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How to Craft an Effective Content Strategy for Inbound Marketing

“As impulsive and compulsive as society seems to be, it may come as a surprise that most consumers don’t make immediate purchasing decisions.”

When considering what might be best for your content marketing strategy, you need to be aware of what will actually drive your customers to buy.

But developing an effective content strategy for inbound marketing requires that you understand the process of inbound marketing in its entirety. Driving targeted leads to your website involves much more than just offering a product for sale and hitting the potential customer with a sales pitch. Instead, you must develop a content marketing strategy that establishes ongoing rapport with your potential buyers.

The Customer Purchasing Funnel

We often assume consumers impulsively buy the moment they want a product or service. However, buyers actually go through a series of funnels or stages which lead them toward an eventual purchase. There are typically four stages of “the buyer’s journey” that will eventually lead them towards a purchasing decision either with your company or a competitor.

These stages include: awareness, research, criteria, and finally vendor selection.  All of these stages are crucial in understanding where a potential customer might be in their decision making process and ultimately how you need to appeal and speak to their mindset during each stage.

Your inbound content marketing strategy must address each stage independent of the others in order to lead buyers effectively through the sales funnel towards a final purchase. And you also must consider that different buyer’s are at different stages of their journey. Some might just be trying to solve a problem, while others are ready to select the appropriate vendor.

Let’s explore each stage.

Awareness & Discovery

Awareness & Discovery

Before a consumer is ready to make a purchase, he or she must be aware of what it is they need or what problem they are trying to solve. This isn’t always easy for a consumer to identify. For example, perhaps a consumer is having a hard time organizing their thoughts or to keeping track of tasks they must perform for work. There are probably numerous solutions but it will ultimately be up to the customer to find one that makes the most sense for them. Perhaps a physical day time planner he or she can keep with them at all times makes the most sense. Someone else might find an online task or project management system works best for them. Another might find an all-inclusive solution like Evernote makes sense since it’s accessible online, through mobile devices, as well as desktop computers, which keeps their thoughts and tasks in sync.

Regardless of what they need or problem they have, a consumer must acknowledge there is a deficit or something lacking and begin looking to actively figure out a way to solve the problem. Their commitment to making a purchase at this stage is very low since they are really trying to understand what the underlying issue or need might be.

An inbound marketing strategy must speak to people during this awareness stage first and foremost. According to HubSpot, statistics show that 60% of a prospect’s buying decision is made up based on what they find online before they ever even speak to a sales representative. That means for most companies, if they are not appealing to a prospective customer’s needs during the awareness stage, the opportunity to build rapport, credibility, and interest from the consumer is much more difficult. Just imagine how developing an inbound content strategy that appeals to a consumer’s need for figuring out what they might need or a problem they must solve would do for connecting with that customer!

Have you ever been trying to solve a problem and came across the perfect article that seems as if it was written just for you?

That probably was not by blind luck.

The content was most likely developed to appeal specifically to someone in your exact situation looking for answers. And, most likely after you got what you were looking for you were more inclined to stick around, sign up for something, bookmark the site, read more content, or dare I say… even make a purchase. It is an indisputable fact that consumers today search daily to get answers or solutions to their problems. By getting in “on the ground floor” and getting ahead of a buyers decision making process through a targeted content strategy, your chances of moving the buyer through their journey and remaining a viable candidate for their business is much higher.

Research & Consideration

Research & Consideration

Think of this stage similar to shopping in a clothing store.

Often the sales representative will come over and say hello and usually lead with a line such as, “Can I help you find anything or are you just browsing?”

At this stage, the customer is aware of their need, the next step is research and education, ultimately leading towards a solution or product selection. As a buyer comes to discover what will solve their problem or fulfill their need they can begin to define and understand the type of product or service needed more clearly. Even still, the consumer is not yet committed to buying, just browsing.

A well-planned inbound content strategy will help during this stage by delivering educational or informative content which contains things such as facts, statistics, case studies, etc. This is also where buyer’s guides, blogs, eBooks, webinars, Q&As, and even live events will help them along to the next stage of their buyer’s journey. When consumers are researching they want information more than a sales pitch. Be sure your content delivers quality, honest, and useful content that helps them make a smarter choice.

Consumer’s have a greater level of control over the sales cycle and when they choose to buy than ever before. Research was often a stage where the buyer had very little control in the past. They were forced to pick from a small selection of vendors they “heard” about or could dig up through limited research. Most purchases were also limited by location as many purchases were made offline and selection was controlled by availability in a buyer’s area.

