Successful content marketing is not a deluge of videos, tweets, mailings, and more. Developing and sustaining a customer relationship means providing prospects and customers with content that resonates with customers’ needs and preferences. Those expectations change as prospects become customers, and as customers move along the customer lifecycle. Yet, according to the Content Marketing Institute, barely four in 10 B2B marketers use lifecycle-sensitive content.
“We assume that if we just push people faster by inundating them with more content, they’ll be convinced that they’re brilliant if they buy from us,” says Liz Miller, VP of operations and programs at CMO Council. “Customers aren’t going along with that; in fact, they’re rebelling, because so few companies are actually [articulating] challenges in the way customers think about them.”
And since content marketing strategies need to be relevant to the customers they serve, there’s no single, industry-agnostic recipe for identifying the perfect content for each stage of the customer lifecycle. “You have to know the journey [and] the objective your prospects and customers have in mind that they want to achieve,” says Bob Egner, VP of product management at content management developer EPiServer. “And you need to be able to measure how effective that content was at helping the visitor move through the journey.”
Abe’s Market, Yoh Services, and Outside Lands are three businesses that have taken their own unique approach to successfully aligning content marketing with their customers’ lifecycle, and moving those customers along the path of increased engagement.
Abe’s Market: Content feeding commerce
Online natural products grocer Abe’s Market is looking to secure lifetime customers who want a healthier lifestyle. Some of its customers have been organic diehards for decades, while others are just beginning to explore the natural foods category. Kimberley Grayson, Abe’s chief revenue officer, doesn’t try to pigeonhole every visitor into a definable slot on a customer lifecycle chart. Instead, the grocer’s strategy focuses on engaging and educating visitors on a continuous basis.
Yet every brand needs a hook to lure in new buyers, and Abe’s best weapon for engaging prospects and customers in the early stages of the customer lifecycle is its Dishing Dirty campaign, which exemplifies Grayson’s focus on “snackable content.” Aimed at female customers with an appreciation for snark, the campaign operates on Tumblr and on the Abe’s site, and blends tongue-in-cheek barbs with a pro-health and typically product-agnostic message. “Through humor, we’re able to get people to engage with highly sharable content and spread truths about some less-than-better products, and their alternatives,” she says. “Some like the humor-based approach, but we [also] provide deeper, authority-based article content.”
For established visitors and shoppers, Abe’s built Scoop, a daily resource combining recipes, articles, and expert advice under the umbrella of a monthly theme. Only some Scoop articles contain direct product links, but Abe’s has found consistent uplift regardless of the type of content touched by a potential shopper. Visitors who engage with Scoop convert twice as often and are 10% more likely to make a repeat purchase. Even more significantly, Scoop visitors who return for a second purchase have an average order size 50% higher than repeat buyers who don’t read the online magazine. “We’re pleased to say that content does drive commerce,” Grayson says.
Yoh: Content for hire
Staffing firm Yoh Services LLC pairs midsize and large enterprises with the technical resources they need to complete projects, staff programs, and manage personnel. Joel Capperella, Yoh’s VP of marketing, says that the significant time investment required for a content marketing strategy pays off in the form of a higher profile and a more trusted voice throughout the customer lifecycle. “We changed from the mind-set of the early 2000s, from just getting the number of leads up to lining up our buyers well in advance of their demand,” he says. “It’s our job to understand the talent market, so that when demand comes up [we’re] ready, and that’s why our outreach typically begins six months ahead of that demand.”
Clean, eye-catching, and carefully researched infographics play an important role in establishing Yoh’s voice of authority. For example, an infographic on agile development, a hot trend in technical project work, gives clients a clear understanding of the tough competition for qualified candidates in the biggest tech markets, while demonstrating Yoh’s mastery in the space. “It’s one of our best-performing assets, because it positions us both for candidates and for clients,” Capperella says.
Yoh does much of its prospecting through search engine optimization on industry-specific terms, but relies on content marketing to move potential clients through the marketing funnel. Using HubSpot’s inbound marketing platform, Yoh shares vendor-neutral tips on employee engagement, social media, and training. Yoh’s content also provides deeper insight on such topics as how customers can enhance their recruiting infrastructure and evaluate their hiring cost models. As prospects and customers engage with more content, they’re sent links to blog posts on related topics and invited to Web events, both private and third party.
