It doesn't take long to recognize a website designed by an inbound marketer. You start to recognize the familiar elements: illustrated calls-to-action, landing pages, subscription forms, a blog, even common navigation plans.
Especially when you take a look at a company's online resources—downloadable eBooks, templates, and other assets—to the experienced eye, it's easy to tell when a website has "gone inbound."
The reason for this is because at the foundation of inbound marketing is packaged content. It can be packaged as a blog, in a downloadable PDF format, as website copy, or even in infographical form. However it shows up, content is what drives the inbound marketing funnel. The key for any company, is to:
- Write content that's relevant and helpful to its prospects, and
- Plan and package the content so that it effectively attracts and converts visitors into business leads.
Today, I'll address how to plan and map content schemes so that the right forms of content attract visitors to your website then subsequently convert those visitors into leads that you can contact and ultimately send to your sales team.
Map Your Content to the Buyer's Journey
Since content is the foundation on which successful inbound marketing plans are built, you need a well-charted plan for how your content should operate to achieve your goals. This means mapping your content to your target personas and the right stage of the target buyer’s journey. You should use the knowledge and experience of your customer-facing salespeople and consultants to help guide the content creation process so that content topics match customers' interests. Different types of content (both format and topic) are used to attract leads versus nurturing them because every contact will be looking for different information at different stages of their journey.
A well-developed plan also requires having an understanding of when and how you want to offer your content to your prospects. A primary principle of inbound is that you have to give to get. By changing the form of content from a blog to a downloadable eBook, you've decreased access and increased effort to get that content. If the content is enticing enough for a visitor to put forth the effort of downloading it, then an inbound marketer has the advantage of being able to ask for something in exchange for the content—e.g. contact information. Planning your content to convert visitors into contacts is a critical part of building an inbound marketing funnel.
Awareness-level Content Should Fuel Visitor & Lead Attraction
Generally, we identify the B2B buyer's journey as having three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. Content used to attract leads should be targeted at the awareness stage. Its purpose is to educate, inform, and establish your company as a trusted thought leader, all while attracting as much attention as possible from relevant visitors.
Formats that work well to attract website visitors are those that are particularly easy to consume and share, such as:
- blog articles
- social media posts
- HTML emails
- website pages
- share-able infographics
Generally, at the beginning of the awareness stage, you should not be too focused on putting up barriers to accessing the content—i.e. don't gate your content. As the awareness stage continues, then you should provide gated content that turns visitors into identifiable contacts, i.e. leads.
Start planning content by thinking about what questions your target personas would ask, or what keywords they would search in the awareness stage, and then push content out in these formats to drive visits.
Gated Content Converts Visitors into Leads
Once visitors are at your site, make sure your landing pages and blogs contain compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) that lead to gated content targeted at the awareness stage. The primary purpose of this content is to transition a visitor (prospect) to a lead.
This educational content may take the form of:
- tip sheets
- fundamental eBooks
- how-to videos
After you capture a lead via gated content, then you can follow-up to instigate reconversions on awareness/consideration level content. This begins a nurturing process that should continue through the sales cycle.
Nurturing Content Builds Relationships and Moves Leads toward the Consideration Stage
In inbound marketing, nurturing content should almost always be gated by a form that a visitor/lead fills out in exchange for your content. Promote your content to help move leads further down the funnel and to stay in front of leads who aren’t quite ready to buy. Staying in touch should include emails, phone calls, and other channels as appropriate to your business, and the frequency should be tied to the length of your sales cycle.
The information provided in content should be useful and always include a compelling CTA. In other words, leads should want to hear from you because your content adds value and answers their questions. This is where having your sales team involved in content planning is important, because they have knowledge about what questions need to be addressed.
Content Should Change Shape & Scope in the Consideration Stage
Provide solutions to the persona’s problem—without focusing on your company’s specific product or solution just yet. Nurture leads to build confidence and address push-backs. Formats that work well for this content include:
- case studies
- expert guides
- podcasts and interviews
- in-depth eBooks
- nurturing emails
During the consideration stage, your goal should be to answer the prospect questions: "What are some potential solutions to my problem?" Instead of explaining your company's value, focus on demonstrating value. Hence the change in format toward case study material, comparisons, and walkthrough webinars.
The Decision Stage Offers an Introduction to Sales Help
It’s time to tout your products and services, explain your competitive advantage, and close the sale. Based on your business, this should include:
- vendor comparisons, benchmarks
- product comparisons and FAQs
Generally, the content you offer at the bottom of an inbound marketing funnel shouldn't be ready-made. Its format necessitates a human guide, such as a business development rep. You want to show the leads why your company is worth investigating further.
Provide Leads with Content Based on Context and Conversion Points
Just like your content should cover various formats and topics based on the buyer’s journey, your automated workflows should use logic to segment leads down a different path depending what offer they convert on. For example, a lead who converts on a call-to-action for a case study will get a different series of nurturing messages than one who comes through an industry trade show. You should also send different messages depending on whether the lead keeps converting on subsequent offers.
In addition, utilize personalized form logic to gather more information from a lead as they convert on more offers. This doesn’t necessarily mean longer forms. It means progressive forms that recognize when a lead has already converted and asks different questions to help you further qualify them.
The key thing to remember when mapping content is to always keep your target personas and stage in the buyer’s journey in mind. This is crucial to ensuring the content is relevant to the lead. Meeting the lead where he/she is means not providing sales-y content to a lead in the awareness stage, and instead nurturing them along with useful content until they become sales ready. If your content is relevant during their whole journey, you’ll be top of mind when they eventually decide to buy.