As the tired phrase goes, “Content is king.” At its best, the phrase conveys the importance of fresh, valuable content to a website’s marketing efforts. Lead with great content, and a whole host of benefits will trickle down.
At its worst though, “Content is king” conveys an unsavory implication: a self-entitled monarch who is beholden to no one; whose existence presupposes the idea that there might be a different, better way of doing things. Ever try to depose a king who is underperforming? Many companies have faced that challenge, and come up against the “Well, that’s the way we do it” argument.
A more useful analogy is “Content is president.” Content is elected on the promise of its virtues, and remains in place base on how well it performs. Unlike a king, you can vote out bad content. Good content should be the content that you’d re-elect – not based on tradition, but on success.
So how do you create content that resonates with the constituents? Whatever your political stripe, it’s all about the pairing the message to the audience based on where they are in the sales process.
Famously reserved in conversation, President Calvin Coolidge was given the nickname “Silent Cal.” As the story goes, at a party a woman told him she’d bet her friends she could get three words out of him. He dryly replied, “You lose.”
With content that targets users new to your brand, it is important to emulate Silent Cal and keep your inner used car salesman quiet. Keep the product mentions and heavy-handed sales pitches under wraps. Focus instead on providing value with your content and establishing trust with your audience. Your goal at this stage is to be pulling people into your sales funnel and setting initial conversion goals that will keep them there.
If you’re a hotel, for example, tell your audience about things to do in your area – sights to see, seasonal activities, kid-friendly outings. Try a low-pressure call to action, like getting them to subscribe to your blog. If the content is valuable, people will ask for more. Don’t make a potential customer’s first experience all about you, else you risk turning them off before they have a reason to come back or read further. Remember: they may like your content, but they’re still warming up to your brand.
- Content should be broadly appealing, with minimal sales pitch.
- Don’t focus solely on your target audience – consider the needs of people who might be talking to your audience, or even the people talking to those people. Valuable content that gets linked to and shared can reach a much wider target audience in this way.
- Keep calls to action light in commitment. Suggesting they subscribe to your blog or give a Facebook Like is a good, low-pressure way to keep that site visitor in the funnel.
The Great Communicator
Ronald Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator.” He earned that title by balancing his message with context and a charming, affable tone. In a time of stark political contrasts, he focused on the commonalities.
Find the obstacle between the customer and the conversion and use content to remove it.
So for the audience that is further along the sales cycle – familiar with your brand but not yet considering you for their product or service needs – it’s time to step up the message in a smart way. You’ve worked to establish yourself as a worthy voice among the white noise so use your earned trust, within reason, to pique interest. Hit your audience too hard or too often with calls to action and they’ll complain, “There you go again!”
Your emphasis at this point should be on pairing a more direct content message with calls to action that are more pronounced or higher-commitment. To use the hotel example, a potential customer may already know the area and be considering travel, so the content should speak to those needs. Their questions of “if” and “why” have now been replaced with questions like “how” and “when.” So instead of “7 Things to Do in Worcester, Massachusetts,” content may focus on subjects like “The Best Times to Travel Worcester in 2013” or “3 Secrets to Vacationing in Central Massachusetts.”
Conversion steps at this stage may focus on moving site visitors further along your sales process, but should be balanced again with providing good content. Readers may consider signing up for a newsletter that offers news of upcoming events, or if it gives them access to a useful free guide. Be the Great Communicator: people will remember and reward the brands that they feel give them value.
- Content should address a curious audience who may not be ready to buy or contact you. Consider the viewer who is interested in your industry, company or services, and is looking to see what sets you apart.
- Don’t oversell: if you were to strip the content of any mention of your brand, it should still hold up as a worthwhile piece of content. If the content wouldn’t, you’re probably focusing too much on you instead of the consumer.
- Keep conversion steps to a reasonable commitment and utilize content as an incentive, e.g. signing up for an email newsletter or downloading a free guide.
Sage of Monticello
Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is known as “The Sage of Monticello” – a well-read scholar whose personal library became the bulk of the Library of Congress’s initial collection. He was also a remarkable writer, authoring the Declaration of Independence among many other works. For prospects who are at the point of actively considering your company’s offerings, it’s important to have content that pulls from those two ideas: being founded on rock-solid research and presented in a compelling way.
Effective content comes from doing your homework: as you produce content, it’s critical to track its performance to see what’s working and what’s not. Content is president, so vote out the content tactics that aren’t cutting it. The content you produce for newcomers to your brand can speak to broader, initial goals that nudge them through the funnel. To close the deal requires a more precise direction and a knowledge of what is resonating with your audience: which content formats get the most traffic? Which topic areas have the most engagement? Which pages on your site enjoy the best bounce rate?
Content for consumers at this stage should focus strongly on addressing any lingering needs they may have. What common reservations do your customers have? Are there any unanswered questions that are holding them back from taking the next step? There are a lot of ways to find out. Ask your salespeople or customer service staff what clients express doubt or confusion about. Review your website analytics for the search terms that are bringing visitors to your site, as they may give you an insight into what’s foremost on their minds.
Now, address those questions in a FAQ or blog post. Alleviate concerns about cost with a price comparison versus a competitor. Create a video that illustrates that your product is easy to set up and maintain. Whatever the format, find out what the obstacle is between the customer and the conversion and use content to remove it.
- Content should address an audience actively considering your product or service.
- Speak directly to your products or services without going for a hard sell. Even in learning about your offerings, a consumer wants to feel educated and empowered, not sold to.
- Focus on your key conversion goals, whether it’s a contact form to get service information or an ecommerce purchase.
A president needs the trust of his or her people, or they’ll be kicked to the curb. Consumers at different stages of the sales cycle have different needs, and a solid content strategy should address those needs: from the newly curious reader who stumbled across your content to the active prospect on the verge of buying. If you focus only on the former, you may never bridge the gap between engagement and a sale. Focus only on the latter, and you’ll have few prospects entering your sales funnel. Develop content that meets all your consumers’ varying needs and moves them forward toward your business goals.