Something that I’ve been noticing is that many companies focus their content development with tunnel vision. What does that mean? It means your content is so closely aligned to your product offerings that you keep running circles around the same topics over and over. And that can hurt your content marketing efforts.
Are you too focused on the purchase journey?
Developing personas and journey maps is important. But it’s not always something companies take the time to do because they are busy running the business. The marketing team spends so much time with daily activities: social media, email campaigns, updates to the website, the whitepaper someone decided they needed, supporting Sales, that there’s no time to get the bigger picture.
But that bigger picture is critical to ensuring the content you develop is meeting the needs of your target market. You need to carve out time to step back and identify your personas. They don’t need to be crazy detailed to the point you have named the persona and described their appearance, named their kids and their outside of work hobbies. You do, however, need to understand key positions in the company, key challenges, training, interests, connections with other employees and teams. When you have that persona clear, you can move to the next step - mapping the journey to purchase.
The thing is that journey isn’t a straight line. And it’s not always about purposefully looking for content focused on purchasing a product or service. But most journey maps look only at the points where the persona is specifically looking for information to help make a purchase and focus content development on these areas.
There’s only so much content you can write for these points in the journey. Yes, you create datasheets and other product information - that’s a straightforward process. And you should create at least one good whitepaper or ebook, and certainly a number of blogs, but there’s only so much you can say on a single topic. Also, much of what you say that is similar, or in many cases the same as your competitors.
Joe Pulizzi said it well in this post:
What do you sell? Most likely, what you sell is primary to your company’s mission, which is then passed down to your content marketing mission. Do you know what this creates? Self-serving content that does nothing for the audience and wastes time and resources of the brand.
This is the tunnel vision. Writing content that focuses purely on the purchase journey gives you only a limited amount of topics you can cover. And you cover them over and over, struggling to find unique angles or things to say, but in the end, always covering the same points. It leads to content fatigue, and it can get a little tiring.
Why you need to broaden the journey map
To be clear, I’m not suggesting you don’t create content that focuses on those key points in the purchase journey where prospects are looking for information. What I am suggesting is to widen your content net to cover things outside the specific purchase needs.
Because personas do more than look for products to purchase. In fact, they spend a lot of time looking at other content related to their job - content that helps them do their job better.
So why not broaden your content development to topics that your personas are interested in and don’t map directly to your product? For example, you sell a web content management solution. Instead of only writing content related to implementing a better CMS or using a CMS, why not create content that provides guidance or practices to improve your web experience or write better web content? Why not write content on improving content marketing? Or digital marketing? Or write about technology complementary to your software?
Again, from Pulizzi’s article noted above:
Professor Marc Resnick from Bentley University responded shortly before his death with the following commentary: ‘Which would energize me (or anyone) more as a creative business professional?
1. Creating content that has the primary purpose of driving the sales pipeline and a secondary purpose of improving the life of my user.
2. Creating content that has the primary purpose of improving the life of my user and a secondary purpose of driving the sales pipeline.’
There are many topics indirectly related to your product or service that you could write about and gain traffic from your key personas. Then, when the time comes that do they do need to make a purchase decision, you are top of mind.
This is very much in line with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose’s view of building an audience through great content - content that is about more than just your product or service. Pulizzi and Rose suggest that brands become publishers.
I would love to help a brand take on that challenge because I do see the value in developing an audience and telling a bigger story. But I also understand it’s an undertaking that many aren’t prepared to do financially and still aren’t convinced of its value.
However, there is a middle ground that companies can take that heads in this direction. It requires broadening the journey map to understand the persona’s content needs overall and outlining a content development strategy that provides some of this content. It’s mixing product marketing (which I see as a part of content marketing) with audience building.
A few pieces of content go along way to developing an audience that has a stronger potential to convert when the time comes. The extra content development will require a percentage of the budget, but if you can show your executives the value that content brings, through increased website traffic, increased social connections and newsletter subscriptions, you can prove the expense.
Another important thing to understand is that influencers and advocates for your brand don’t have to come from customers only. If you are developing a well-rounded set of content that your target personas use, it keeps you top of mind when they talk to colleagues at their company and other companies, even other industries. These non-customers will recommend your content and drive traffic to your website and social channels, and you never know who will convert from those efforts.
For every company that has nailed their approach to content marketing in a way that brings value to the company through increased traffic and conversions, there are at least ten times more that are struggling.
If you haven’t taken the time to understand your market and what your personas need then you can’t be sure the content you develop will work. If your focus is heavy on product marketing and creating content to support Sales, then you are missing an opportunity to cast a wider net that will serve you for the long haul.
Content marketing requires the creation of a strategy that balances content development between product-specific and industry or market specific with a focus on well-defined persona needs. Maybe you aren’t sold on Pulizzi and Rose’s idea of becoming a publisher, but you can take elements of their approach and expand your focus outside your product or service. What you find may surprise (and delight) you and your customers/audience.