Most of us agree that these days, buyers interactions begin online. The Internet is the de facto tool they turn to for helping solve a problem, discovering suppliers, seeing who they have helped, etc. Your sites content is what buyers use to form their opinion of you. Its also a vital part of any digital marketing campaign; its the raw material that gatekeepers use to rank you. Whether you’re talking organic search or the paid/advertising side of the search engine equation, these platforms base who they show your content to by how relevant it is to their audience.

We all know that we need content – Google has already convinced us of that. But we marketers are so close to our subject matter we get all knotted up by its immensity. Imagine you’re surrounded on all sides by bolts of fabric, a sewing machine, and orders to make some clothes. So many textures and colours, so many designs and sizes; you would feel the same overwhelming emotion, trying to take raw material and turn it into a finished article of clothing.

This post aims to help keep you from getting tangled up in your content marketing choices. I’ll give you tips about where you internally source your material, what content you present and how you fashion it all together. By the end, you should know some of the key content components that even the most hard-selling digital channels rely on, such as pay-per-click advertising.

Starting the Content Creation Process

personaIt’s essential in business to know your customer. Retailers & those that physically transact business with clients have it easy: they can identify their clients offline & online. Without offline touch-points, you need to form a picture, a composite sketch of a single ‘persona’ to represent your ideal prospect.

Once you have fleshed out a persona, you can see what wants and needs they have as they visit your site. You know how authors say that their characters end up telling them how their book should end. Similarly, the content you put on your site will be guided by what your persona needs, replacing the Me, me, me, me and more me, content which typically dominates websites. Armed with a persona framework, your website can look and act in ways that please your clients and attract others that are like them.

In their book Content Rules, C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley explain that the sole purpose of content should be to help your persona solve their problem. Summed up, its the reason for your firms existence. “You are creating an overall content plan fueled by a single Big Idea, or core message, which is a rich and robust source that can act as the energy source for feeding and sustaining the rest of the stuff you imagine.” If your persona research uncovers a question they would have, you should have content that answers it. Sometimes that answer may be it depends, to which you can give the dependent details and in so doing, show your expertise. Sometimes the answer may be this is what we do, followed by a non-sales explanation of why they need you.

Planning out Your Content Creation

Lions Gate Arch cornerstone

Visitors aren’t just drawn by any kind of content. It has to be good quality, so accept the fact that you must spend a significant amount of time producing it. Your content creation plan will take time, but there is a method for driving toward a deliberate goal as you make your content. It comes from Tom Martin, whose book The Invisible Sale, says that any piece of content can be categorized as either a Cornerstone or a Cobblestone. He defines his two types of content as follows.

Cornerstone content refers to long-form, educational materials that you’ll find in ebooks, whitepapers and research guides. They are typically consumed by serious buyers. There should be pages on your site dedicated to describing them and getting people to provide their contact information before accessing them (also called lead capture forms).

Cobblestone content takes the form of blogs, guest posts and articles, email updates, podcast episodes or short videos. They are consumed by both serious buyers and sometimes by buyers at early stages of research (also called tire-kickers). These should be openly accessible online.

To create content, Tom says, instead of starting with the cornerstone, start with the cobblestones. In other words, envision an end goal such as a 5,000 word whitepaper, but focus your content effort on posting a 500 word blog post each week. After a little over two months, you can re-edit the existing content it and produce your full-length whitepaper.

Using Content to Turn Visitors into Leads

After working hard on your content, you may being tempted to try cashing it in by locking it all away behind lead capture forms. The truth is, for this information to be found by buyers (and search engines), you have to give much of it away you can’t expect immediate payoff. Think of restaurateurs, whose highest-margins come from alcohol, but have patrons coming mainly to consume a meal (where they make little margin). Because you can consume a restaurant meal in less time than it takes you to drink alcohol, an owner always faces the risk of just breaking even or losing money on you. The owners challenge is to keep you in your seat, drinking enough until they have made healthy margins on your visit.
At some point in the evolution of this industry, a restaurateur or club owner had the idea of introducing a live show, another brought in a band or a Murder Mystery act with audience involvement. That’s when those establishments started making money, mainly on the bar bill. To help the concept catch on so people would voluntarily stay and spend more money, the slogan ‘come for the dinner, stay for the show’ was coined.

Applying this mindset to your website, you could figuratively structure is to visitors ‘come for the content, stay for the message.’ Provided you have a balance of informative content and marketing messages, your traffic will see content on your blog and, once they’ve sated their immediate information need, linger to see what you’re all about.

We have covered how you should distill your audiences traits down to a persona, what content planning process to use and how your site should contain both open-access as well as gated content. Planning and building this entire body of content will take time, but your digital marketing campaigns will be better off because of it.

NEXT POST: How to package your content and integrate it into pay-per-click and other digital campaigns