differentiate content

How to differentiate content in a crowded marketplace?

Here’s a question I heard in a recent content marketing workshop:

Q. With so many doing content marketing, how to differentiate and be seen? Paid support only? Organic seems a big challenge. Much competition and noise.

A. It’s not easy to differentiate content marketing from others in a crowded market. I recommend 3 ways to approach this problem:

1. Start by gaining a better understanding of your customers. Too many marketers skip the crucial step of creating buyer personas, thereby giving you a big opportunity to slip ahead of them.

Perform buyer persona research to get insights into what are your customers’ biggest questions. Not just the questions they ask sales, but the questions they search for answers to well before they talk to sales.

Studies show that buyers perform 57% to 80% of the buying decision process online, getting many of their questions answered before they ever talk to sales.

Buyer personas deliver crucial insights for great content marketing.
Up to 3/4 of the buying process happens before customers call sales. Buyer personas give you insights into how buyers think and feel.

In a noisy marketplace, answering your buyer’s questions is signal, not noise. As Marcus Sheridan teaches, “They ask. You answer.”

To find insights into what makes buyers tick, interview them for buyer persona research, as Adelle Revella advises in her book Buyer Personas.

Ask buyers who have recently made purchase decisions the right set of questions. Make sure the interview is by phone or in person, so it’s real-time and truly interactive.

Probe buyers to find insights in these 5 areas:

Priority Initiatives: Gain a view into the genesis of buyers’ decisions to make a change. What were the buyers’ triggering events and pain points? Who were the people that set their decision-making into motion? What pushed buyers to go beyond the status quo and set out on a buying journey?

Success Factors: See why buyers keep moving forward. What positive changes did buyers expect to gain? Which scenarios did buyers believe would change after the purchase? What would change in terms of practical outcomes, business outcomes and buyers’ personal aspirations.

Perceived Barriers: See the obstacles that buyers encounter – and must resolve. What prevented buyers from addressing the problem(s) sooner? Did certain people get in the way of change? Did previous negative experiences cause buyers to shy away? Were needed capabilities missing from the solutions that buyers considered?

Decision Criteria: Peer into the “what and how” of buying decisions. Which specific features or capabilities were most important to buyers during the buying journey? What exactly did buyers want to learn?

Buyer’s Journey: Observe the internal workings of teams behind buying decisions. Who has input, who’s the recommender and who’s the decision-maker? Who all was involved? What did buyers do to evaluate the options? What are the learning habits of various team members?

Buyer personas give you deep insights into the who, what, how, why and when of buying for content marketing.
Buyer personas give you deep insights into the who, what, how, why and when of buying for content marketing.

Great buyer insights propel great content marketing. By taking the time to gain better insights, you can outdo competitors.

Careful! You can’t get buyer persona insights indirectly.

Interviewing sales, distributors or product developers is useful, but those interviews can’t provide the same kinds of insights you gain from buyer persona research. You only get such insights by talking directly to buying decision-makers.

Without buyer insights, marketers are forced to create content by flying blind, making stuff up based on second-hand information. That’s no way to win!

Since buyer persona research is hard, there’s a really good chance your competitors took a shortcut and didn’t do it. Or they tried to substitute demographic or segmentation research, as many marketers do.

Other types of research don’t even begin to provide the insights needed to create great content for specific buyers. That’s why buyer persona research is a great place to begin your content marketing strategy.

How do you keep customers coming back? Understand the buying journey, map content to it.

2. Choose the right topics to focus your content marketing on. Now that you know exactly which information your buyers are looking for, choose content topics that break through, as Andy Crestodina advises.

Ask these hard questions:

  • What is the one question that no one in my industry will answer?
  • What is the one accepted idea in my industry that lacks evidence?

Write about those topics.

Expressing strong opinions and providing original research are the two most powerful ways to gain backlinks and authority.

Experiment with various media lengths to see what works best. Often, long-form content of 1,000 words or more can gain more readers and authority.

But short-form content may be more suited to the habits of buyers in your category. The only way to know is to ask your buyers and then measure their behaviors.

3. Seek subscribers. First you created content marketing that delivers the best, most thoughtful, thorough, convenient answers to customers’ actual questions. Now ask buyers to subscribe to your regular content feed – a blog, magazine, podcast or video series.

Make a date with your audience to deliver useful content regularly, and deliver as reliably as the 6 o’clock news. Provide a useful stream of on-topic, on-persona content.

Build your email list of subscribers into an asset for your business – a source of prospects who have given you permission to share your content marketing, people you can convert to customers over time. Subscribers are the next step on your path to success.

slow content
Going faster may not fix your content marketing problem. What if you slow down?

Caution: content marketing takes time to achieve results. Taking a slow approach to content pays dividends in the long run.

Make sure you have in place a content editorial mission and content marketing strategy.

Once you’ve done all the above with your content, then make sure you’re doing the best to amplify it organically.

After that, it’s time to add paid tactics. Focus on further spreading the most successful organic content you created to continue to build your subscriber list, going forward.

Make sure most of the value you create resides on owned properties — your website and email list — rather than on leased properties like social media. Use social media to promote the great content customers crave.