As more marketers sell online and deliver great supportive content about their products and services, researching all viable solutions to fulfill a buyer’s need is easier than ever. Consumer’s spend a great deal more time today weighing their options than ever before. In 2013, GE Captial Retail Bank released a “Major Purchase Shopper Study” which noted that 81% of consumers research online before making a big purchase. While your product or service may not constitute a “big purchase” you can still bank on the assumption that if you have competitors, buyer’s will vet your offering to that of your competitors.  Their research and how much they can learn about your product, service, or even how your business operates can be a huge influencing factor in their purchasing behavior.

In addition to the content you develop to appeal to a researching consumer, you also must consider what past customers, brand advocates, and even disgruntled past customers of yours might be saying about your product or brand. Consumers often read reviews, testimonials, and connect with your business via Social Media to see how you engage with your followers and if your social “personality” is appealing to the type of company, product or service they are looking to align themselves with.

Criteria & Specification

Criteria & Specification

Upon entering this stage of the buyer’s journey, a consumer has identified the need they must fulfill, and has researched possible solutions or answers to their problem. Now, a buyer moves along to determining what features, benefits, and specifics matter most in the product or service they select.

  • What features does the buyer want or need?
  • What can they simply not live without?
  • What does this product have that similar products do not?
  • How much are they willing to spend?
  • How soon do they need it or how soon can they get it after purchase?
  • Is this a one-time purchase or a monthly/annual commitment?
  • What are others saying about this product?

You can help buyers dig deeper by delivering content which further defines your product or service.

Consider what sets your product or offer apart from competitors and use those factors to develop strong content for your audience.This is often an area of difficulty for some companies who see no unique or identifying qualities that resonate solely with their product and not their competitors. But think about the bigger picture. Even if the product is the same or similar, how it is delivered, how your company handles the sales process or support after the purchase may be very different.

Think about all possible corners of your business and how they can be used to develop a unique positioning strategy, even in a saturated market. For example, some businesses might not want to talk about being small in size by comparison to their competitors, but in reality perhaps a smaller company is appealing to your target audience. Maybe they want to know that when they call they will get to speak to a live person and perhaps even someone intimately familiar with their account. Take some time to think about your strengths and weaknesses and how to use those to develop an inbound content strategy that helps define your product or service in even a highly competitive marketplace.

Buyers, having already done research are often looking for more specific information so be sure to provide quality content that answers many of the questions mentioned above. You can utilize content tools such as  checklists, industry information or spec sheets, podcasts, webinars, educational article on “how to buy” this type of product, and even FAQ pages can be a big help. In all likelihood, buyers have made the commitment to buy at this stage, but from whom is still up for debate. Don’t leave them hanging. Make sure they have all necessary information and answers to critical questions at their disposal.

Decision & Vendor Selection

Decision & Vendor Selection

If you’ve made it this far, and your buyer is still hanging on, you’ve done well providing the right information and content to help with a purchasing decision. It may in fact be your content from any of the previous stages of the buyer’s journey that convinced them that they need to make a purchase to begin with. Buyers ready to make a purchase are going to now vet your company and offer against all others carefully. They will explore opportunities such as free trials or discount offers. They will also dig deeper and look at referrals, reviews, and references in more detail. The buyer knows what they want and if you’ve done well delivering helpful content about your product as well as your company, the buyer knows you have what they are looking for.

During this stage of the process, consider involving your sales team or a personal touch to the process. For example, if the buyer signs up for a free trial, take the time to connect with them and learn more about their needs. A free trial sounds great on paper, but many consumers sign up for free trials, download eBooks or guides, and never take the time to actually digest everything your product or service can do.

One of the most effective sales techniques is to have a live representative walk through a product or service with the customer. This ensures all critical features and benefits are covered. And, as the sales rep learns more about the specific needs of a particular buyer, they can also tailor the demonstration to showing the buyer how the product specifically addresses their specific needs. No matter how simple the product consider this personal touch during the final sales process. You’d be surprised how many customers “just don’t get it” even if you’ve laid out every single fact, stat, and detail about your product.

Getting Beyond Just Creating Content

So, how does understanding the buyer’s journey benefit you?

