Connect Content Strategy to the Customer Journey

The success (or failure) of today’s customer journey is based on the holistic customer experience. And, thanks to digital, the modern consumer is in full control of the buyer journey. Case in point: In partnership with Google, the Marketing Leadership Council found that your average consumer is more than halfway (nearly 60 percent) through the buying cycle before reaching out for help. On the B2B side, this figure could be as high as 90 percent.

It’s a new age for marketing. The traditional funnel doesn’t account for the digital, tech-savvy consumer; hence, its evolution.

Standing alone, the traditional funnel (awareness --> consideration --> conversion --> loyalty) over-simplifies the customer journey, not giving credit to the many touch points (or specific buyer personas) that contribute to an overarching experience, or for that matter, the post-purchase experience. The funnel model also excludes the impact of evolving technologies as it relates to the buyer journey. But, let’s take a few steps back.

A 2013 study from Pardot found that about 72 percent of consumers start the process for a “future business purchase” on Google. Seventy-six percent said they “prefer different content at each stage of my research process.”

Marketers get the importance of offering the right content at the right time. A recent study from Oracle, LookBookHQ and Eloqua found that about 50 percent are attempting to associate content creation with the buyer journey. Is your content strategy moving in this direction?

No one content strategy is universal, so begin by taking inventory of your business, buyer personas and sales cycle, even before you starting mapping content ideas.

Determine Cycle Specific to Your Buyer Persona(s)

From CMS Wire: “Instead of pushing them through a cascading sequence that metaphorically resembles movement through a funnel, Forrester said, businesses must now figure out how to entice them down the road.”

The best way to “entice” your customers is to get to know them. Find out what they do and don’t like on your site, and how they interact with current content offerings. We’d suggest starting with a benchmark of performance metrics. These might include:

  • Top visited blog posts or site pages.
  • Popular keywords driving organic traffic.
  • Most downloaded content pieces.
  • Most shared posts / content pieces.
  • Visitor flow / page drop offs.

Key performance metrics will also help to identify critical touch points along the buyer journey, by chronicling the journey potential buyers most frequent, and pinpointing the content that is most (and least) essential to conversion. But, there are ways to get even more scientific. Google uses an “assist / last assist interaction ratio” to determine which touch points lead to conversion, or simply inspire the consumer to take the next step. Make sure that these touch points (or web pages) provide the strongest content pieces.

Next, evaluate which personas tend to spend more or demonstrate stronger loyalty with your brand. Make these personas a top priority during content creation; they will likely have the most impact on future ROI.

The final step during this stage: Map out the customer journey on your website, per buyer persona. (Creating some kind of visual can be helpful.) In the words of Ann Handley, make sure you can “think like your customer” before you start writing or planning.

Create Purposeful Content For Each Stage

Make the best use of company resources and production by doing your due diligence during the planning stage. The best content will answer common customer questions, and will ultimately inspire them to move closer to a purchase.

This is where your customer journey map (visual) will come in handy. Begin by building out a custom content calendar based on the visual you created. Content ideas should correspond with buyer persona, as well as the buying stage. A solid calendar will do the following 3 things:

  1. Align the full journey with key pain points / touch points.
  2. Provide varying content formats corresponding with buying stage (i.e. case studies, ebooks, blog posts).
  3. Result in targeted, useful content (i.e. a great sales tool).

HubSpot recently reported via Demand Gen: “Leads nurtured with targeted content produce an increase in sales opportunities of more than 20 percent.”

If you’re interested in details (step-by-step), check out an article from my colleague Jessica Miller on mapping content across the customer journey. It includes a free, sample content calendar to get you started.

Looking Ahead: Marketers Act Like Scientists

Marketing Charts revealed (via Eloqua, Oracle and LookBookHQ) that, “About six in ten [marketers] say they’re delivering right time/real time content based on behavioral patterns.”

This is where the art and science of content marketing collide. New technologies are allowing marketers to operate like scientists. HubSpot’s Content Optimization System (COS), unveiled at least year’s INBOUND conference, is a prime example. The COS includes technology that can personalize the on-site experience (i.e. smart content, forms, etc.). Marketo’s December 2013 acquisition of Insightera, a real-time personalization platform, is another leading example.

Marketing automation technologies are allowing marketers to step in when sales cannot. In the words of Kapost: “Through technology, marketers can engage buyers and measure their progress despite the new dynamics preventing sales from interacting with them until much later in the process.”

From a holistic perspective, these technologies have the potential to close the gap between marketing and sales, while simultaneously creating the prime customer experience from screen to screen and persona to persona. And, not surprisingly, marketers are looking to take advantage of these opportunities right away. Exact Target’s 2014 State of Marketing report found that 60 percent are looking to increase their marketing automation budget.

In order for them to succeed, however, they must recruit or train talent capable of running complex content marketing programs fueled by technology, and they must develop a strategy to successfully integrate these new platforms and paradigms into their organizations.

This article originally appeared on PR 20/20.