One of the things that strikes us about some small businesses is that they often don’t realize the power that’s available to them to promote their brand (and products and services) through creating content. And even when they do make a commitment to produce it, those businesses might only focus on one content type (say a blog) that helps them drive awareness of the business, but not consider the other buyer journey stages, which are often just as important. We get the reasons why this happens: Lack of time, interest, or even the confidence to be able to execute varying content types. But in the end, the businesses that market themselves most effectively will often be those that consider many different content types, aimed at different parts of the marketing funnel.
How do you decide what to produce and for where?
Certainly, the determination on the type of content format to use for each stage involves quite a few factors (many of which go beyond the scope of this particular article). And there is no hard fast rule that says different content types can’t be used in different stages of the buyer journey. That said, what follows is a quick guide on the use of the following formats and where each commonly fall in a particular content strategy.
Stage 1 of the Buyer Journey (Top of the Funnel): Awareness and Interest
Small businesses often focus on developing content at the top of the funnel, using the various formats and types to make audiences aware of its brand or its products and services. Here are a few examples of content types used at the top of the funnel:
- Written content (blogs, articles, print magazines). Generally, such written content types fall closer to the top of the marketing funnel in terms of strategy but will depend on the approach as well. That’s because most written copy (that’s not put behind any sort of registration wall) works best to make people aware that companies have products or services in a particular topic area. By producing such content, a company can demonstrate its thought-leadership or the ways it can help solve users’ problems on a practical level.
- Visual content (videos, photos, infographics). Like the written formats, visual content types can vary greatly in purpose depending on some of the factors listed above. However, the most common aim for visual content is to help associate the brand of the organization with its products and services or particular topic areas. For example, user-generated photos showing customers with a product are a great way to simply make more people aware that a company has a product or service. Or, videos that a company posts in YouTube might serve the purpose of telling a story that connects a particularly positive brand association with the company. Infographics, meanwhile, can similarly help brand that organization as a company that helps those users solve more practical problems. Typical infographics might include a checklist or a representation of data that makes the user’s job easier.
- Audio (podcasting). Companies that engage in podcasting are generally aiming at a core purpose: Branding themselves as a thought leader at or a provider of practical information. Used by both B2B and B2C companies, podcasting distributed by iTunes and Spotify, in particular, can reach wide audiences and serve as a brand touch point for later, when users are ready to buy.
- Interactive content (social media, polls, UGC). It’s important to distinguish between two types of interactive content – that which is meant for awareness and developing brand touch points, and that which is aimed at driving lead generation, user acquisition and even advocacy post-purchase. In general, social media, polls and user-generated content serve the former purpose, making users aware that the company has solutions or products in a particular area.
Stage 2 of the Buyer Journey (Middle Funnel): Engagement and Acquisition
The part of the buyer journey that is often the biggest challenge for many small businesses comes in the middle – that is, the engagement and acquisition of potential buyers. It’s one thing to make people aware of your brand, but it’s another to actually get them to interact with you. Here are a few examples of content types used at the middle of the funnel:
- Written content type 2 (whitepapers, e-books, case studies, reports). Typically, the goal of these written content types is to spur to interest and action, but they can also be used to help better determine audiences’ interest in different topics. The three types – whitepapers, e-books, and reports – are used more prominently at B2B companies seeking to drive lead generation and sales follow up, hence the middle-funnel activity. A common practice works this way – users put in their information into a form, download the content, and then receive follows ups through emails and sales calls.
- Newsletters. These can also be a useful middle-funnel content type as they can help acquire and engage potential buyers. Once audiences subscribe, newsletters can be utilized to market to the existing customer base with not only content, but also offers or discounts or products to buy. (Note: They’re also great for stage 4, in terms of keeping the brand in front of those who have already bought.)
- Interactive content type 2 (webinars, Q&As): Webinars and Q&As tend to serve those users who are already familiar with a company’s brand or products and services, (though webinars can help users become aware of a brand or product as well). As a result, these content types are often aimed at a middle-funnel type of approach: Webinars, for example, are great for acquiring users into a company’s marketing automation system (getting them on email lists). Q&As are also key to help with those who might have questions during both the engagement and consideration phase of the buyer journey.
Stage 3 of the Buyer Journey (Lower Funnel): Decision, Consideration & Purchase
If you do get buyers to come this far in the journey, congratulations! You’ve helped them to make it to the consideration or decision phase of the purchase process. Here are some content types that are often used at this stage:
- Case studies. Right before a purchase happens, buyers often look for social proof that a product or service works as advertised. That’s why having case studies for the consideration/purchase phase of the buyer journey are so critical, as they can help push a potential buyer over that threshold.
- Testimonials / reviews. Similar to case studies, producing testimonials or allowing for reviews of a product provides additional social proof for potential purchasers. In particular, such content also adds an additional layer of trust (especially if you include the actual pictures of real customers).
- Sales collateral. Marketing is often charged with developing the collateral sent out by sales teams or just used on the website for purposes of convincing those who are considering a product or service. Typical collateral might include comparing your company to the competition, a quick case study, or even an infographic that shows a product or service’s effectiveness. It could also be a video showcasing the features of a product, which a company seeks to put in front of prospective buyers.
Stage 4 of the Buyer Journey (Retention/Loyalty/Advocacy)
Typically, this is an area that is ignored by many small businesses but shouldn’t be, as existing customers will often make repeat purchases or recommend your product or services to other customers.
- Product how-tos. Videos that might be categorized as a lower-funnel marketing activity would include demonstrating how a product works for those who purchase it. This can be extremely effective in creating loyalty to a brand.
- Webinars and Q&As for buyers. While webinars and Q&As can be used in the middle of the funnel, they can also be employed for those who already bought a product or service, helping those buyers take full advantage of the different features or elements. Webinars in particular are great ways to gain feedback from buyers as well.
- Surveys / reviews. Speaking of feedback, companies will also use surveys and reviews to help take the temperature of its existing customer base and get valuable insights into a particular product or service, or even the brand.
Finally, Align Performance Indicators to Each Stage
When putting together your plan, it’s also important to think about measurement – that is, how you’re going to know if you’ve been successful at driving audiences through each stage. That’s why we recommend establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) to each of the stages of the buyer journey – the ones that will contribute to your overall goal – typically revenue or some sort of conversion. For example, marketers might set success factors at each particular stage with corresponding paired metrics.
- Awareness: Metrics at this stage might include brand recall, overall reach, impressions, page views, open rates on emails, or other metrics a user is aware of a product or service.
- Consideration/Engagement/Acquisition: Metrics at this stage could be social or website engagement (likes, shares, follows, fans, subscribers, comments, whitepaper downloads, subscribers, newsletter signups, registrations for webinars or registration for how-tos).
- Decision/Purchase: Metrics at this stage would include leads generated, shopping cart additions, abandoned carts, conversions, total revenue and sales.
- Retention/Loyalty/Advocacy: Metrics at this stage could include repeat purchases, overall lifetime value, community growth, reviews, and referrals.
In the end, the KPIs should align to the overall content marketing strategy and distribution plan. The end goal, of course, isn’t to measure for measurement’s sake, but to optimize based on how successful a marketer is at each stage of the journey. So, if certain indicators are lagging, you can make adjustments to the distribution plan as necessary to hit that particular KPI target.
We hope this has been helpful. If you need support in content development or any other area of digital marketing, schedule a free consultation with us. We’re happy to discuss the challenges you’re facing and how we can help you.