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Content and the customer journey: what to use when

By February 22, 2017 No Comments

Not so long ago, infographics were the content format du jour. Times moved on and now video is the poster child of content marketing, hailed as the answer to all manner of communication challenges. A quick search reveals some impressive credentials: according to various studies, video raises brand awareness, generates trust, boosts engagement, increases conversions and stimulates enquiries.

Not so long ago, infographics were the content format du jour

Given these findings, shouldn’t we simply allocate our entire content budget to video and be done with it?

Oh that marketing were so simple. While video is an undeniably powerful format, there are times when a different type of content will serve you better, and that will depend on what you are trying to achieve.

From funnels to journeys

Have you ever met Aida?

If you’ve studied marketing, then you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to.

Aida, or AIDA to be correct, was one of the first marketing models to try and explain consumer buying behavior. Developed in the nineteenth century, AIDA stands for awareness, interest, desire and action: the four linear stages people were believed to progress through on the way to making a purchase.

Once again, the reality is rather more complex. For starters, we are not always wholly rational beings. Logic and sense go out the window at times, replaced by fairly irrational responses to myriad attitudes, feelings and impulses.

Secondly, the world has changed dramatically since the nineteenth century. The number of media channels we have access to, and marketing messages we are exposed to, has increased innumerably. Good luck to any company that tries to take a potential customer from awareness to action without being at some point interrupted along the way.

Although not completely defunct, the marketing funnel now feels rather outdated. Instead, it is common to see the buying process as ‘journey’, where customers flow both forwards and backwards through the various stages, in response to different stimuli and sources of information.

Although not completely defunct, the marketing funnel now feels rather outdated

And while AIDA sees the job as done when people put their hand in their pocket, the customer journey recognises that the work doesn’t stop there. Just because you have won someone as a client or customer doesn’t mean you will necessarily retain them, and low retention rates are often synonymous with reduced profitability. This means that businesses need to invest time and effort into keeping people happy and engaged beyond the point of purchase.

The customer journey in action

The right content at the right time

When you think about customers being on a long, complicated journey rather than neatly dropping through a funnel, it becomes clear that they will need access to different types of information, delivered in a variety of ways, as they travel along that road.

Imagine the scenario: a startup business is doing well and has grown from 10 employees to over 50 in a few short years, leading to an increased need for HR support. At this stage, one of two things is likely to happen. Either the leadership team will consciously realise it’s time to take action, in which case they will start actively researching their options, probably via an internet search. Alternatively, they will come across information in the course that prompts them to consider the issue more seriously. That could take the form of a social post by a valued contact sharing an interesting piece of content, or an article on an industry news site.

The business has now entered the awareness phase of the customer journey. Customers know they have need for a particular product or service and they are starting to consider their options for addressing that issue. The stakeholders may have a specific provider in mind, but they will almost certainly keep their options fairly open.

Case studies and UGC also help to convert someone from a prospect to a sale

During this early stage, top line material that helps to define the big picture and outline the value of a specific solution, without being too ‘salesly’, can be very effective. Long-form content like blogs, roundtables, ebooks or whitepapers and educational webinars work well for this purpose.

Once the business is confident they understand the issue and supplier landscape, they will begin to evaluate the different solutions on offer, looking at aspects such as functionality, price and reliability. Case studies and testimonials in a variety of formats, fact sheets, product webinars and user generated content (UGC) are the perfect way to provide the information and reassurance needed at this stage. It’s also possible that the researcher will come across new information that causes them reassess to their needs, taking them back into the awareness phase.

Case studies and UGC also help to convert someone from a prospect to a sale, as do price calculators and free trials. Once again, a potential customer may revert to an earlier phase in response to new information that changes the parameters of the search.

Having successfully secured the sale, content has a powerful role to play in ensuring a long and fruitful relationship. Newsletters and magazines are a way to share useful updates and insights, while events and brand communities create a unique opportunity for conversation and interaction.

Providing this content on an exclusive basis shows existing customers that they are valued, helping to foster genuine brand loyalty and reduce the likelihood of them hunting out alternatives.

Content effectiveness across the four stages of the customer journey

Take time to plan

As with many things in marketing, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Some types of content work well at multiple points throughout the customer journey, and prospects will progress through the stages at different rates, so it may be hard to tell where they are at in the process at any given time.

As with many things in marketing, these aren’t hard and fast rules

The whole is also greater than the sum of the parts. One piece of content will only ever take you so far, even if it is well planned and executed. In contrast, several pieces of great content that fit together within a structured plan, and help your customers to make informed decisions over a period of time, will add long term value.

Those caveats aside, it is helpful to bear these phases in mind. Think about the purpose of each piece of content in a strategic way to ensure you are maximising your budget and giving yourself the greatest chance of success with your marketing.

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