We hear this question all the time, and it’s kind of like asking a fitness trainer “What’s the best exercise?” Most good trainers will answer that question with another question or two: “Who’s going to be exercising, and what are they trying to accomplish?” We would basically ask those same questions, and probably follow up with the simplest (albeit frustrating) answer of all: “It depends.” Although it's far from satisfying, I continue to believe "it depends" is the best way to start answering situational questions, since it instantly signals that context has an impact on what’s the best answer.
We would also say that your choice of content form depends on the product or service you’re selling, the specific personas you’re selling to (engineers love demonstrations, CFOs want case studies with ROI, sales people get sold on video testimonials), the nature of challenges or opportunities your prospects face, your sales cycle, and where in the buying process the prospects are that you’re creating for.
We like to start any discussion about content planning by setting the context in the two most fundamental dimensions:
Who’s the persona we’re trying to attract, engage, convert, or nurture?
Where in their buying process are the prospects we're creating content for?
We define personas with as much specificity and precision as possible, because the better we feel we know them the better we can create content that appeals to their way of thinking and their professional needs and requirements (see our recent blog, "Use Target Personas to Appeal to Prospects Individually").
Regarding prospects’ buying process stage, inbound marketers typically talk about Top of the Funnel (TOFU), Middle of the Funnel (MOFU) and Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU). I assure you, as far as I know these acronyms were not created to intentionally sound like health food or abbreviations for popular obscenities.
Prospects know they have an opportunity or challenge in front of them, but they don’t know all the potential solutions yet. Imagine the production engineer who knows his line speeds are trailing industry norms, but doesn’t know where improvements will come from.
They’re looking for potential solutions that appear credible, relevant, and actionable.
Their goal is to bring ideas back to their team and leadership to gain support for pursuit of a solution, without having a firm opinion of what that solution will be.
Knowing this, the forms of content that will address their needs and behaviors most effectively are:
Tipsheets, Top Ideas Lists, and Guides to Better Performance. Three words to describe the type of content that’s most effective for the top of your funnel are brief, simple, and elementary. You should be providing easy-to-understand, introductory-level information that helps prospects understand how your advice or solution can improve their situation (like percent increase in productivity or decrease in cost-in-use), and educate them in general terms about the challenge and its solutions.
Infographics. By their very nature, infographics are ideal at this stage in a buyer’s journey because they’re intended to give an at-a-glance view of a complex topic. Some are far more detailed (sometimes too detailed) than others, but the general idea is that you’re depicting a concept in a way that helps the viewer “get” the information. Here’s a blog that talks more about the value of infographics, and a downloadable infographic we did that shows how inbound marketing works.
Prospects at this point are vetting alternative solutions, but not vendors. The production engineer now is trying to decide if new equipment, software, or process design is the best path to improved line performance.
Demonstrated relevance to their industry or business type becomes extremely important, because it says your solution direction has worked in their industry before.
Comparing solutions starts to get quantitative, looking at directional ROI expectations.
With those needs in mind, these kinds of content are most appropriate:
eBooks and Whitepapers. eBooks are more in-depth than tipsheets and guides and give you more room to articulate value, competence, expertise, etc. These forms of content are for prospects who, through their journey, have become more focused and serious about finding the right solution. An eBook can be thought of as a tipsheet or guide on steroids – there’s more of everything: more detail, more information, more evidence, more insight, more explanation, more data. While these pieces are educational, they also tend to include more in the way of “sell.” While a top-of-the-funnel content offer is strictly helpful/educational, middle-of-the-funnel content begins to more directly speak to the comparative benefits of your proposed direction.
Case Studies. A detailed outline of a successful experience your company had with a customer and how it solved that customer’s challenge does many things: it essentially acts as a peer review for your reader (prospects put more stock in what their peers say about you than what you tout yourself), it acts as a demonstration of your expertise, and it helps the reader understand how your solution helped someone in a situation similar to yours. Make sure yours is developed in a way that allows you to highlight all these things by using our template, available here. It’ll describe the types of results you should be showing, how to detail your customers’ goals, how to talk about the business impact of your solution, and what points in the process to highlight.
Webinars. Don’t let the idea of a webinar put you off. You may not have any experience creating or hosting one but rest assured that it’s not difficult, and if you’re averse to doing one live you can simply record your session and make it available for prospects on your website. This form of content, depending on the topic, acts a lot like a video (read more about those below) in that you’re engaging eyes and ears at the same time, and are able to showcase your style/personality more so than in written material.
At Any Point in The Funnel
Video. By far our favorite form of content, from both a value and attraction standpoint. Video can be downright mesmerizing because it gives the viewer sound and motion…something printed materials can’t do. Depending on what you feature in your video, viewers can get a richer sense of who you are and what you do – and are more likely to remember the content. Videos are great for demonstrations, interviews, and product “show and tell.”
This is the prospect who has decided your solution direction is the right way to go, and knows he/she needs to find the best vendor/partner.
This prospect is checking prices, re-reading testimonials, downloading the same case study for the third time…kind of like the prospective car buyer who returns to the showroom for the third time. He just wants to be convinced.
Your content needs to give them an opportunity to engage personally with someone who’s experienced at getting them to say “yes!”
Here are the kinds of content you should be considering for personal engagement:
Formal product trials. Only serious prospects submit to a trial, because they know that will attract personal attention. If you’re selling a quality product or service that is trial-able, trials give prospects an opportunity to be convinced and to signal their sincere, immediate interest.
Free Consultations. Again, only serious prospects will submit to a consult, because it requires a time commitment on their part. Great opportunity to demonstrate value, relevance, and business impact.
Audits or Assessments. This is an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by showing a prospect how desperately they need your services, while also providing them a clear picture of the cost of not acting. You’re showing them how bad their current state is, and how easy it would be to fix. When you’re good at what you do, this is the best opportunity to close, because need is personally introduced to the right solution.
Want to learn even more about building the most effective content plan? Hit the button below, and if you qualify, we’ll be happy to provide a free Inbound Marketing Assessment. And your need will be personally introduced to our right solution!
Meg provides creative vision to all client projects and serves as the agency's chief content writer. She has extensive experience writing for a variety of industries, including manufacturing, financial services, and healthcare. Meg started in advertising and has become a thought leader in digital content creation and inbound marketing.