Content is more about brains than budget. Deep content makes your customers smarter.
That’s my favorite quote from Ann Handley’s talk at Content Marketing World. She’s the founder of Marketing Profs, a speaker, blogger and author.
Ann reminds us what content marketing is all about: creating your audience of subscribers. With content marketing, you have abundant opportunities to make each buyer as smart as possible.
To create a smart buyer takes a deep understanding of exactly what your customers want to know. Then you can generously share straight answers to buyers’ questions through blogs and other content.
To understand what your buyers need to know, do buyer persona research. Over the course of 10 or so telephone interviews, customers will open up and tell you:
- What problems are they trying to solve, exactly?
- What triggered their search for a solution?
- Which information do they need and where do they find it?
- Which obstacles did they have to overcome, and how?
- Who exactly was involved in the buying process – who provided input, who made a recommendation, who rendered the final decision?
Your business hears dozens or even hundreds of questions through your customer sales and service people each month.
Capture your customers’ questions by having your customer-facing people write down each question customers ask. Record customers’ name, company, industry, the product they’re calling about and the questions they asked – in their exact words.
Harvesting customer questions is eye opening. It shows how hungry buyers are for straight answers to basic questions, for content marketing that helps them turn into smarter buyers.
Customer questions can teach marketers many lessons, including where each customer stands along the buyers’ journey.
Paste buyers’ questions into a spreadsheet, and then tag them to identify your most frequently recurring topics and themes. Tags enable you to develop a list of customers’ top 20 questions, which could become the topics for your next 20 blogs.
When you answer your buyers’ questions well, content marketing becomes a perfect match between your buyers’ needs and the expertise you offer.
Don’t be afraid to give long, long answers when that’s what buyers seek.
Customers like long-form content – more than many marketers recognize.
For example, on Tellabs’ website, we focused on achieving soft conversions, that is, getting people to view four kinds of content:
- A blog, 400 words long, a 2-minute read
- A video, 2 to 5 minutes long
- An article from our magazine Insight, 1,000 words, a 5-minute read
- A white paper of 4,000 or more words, which takes 20 minutes or more to read.
About half of Tellabs’ website visitors consumed one of these four forms of content. What we learned over time is that more people wanted to read 20-minute white papers than 2-minute blogs or 5-minute articles.
That said, the 2-minute and 5-minute content were crucial elements, acting as an appetizer before the main dish.
As soon as our customers got really interested, they sought out deep content, long answers to big questions. That’s the kind of content that makes buyers smarter, the kind of content Ann Handley is talking about.
She also offered pointers on how to sharpen up your content. For example, ask yourself: “Does your content tell a different story with a different point of view?”
Her advice: “Create bolder marketing. Tell bolder stories. Disrupt your industry’s fairy tales.”
Ann counsels marketers to emphasize the brand voice of your content.
If you took your brand name off your content, would customers recognize your voice and identify your content with you? If not, you have an upside opportunity.
She cites M+R as a great example of brand voice. Their brand voice is so distinctive that even “If the label falls off, you know it’s ours.”
“Your brand voice should attract and repel. Tone of voice is about who you are, why you do what you do, and what you’re like to deal with as a company,” Ann says.
As Ann sees it, the content marketing future is about, “Bigger stories. Braver tribes. Bolder voices.”
It’s all about marketers making your customers smarter. And it’s about your content karma. The more generously you teach, the more likely it is that you can attract the smart customers you really want to work with.
To learn more from Ann, here’s my review of her book Everybody Writes.
As a marketing change agent, I consult with clients, lead content marketing workshops for the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), and write the weekly Simplify Marketing blog.
With experience from Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, RR Donnelley and Tellabs, I've been named:
- Content Marketer of the Year by the Content Marketing Institute.
- Best Marketer by BtoB magazine.
- A B-to-B CMO to watch by Fierce CMO.