By knowing each stage or the sales process, you can target prospective buyers at all stages of their journey by developing unique content that speaks to their level of interest as well as their level of commitment to making a purchase. Developing an inbound content strategy for each stage of the buyer’s journey enables you to help the buyer:

  1. Understand what need they might have
  2. Discover what products or services fulfill this need
  3. Answer key questions about which features and benefits matter most in their final product selection
  4. Choose the best product or service which fulfills their need

Attracting a buyer during any of these stages throughout their journey should be calculated and well planned. Consider the types of questions they would be asking during each stage and make sure to answer those directly.

“Create the type of content that feels as though it was written just for them.”

One question or concern businesses often raise when talking about acquiring customers is not knowing where to find new buyers. It is a genuine concern, however, therein lies the beauty of inbound marketing and developing powerful, useful content. You no longer have to find customers, they… find you.

Developing powerful content without knowing who your buyer is, how they behave, or where and how they spend their time would probably be futile. So do take the time to develop a few buyer personas before working on a content strategy. Think about who your ideal target customer might be, even if you have none of those currently. Perhaps that is only the case because you are not appealing to their needs and not answering their specific questions through your current content strategy. Also, examine your current customers and identify some that seem more ideal than others. Perhaps there are shared qualities or customer traits that make acquiring more of a particular type of customer beneficial.

Consider the 80/20 rule and that 80% of your time is often spent producing 20% of the results. Also look at the flip side, it’s often true that 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. Examine the 20% who generate the bulk of your revenue and find a way to target more of these high value target customers.

Optimizing Content for Search Engines & Social Media

Take the time to properly optimize your content for maximum impact in the search engines. Do some keyword research first and foremost. Find out what buyers might be calling a product similar to yours or how they might be searching for it. For example, you might be selling a “virtual daily planner” and want to target someone having problems keeping their daily routine or schedule in order. The buyer may not know how they plan to solve this problem or the type of product that would solve it, or even if disorganization is the underlying issue.

So, figure out what types of questions or solutions they might be looking for and make sure to utilize these keyword phrases in your content when applicable. Make sure your content also appeals to people, not just search engines. Stuffing a blog post full of relevant keywords but doing it in a way that sounds unnatural, forced, or that turns off the reader will do more harm than good. By offering valuable content and understanding the buyers need during each stage of their journey you’ll be able to develop stronger content that attract more buyers.

Once you identify the right type of buyer, develop content that appeals to their needs, and optimize the content so it can be found, next you must consider how to best get this content in front of them. Yes, well-written, highly relevant content will rise in the search results for related keywords and drive traffic to your website but also consider targeting these customers through Social Media as well.

Find out where they hang out most and share your meaningful content that aims to help these target customers discover your product or service as a viable solution to their needs. Search engines are now indexing social posts in search results for many of the major social networks. This means by using powerful keyword phrases that resonate with your audience your social activity, promoting your content can not only benefit your audience on the social network itself, but also those searching through Google and other search engines.

No matter where you publish content make sure it is shareable and optimized well. When buyers come across useful information or products they know others will find equally as interesting they will share with others. Make this as easy as you can for them making sure all pages of your website include social sharing tools or buttons built into every page.

Wrap Up

By following this content strategy for inbound marketing you will be able to create a powerful content strategy that helps your business connect with customers throughout every stage of their journey. Take the time to establish a strong foundation with your buyers by understanding who they are first and what needs they are looking to fulfill. Also get a sense of their overall urgency in their buying journey. Different products or services by default, will have varying levels of interest.

For example, if you are selling bassinets to expectant mothers you know your typical buyer time line will be less than a year and probably less than 3-6 months. Alternatively if you are selling a new website to a customer, their time line might be one month to several years and often their need is far from urgent and more along the lines of “nice to have.” Therefore, developing content for a buyer with an immediate need versus one with no real sense of urgency or time line to purchase can present a unique set of challenges.

Understanding… I mean really understanding your buyers can make delivering content that resonates with them a breeze.

We’ve helped all types of customers develop a content strategy for inbound marketing as well as dig deep and identify who their typical target customer might be. If you need help clarifying who you should sell to or how to market to your buyer groups we can help. Schedule a marketing consultation with us today and we can explore your marketing challenges together.

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci

Gerald D. Vinci is the CEO of Vinci Digital with over 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising. He partners with mid-size, established businesses as a growth and scalability consultant and strategic branding advisor as well as offering a full-suite of agency services. Gerald calls Carmel, CA home with his wife Safira and two children. He has co-authored two books, and is working on his own upcoming book titled, “Small Business Pricing Mastery – Creating effective pricing and defining value for today’s products and services.”