, but they are paying you with time and attention. Reward them by giving more value than they expect.

Remember, value is everything – if you can’t see the real value to the customer – don’t publish the content. Great content inspires action.

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

How to make an impact with real-time content marketing

One of my favourite business experts, Grant Cardone, says “success loves preparation”. It makes perfect sense that you’ll perform better in any given situation if you’re suitably prepared. Content marketing is no exception – the best content marketing is always well planned, executed with precision and highly targeted to the intended audience. This is the epitome of good preparation, right? But, it isn’t always possible to plan for every situation before it arises.

What if something unexpected happens? Perhaps a new product is released by a competitor, there’s a sudden economic slump or even a hot topic of discussion emerges among your target audience overnight. As content marketers, sometimes the only way we can take unexpected opportunities and swerve dips in the road is to adapt and respond quickly, if not instantly with relevant, valuable content.

timeReacting and adapting to the audience’s world can make your voice more relevant and dynamic, but it can be a risky tactic, so you need to make sure everything we publish in “real-time” supports your strategy.

CREATING IN REAL-TIME

Sometimes an opportunity will arise that calls for content to be created from scratch. The scope for pay-off will be more risky because there just won’t be time to follow all of the usual planning and development processes. However, there are a few questions to answer before creating anything on-the-fly, including:

  1. How will the content specifically contribute to your big aim, goals or objectives?
  2. Will the topic still be ‘hot’ by the time it is ready to publish?
  3. Are there any legal considerations associated with publishing the content right now?
  4. Is the situation really time-limited?

IDENTIFY KEY CONVERSATIONS

What are the topics, issues and discussions you want your brand to be associated with? They might be conversations people are already having, or they might be new ones that we’re anticipating. Think about how you can valuably contribute to and fuel these conversations early on. How will this content help to bolster your voice among the target audience?

LISTEN UP

You can monitor the use of keywords and phrases related to the topics and conversations you’re interested in. The best way is to use social media monitoring tools and online keyword scrapers to sift through blogs (including blog comments), news articles and other user-contributed content. There are a large amount of systems available to help with this:

  • For social media monitoring, my favourite system is Radian6. With huge data depths, this system scours the internet and highlights virtually every relevant conversation happening right now across the social web.
  • Services like BrandWatch dashboard complex keyword searches across social platforms and beyond, with a high degree of filtering. Like Radian6, this is a paid option, but well worth considering if budget allows.
  • The best of the free systems is probably Hootsuite, which enables you to identify the words and phrases you’re interested in across various social channels, all displayed in a series of real-time feeds.
  • Google Alerts is a great free service that allows you to identify keywords and phrases and get real-time alerts when they appear in news and other online publications. There is also a special setting to include results from social media sites.

stand-therePIVOT AND ADAPT CONTENT

It is important that you’re ready to adapt to the market challenges and opportunities whenever necessary. Don’t be afraid to bring scheduled content forward in the content calendar if it’s particularly relevant to a current topic. Market need always trumps the schedule.

The same goes for archived and live content. If there is an opportunity to bring it back to prominence or reinvent it, go ahead and adapt, refocus, or republish. But be careful not to crowbar content into tenuously linked topics, as the lack of relevance will be obvious and will only devalue your voice.

INDIVIDUAL TARGETING

We have already discussed how important key market influencers are. While it is crucial that you listen to how they are using their dominant voices, you must remember that every single member of our audience has the potential to influence others.

Some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Philips, take the time to respond and deliver bespoke content to audiences of just one person. There is no engagement like a one-to-one engagement.

Creating ad hoc content for individual customers might sound like a great deal of work, but it shouldn’t actually be an indiscriminate process. In reality, it is more about responding to individual customers in a very personal way with content that will also appeal to the rest of the audience segment.

ADD VALUE OR GO HOME

Although you need to look for content marketing opportunities around the hot topics you’re interested in, you don’t need to interact with every single conversation and related sub-topic. Only get involved with hot topics that are relevant to your audience and that you’re able to add value to.

DON’T KILL CONVERSATIONS

If you see conversations on websites, social media, blogs and forums that you want to get involved with, it’s important that you keep your contributions appropriate and highly-relevant. We want to position ourselves as part of the community, almost like friends sharing useful information. But, bear in mind that nobody likes that friend who won’t let anyone else speak; you can be that clever, understanding and helpful friend instead.

Remember, you’re not telling people where to go next or what to do, we’re just going with the flow of the conversation and helping with content where it might be useful. Avoid spammy interruptions!

FINAL THOUGHTS

For me, real-time content marketing is about heightening empathy by listening to customers’ rants and sharing their joys. If you aren’t watching, listening and relating to customers, they will quickly realise you are speaking at them, not with them.

Before you start publishing any content “on-the-fly”, it’s important to be sure it contributes in some way to the overall aims, goals and objectives of your content marketing strategy. If it doesn’t help you move towards your purpose, don’t publish it.

This blog post contains an excerpt from Content Marketing Revolution by Dane Brookes and is used with permission. You can buy the book on Amazon and the offical book website.