Inbound content is also a part of Yoh’s lifecycle marketing to attract candidates—the company works with Vine Consulting to attract new talent candidates, including soliciting portfolios from video game developers in the form of a six-second video. The effort drew in hundreds of new candidates and established another reliable social media presence: LinkedIn, which remains the company’s chief outlet for content marketing promotion. “You have to encourage employees to fill their social media feeds by sharing your content,” Capperella says.
Yoh’s services run the gamut from one-time project work to long-term hiring and personnel management, so there’s a great deal of room to grow relationships to multiple divisions inside a single client company. Consequently, the company closely monitors not only how many units of content are being viewed by a single company, but also how many different people appear to be reading them. One major client demonstrated that it was primed for expanding the relationship when Yoh noticed that a half-dozen people were hitting content. “When we notice those levels of activity,” Capperella says, “it helps us qualify and get a salesperson engaged.”
Outside Lands: Rocking fan-generated content
Even organizations with a unique or limited customer lifecycle can benefit from content marketing. The promotion for San Francisco music festival Outside Lands starts weeks in advance, when dozens of bands are announced and buzz begins to build. But this year, for the sixth-annual event, promoter Another Planet Entertainment (APE) decided to use fan-generated content to fuel the frenzy during the three days of music and fun. “We want to engage both concert-goers who were there, and those who weren’t but wish they were,” says Jill DiBartolomeo, marketing manager for APE.
APE worked with social media curator Content (Ctrl) to enhance its Morning Dew daily newsletter, sent to the Outside Lands mailing list, with fan-generated photos from the previous day’s social streams. Each edition of the newsletter included the most popular images with the official #outsidelands hash tag. The fan content was a big hit, with some images achieving more than 250,000 impressions, keeping Outside Lands in the social conversation among fans and prospective concert-goers for days, rather than hours. “Typically the ‘likespan’ of an item runs hot in a feed and can be hidden in minutes,” DiBartolomeo says. “These curated images stayed hot for another 24 hours.”
Outside Lands was already a sellout event before the introduction of social content, but the promoters are looking to raise its profile and build deeper ties with fans. The payoff won’t be clear until next year’s event, but DiBartolomeo says that the strong uptake of the social content has already proven its worth. “We’ll do it every year,” she says. “It was a great way for us to engage our festival-goers, increase exposure of the festival, and build our brand.”
Maximizing content at every stage
Keeping customers engaged—and making the most of the investment in content development—requires a commitment to carrying on a conversation, rather than relying on big-bang email blasts and individual posts to magically drive results. One way to do so is by repurposing content, which gives it life beyond the initial release. For instance, the work Yoh puts into preparing a webinar is later translated into as many as five blog posts, sustaining a deep discussion of a particular topic. “You want to nurture and develop a relationship with the prospect over time, and you want that relationship to be helpful and not promotional,” says Dan Siroker, CEO of content optimization firm Optimizely. “You don’t just throw everybody into an inside sales phone bank.”
Another straightforward rule everyone can follow is to earn prospect and customers’ attention before asking for a lengthy time commitment. For instance, because webinars and video directly demonstrate how a product or service enhances a prospect’s life or solves a business problem, they’re best used deeper in the funnel. In fact, they’re usually ideal for a call-to-action that asks for a commitment to a demo or trial. “Webinars are less effective for pulling in potential buyers at the top of the funnel, but they’re great at moving leads to qualified status when [the webcasts] educate,” says Kipp Bodnar, director of marketing at inbound marketing content platform HubSpot.
One place brands often go wrong is by creating too much friction in the initial contact, such as firewalling appealing content behind a registration form, which savvy customers fear will immediately lead to a sales call. “The core challenge is to deliver value before expecting something in return,” Optimizely’s Siroker says. “Businesses make the mistake of requiring contact information before delivering value, but if you keep too much behind a sign-up page, people will just bounce, and you’ve turned a potentially interested client into a detractor who isn’t going to visit again.”
When marketers are unsure what type of content or channel of communication would be most effective at moving a customer to a deeper relationship, odds are that they simply aren’t doing enough to look past their own four walls. “Anyone thinking in terms of generating leads and using content to move those leads down a funnel may not be thinking from the customer’s perspective,” EPiServer’s Egner says. “Ask what [customers] want to achieve, and create…content that takes them to the next step.”