The content of your company’s website and social media channels plays an important role in driving and creating sales. Forbes provides the following tips to help you make an effective content marketing strategy.

Image Source: forbes.com

Great copywriting is like having a competent salesperson working on behalf of your business, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The same can be said for the content that you create for your website, guest posts, and social media channels, provided that it’s developed with selling in mind. Understanding the basics of effective copywriting helps drive the creation of a content marketing strategy which helps you achieve your business goals.

This happens in two ways. First, by putting persuasion techniques into play with your content, you’re connecting your content to your business goals. Second, by closely tying the content that you create to your sales funnel, you’re developing assets that support both the online and in-person sales process in a meaningful way. Here’s a general framework and some practical tips to help you sell better through your content generation efforts.

A closer look at the sales funnel

If you’re already familiar with the concept of the sales funnel, consider this a refresher. Many people in the content creation space or who are looking at developing their content strategies for the first time find it helpful to revisit the core concepts behind the sales funnel. Understand each of the steps along the way from an initial thought about a product to making a purchase. You’ll naturally derive creative ideas for content that attracts leads, nurtures relationships, and drives conversions.

The idea behind the funnel is simple. Each person moves from a space of never having heard of your product or brand to buying from you. Along that journey, there are several touch points, decisions, or potential moments of influence that good salespeople try to leverage. The funnel happens in every business, but it’s most commonly understood within the context of B2B sales.

Usually, a prospect begins a process by trying to solve a problem or fulfill a desire. On the consumer side, they may be looking to lose weight, find a date, or identify the best speaker system for their iPhone. On the business side, they may be searching for a marketing coach, an SEO agency, or a software package that simplifies their accounting efforts or increases the power of their customer relationship management capabilities. Whether they hear about your brand or begin to research solutions, they now have moved into the research phase.

The length and depth of the research phase varies, by prospect, product, and the size of the sale. Suffice to say that in general, buyers are seeking to understand the boundaries of the purchase, what criteria is important, and what options are on the market. They may be clarifying key factors such as budget or proximity, and narrowing down their options to what they can afford (or think that they can afford).

A narrower list of options emerges, and your prospects may go more in-depth on their research. If you’ve made it to the short list, this is where they really begin to scrutinize your products and your brand. They might read your website, case studies, or online reviews and comparisons. Some customers will reach out to your company and open a dialogue or ask specific questions. Buyers then make the emotional decision to move ahead with the purchase.

The funnel for every company, and even every product, is slightly different. In some cases, the research phase takes months. In other instances, what you get is a micro version of the process that I just described that’s over in fifteen minutes. In either case, it’s important to spend the time to get to know your own buying cycles, and make content strategy choices that support those. Your goal is to create content that fulfills the prospect’s need at each step of the journey and encourages them to take action and move to the next step. Below, I’m going to explore a content strategy development process that’s tied to steps in a general sales funnel. As always, adapt these recommendations to your own specific needs.

1. Understand your audience

The key to moving a prospect along the sales funnel begins with understanding your audience and customers. Who is buying your product? What’s their story? Is there a specific issue, need, or pressing problem that brought them to your door? Uncovering this central motivation is critical to developing effective content later during the sales process. There are specific steps that you can take to help you do this:

  • Create a demographic overview of your core customer base. What does a typical customer look like for you in terms of gender, marital status, age, income, geographic location, employment, and similar points?
  • Develop a more in-depth picture of their hobbies and habits. Where does this person spend time? What do they read? Where do they hang out on the internet? What keywords do they search for?
  • Focus in on buying behaviors. Is this person an occasional buyer that spends on big ticket items? Frequent online shopper? Deep researcher or impulse buyer? Do they buy on credit and go into debt, or are they focused on delayed gratification (e.g. saving for that vacation of a lifetime)? The more you understand their buyer profile, the more you’ll be able to trigger the behaviors that you want them to take.

Once you’ve developed a holistic view of your customers, you’ll be able to quickly identify prospects. You’ll also be able to test any idea against this profile, and quickly decide whether or not that content would help you to convince them to buy your product. It’s also helpful in the process of brainstorming content ideas. Once you start imagining this person, you’ll find it easy to spin out content ideas that would capture their interest.

2. Assess your publishing channels

Many writers and business people craft the blog posts or articles first, and then look to find homes for them. I advocate a different approach; think strategically about where you want to publish your content before you go about creating it.

