Timing. It’s the most important part of telling a successful joke, impacting delivery so substantially that it can make or break the whole thing. A well-placed comic beat lets your listeners fill in the blanks on their own, before the comedian steps in with something more effective.
Which is to say that what makes comedy work is saying the right thing at the right time. And as true as it is for comedy, it’s even more so for content marketing, where your audience is both profoundly less captive and being inundated with jokes from hundreds of other allegorical comedians at the exact same time. That makes nailing the delivery all the more important. The best content delivered at the wrong stage of the buyers’ journey will only serve to alienate your audience and make it harder to reach them in the future.
A Guided Funnel
You have to make sure you’re hitting your prospects where they are.
The B2B buying process is notoriously more complicated than it is for retail and B2C businesses; it’s generally longer, more intense, and more research-oriented in order. And that means that it’s significantly more difficult to move prospects down the funnel; the more they progress, the more aggressively they filter, and the more prone the process is to becoming a frustrating, interminable slog. You need to make sure that doesn’t happen.
So you can’t just provide them with content. After all, anyone can do that; whipping up an ebook isn’t especially difficult. Your job is to make the process of making a decision simple and seamless, so that the inevitable endpoint of your array of informative content is, well, you. So, in addition to creating content that adheres to each stage of the buyers’ journey, you have to think about how you’re moving them along that path; what are you doing to get them from Point A to Point B? How are you progressing them from Awareness to Consideration?
It’s not enough simply to blast them with content pieces in the hope one sticks, or host it and hope that Google does the rest. B2B customers are already wading through a sea of junk mail, and floating to the top isn’t simply a matter of having the best whitepaper out there. You need to make connections between your content pieces that serve to both clearly identify what stage they’re at and which naturally push them to take further actions.
It’s called the Machine.
The Machine is a marketing workflow that ensures that, at every interaction, prospects are met with two choices: move to a later stage, or not. These are self-directed, autonomous decisions that let customers guide their own buying process but which ensure they move down well-defined paths toward an eventual, pre-determined end-goal. They can be as simple or as complex as you like, but regardless, it breaks down like this:
- I interact with a content piece.
- I am encouraged to convert on an additional content piece intended for someone further down the funnel.
- If I do convert, then I am in the next stage, and the process repeats itself until purchase.
- If I do not convert, my information is retained and I will enter into a lead nurturing process, which should in time re-engage my interest, and reactivate the Machine.
So what you have is a self-referential loop that offers choices that only customers ready to move down the sales funnel would select, self-sorting them into well-defined buyer categories that are ready to be marketed to.
This is the strategic side of content marketing, and it’s both where you need to really start thinking deeply about how to map content to appropriate stages, as well as to what your prospects’ actual on-the-ground concerns are – and what the different paths that might lead to a sale might be. These can be elaborate, branching decision trees or simple A->B->C workflows; it can even be done one-on-one over the phone. But in any case, the focus is on making sure the content gets delivered to the right people, where it will do them the most good and serve to answer their questions.
The alternative is to blast your content blind, hitting your email list shotgun-style and hoping that something snags the right target. Building your own Machine is a valuable marketing activity that can (and does) deliver long-term purchase decisions, requiring only to be periodically renewed with new content and refilled with new leads to ensure that it keeps working.
Following this strategic path helps to overcome the problem B2B customers face of being forced to drink from a firehose, hit with so much content that isn’t clearly targeted that they get overwhelmed. By taking their hand, and letting them make clear decisions, you can lead them right to your door, ready to buy.