We think about content marketing as being the same as brand journalism. But for considered purchases and B2B, content marketing is more effective when it’s less about articles and more about tools.
When we talk about marketing content we are mainly talking about articles, blog posts and other narrative-style content that has its roots in journalism, and the form of content marketing has emulated what journalism has looked like. But the real value of content marketing will be evolving beyond articles and blog posts – and going from just educating buyers to qualification and helping them diagnose their own needs.
We tend to think of content marketing as the hillbilly cousin to journalism: something no one in publishing really wants to talk about, editorial as a means to an end, journalism with commerce in mind.
But does content marketing have its own forms and functions? Yes, it will, as it evolves beyond awareness and education. CMOS are already asking that their investments in content go further by helping both qualify better, and move prospects along the decision journey. Content required for qualification and needs diagnosis is a completely different beast; it will need to be more strategic, less recognizable, more measurable and more valuable. How can this content be created?
By becoming less about words and more about experiences and utility. If content is truly to move a prospect further along the decision making journey, it must perform a different function, beyond education. It must help diagnose needs. Hence what we have called ‘diagnostic content’.
Diagnostic content does just that: it diagnoses customer needs and environment. from the customer’s perspective, though, goes beyond that: it educates, too. It distills institutional knowledge and puts it in the prospect’s hand so that they can self- qualify. A diagnostic content tool like a needs assessment or readiness checklist, thoughtfully created, well designed and effectively promoted, can be one if the most valuable lead generation tools in a marketer’s arsenal and is the one that will endear you to your sales team for life. I handed over ten completed needs assessments to a VP of sales once and got Raptors platinum tickets a week later. But for this to happen (no guarantees!) your marketing content has to become:
• More strategic – Curated content will very rarely move a prospect along the decision journey. An effective strategic content asset will involve research and planning. if the assessment is interactive and can be completed online, it can also generate powerful marketing data that leads directly to a better understanding of the customer. Content with utility also builds a relationship based on being useful, the best kind of introduction.
• Less recognizable – Tools that offer information are content in and of themselves. But you and your prospects (and maybe even your marketing team!) probably don’t currently think of them that way. They spark conversation, they help educate, and they can help focus a prospect on areas that they may not have been considering or prioritizing. But they also look more like a questionnaire or checklist than an article.
• More measurable – short introductory content linked to deeper or more specialized content linked to a 15 question needs assessment in a conversion path [link to 4 steps to building a marketing program article] makes a virtuous process out of content marketing and one where every action on the part of the prospect can be anonymously captured to show what they actually do along the path to purchase/ conversion.
• More valuable – Diagnostic content makes both the prospect and you, the marketer, smarter. More than any blog post or brochure can offer. These tend to be valuable assets, so don’t be shy about asking for permission or gating during the content delivery process – just let your prospects know before they click.
What forms does diagnostic content take? A few suggestions to get you started:
• Needs assessment – 15-20 questions to identify success criteria or critical aspects of a potential purchase or program, usually tailored to a function or job title (e.g. home theater needs assessment or marketing technology needs assessments)
• Readiness checklist – what did ten customers tell you they wished they ‘d done or are happy they did do before they bought? Turn that into a self-diagnosis tool.
• Buying guide – 15-20 things to consider before purchasing a new car/BI tool
• Prioritization tool – customer prioritizes a list of features/benefits of a product or service
• Setup/Implementation roadmap – what to expect after you buy, best when based on multiple customer interviews
• Maturity assessment – where on a sophistication/maturity continuum does a customer sit based on their current circumstances; demonstrates aspirational/desired states
You get the idea. If you are educating the customer, then give them information. But if you want to go further into qualification or diagnosis, you need tools. Be sure to measure which assets perform best, and develop more of those. This will give you truly happy prospects, and truly happy sales and marketing colleagues.