There are two main reasons for this:

  1. By targeting your content to channels, you’ll increase the chances of publication and limit wasted time creating content that doesn’t get picked up.
  2. A smart channel strategy focuses on publishing your content on outlets that your prospects and customers pay attention to.

A content strategy that makes a clear link between where your content is published and where your audience spends time will be a success. It’s worth taking the time to understand several aspects of your prospects’ or customers’ content consumption including:

  • What kind of information that they go looking for
  • How they use content consumption – as the basis for education, entertainment, discussion purposes, etc.
  • What types of information they like to consume in terms of platform – video, audio, visual such as infographics, long written such as a full newsletter, or short form like a blog post
  • The general tone or voice of what they like to read or watch (for example, is it authoritative like CNN or informal like I Can Has Cheezburger?)
  • What brands, platforms, and approaches they trust

The more you understand about these issues on a fundamental level, the smarter the choices you’ll make regarding building your platform.

3. Choose topics tied to business goals

There are a number of different ways to choose topics for your content strategy. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Evergreen topics related to your industry (“Is Email Marketing Right for My Non-Profit?”)
  • Your customers’ most frequently asked questions (“How Do I Choose An Accounting Software Package?”)
  • Hot topics and developing trends in your industry (“The Ten Latest Trends in Prefabricated Agricultural Buildings”)
  • How to’s and tutorials (“How to Repair Your Own Frayed Jeans”)
  • Commentaries on the news and current events (“The Best Strategies to Recover From Google’s Latest Updates”)
  • Top 5 or Top 10 lists that highlight a specific insight or area (“5 Strategies for Creating Leadership Opportunities for Your Administrative Staff”)
  • Bringing insights from another discipline or domain and looking at what it teaches you about your own area of expertise (“What The Bachelorette Teaches Us About Urban Planning”).

Your sources of inspiration will be diverse, from the things you read to your customer interactions. Ensure that your topics hit two key points. First, topics you select should be geared toward your target customers and not to your industry peers. This is a common mistake. Second, ensure that there’s a tangible connection between what you’re discussing and what your brand represents. Off-brand or off-topic content can be damaging to cohesive market image.

4. Focus on delivering value

You’ve heard it time and again – focus on delivering value before making the hard sell. It’s doubly important to underscore this message in terms of the context of this piece, where we are exploring how content strategy helps you sell. There’s a tension around how to do this effectively. On the one hand, strong content employs the best of direct marketing calls to action. On the other, the goal of content marketing is to bring leads and prospects to your business by showcasing your expertise.

It’s never the wrong choice to focus on delivering tremendous amounts of value. As part of your content marketing – aside from sales letters – make providing value your top goal. Solving problems, making it easy to access information, showing off how much you know in a way that’s helpful and productive. When your content connects with people in search of the information you provide, sales and leads will happen. Specific approaches such as a call to action and a compelling bio that helps them easily find you are important, but more subtle, ways to get it done.

5. Find creative ways to promote your content

The final portion of a content strategy that helps you sell is having a plan in place to disseminate it. There’s a myth around inbound marketing that once you put content on the web, it’ll just be magically and organically found. It will, to an extent, through good SEO. But a smart promotion strategy adds velocity to the content that you’ve created and helps ensure that get the ROI you’re hoping for.

Promoting your content essentially means three things:

  • Optimizing your content so that it’s found organically in search engines;
  • Optimizing your content so that it’s easy for readers to share on social media, once they’ve found it, read it, and loved it;
  • Optimizing your content so that it’s integrated into an overall “click trail” that leads potential customers from one piece of content to the next, as they move through the buying cycle to the sale (or whatever conversion is meaningful to your business).

Be prepared to share your content on multiple platforms, link back to it in future pieces, disseminate to interested influencers, and more. Many experts, for example Derek Halpern, recommend spending just as much time (or more) promoting content that you create as you do writing or producing the content itself. The more people that see your content, the more potential sales you’ll make.

An effective content strategy requires a plan from start to finish, from investing in understanding your audience to driving a dissemination campaign around the content you create. Inbound marketing that’s intricately connected to your selling cycle is more likely to help you attract leads, delight visitors, and convert prospects into buyers. Are you integrating your content strategy with your sales funnel? Let us know your tips in the comments below.

Mitch Berman, Zillion TV founder, is adept in creating innovative digital consumers and business-to-business products and services based on the principles of influence, sharing, and reward. Catch the latest news and updates in business and marketing on this Facebook page.

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