By Sarah Skerik, Vice President-Social Media, PR Newswire
There’s no doubt that communicators are in content overdrive these days. Content is the fuel for social conversation, search engine visibility and e-mail campaigns. Potential customers seek education, not the hard sell. Quality content attracts, qualifies, convinces and converts.
However, in order to achieve the objective, the content your brand publishes has to have a point, and by point, I really mean “business objective.” And the content needs to be mapped to that objective, offering a relevant call to action that truly interested readers will be happy to take.
For many marketers, this is obvious stuff. However, the aforementioned enthusiasm for publishing creates both risk and opportunity for brands.
On the downside, a brand can lose control of the content it publishes, dissolving signals into indistinct noise, and creating an uneven experience for the audience. The results? A very leaky funnel that garners some attention but ultimately encourages the audience to look elsewhere.
On the upside, a brand can achieve alignment across the content published, and even more importantly, can turn content that’s not traditionally considered a conversion opportunity – such as press releases, transcripts of the CEO’s speeches, FAQs and exec bios — into just that.
Re-thinking non-marketing content
Your buyers are definitely reading content your organization has published that sits outside your conversion funnel. To get started, it’s important to ask why they’re doing that. What questions are your customers asking that’s answered by this other content? Let’s take a look.
- FAQs: Frequently asked questions are often frequent for a reason – because the brand hasn’t adequately informed the audience at other (and possibly more appropriate) junctures in the relationship, such as during training or the ‘getting started’ phase. However, interest in FAQs also comes from non-customers, when the solution or product they’re using falls short.
- Press releases: The workhorse message of the PR department is remarkably popular and credible with your brand’s non-media audiences. Why? First and foremost, people do take press releases seriously – they are, after all, an official, approved and on-record statement from the company.
A while back, PR Newswire engaged Forrester to do audience research on PRNewswire.com. That research identified an important segment that we called “product researchers.” Product researchers are people who visit our web site – and read press releases – expressly seeking information on a product or service. They comprise 15% of the traffic to our web site, and more 60% arrive there via a search engine. Furthermore, they frequent visitors – almost half visit PR Newswire’s web site weekly, and 20 % visit daily. And what are they reading? Press releases. What are they looking for when they visit our site? The latest news, company updates, facts and links to more information.
- Exec bios: Who reads those other than the media? You might be surprised. References to company execs abound in discussion groups – and the experience and perspective they bring to an organization absolutely resonates with audiences. Their points of view, career paths and alma maters are all potential connection points with your audience.
Now that we’re thinking about all these “other” forms of content, it’s time to consider how they might be tweaked in order to support your customers’ buying journeys.
The content needs to have a point.
All content needs to have a point, meaning that ideally, it inspires the reader to take another action – one that the company directs. Whether that’s clicking on a link to a video or going to another web page offering more detail, these actions represent more engagement and interest on the part of your reader.
So as you’re reviewing your content, determine whether or not it falls into the realm of attracting audience, garnering attention or attaining customers. Let’s break this down a bit.
Attraction is the first step in building a relationship with your audience. And today, brands need to express more value in the attraction phase than merely saying “Hey! Look at me!” Even at that early stage of engagement, attraction is often driven by earned media, such as social shares of content. So as you’re thinking about content that attracts, ensuring that it’s widely sharable is important.
Content that attracts audiences includes: Press releases, infographics, and blog posts
The next phases in the buying journey are marked by getting – and keeping – your audience’s attention. Doing this requires a brand to provide a thoughtful progression of content, designed to anticipate and answer questions as the readers consume the content.
Content that keeps attention includes: webinars, side decks, e-books
The last step phase is that in which the brand attains a customer (or an advocate.) During this phase, the opinion is swayed, the prospect is converted and the deal is closed. Good content can help move the prospect toward the buying decision, by removing doubts, answering questions and affirming the decision the prospect is about to make.
Content that attains includes: buyers’ guides, demos, case studies, testimonials.
Synching content to the objective
We’ve experienced the disconnect that arises when content and the call to action aren’t in synch, such as when a web site you’re browsing casually requires registration for full access to an article. If you’re not far enough along in the buying process, chances are good you’ll skip registering, and see information elsewhere. And therein is the risk for communicators. Disconnects between the objective of the content and the call to action can drive interested readers away.
Synching content’s objective to an appropriate call to action requires the publisher to consider which stage in their customers’ buying journey the content supports – even for some of the non-traditional content we noted above – and build stage-appropriate CTAs into the content. The only thing worse than driving readers away by “going for the kill” too quickly is failing to provide a next step for them, forcing them to go elsewhere for desired information.
This excellent deck from Eloqua is loaded with ideas for developing content appropriate for different stages of the buying process:
Putting “other” content to work
In order to plug leaks in the funnel, we need to be sure that we’re putting all of the content our brands publish – not just the traditional marketing messages – to work for the brand. And no, I’m not taking about turning every communication into a sales pitch. Far from it. However, if you know that press releases, FAQs and other owned media are used by your audience, it’s a good idea to revisit – and tweak – that content to make it even more attractive to your audience, and ensure that it supports the buying journey. Here are some ideas:
- Press releases: Most press releases include calls to action for media and industry analysts, in the form of press contacts and high-resolution media. However, brands can easily build CTAs for potential prospects into press releases easily and unobtrusively by embedding a link to a next step from a key phrase in the press release that is likely to appeal to potential customers. (See:Embedding calls to action for multiple audiences in press releases.)
- Executive bios: This oft-overlooked page is a great place to showcase your brands’ leaders. Demonstrate their chops by aggregating interesting content – such blog posts or articles they’ve written or some videos – that highlights their expertise – and underscores the fact that the organization is run by very bright people who build great product and know their stuff. These links can lead straight into the content stream for the related business area.
- FAQs: Probably the best opportunity to acquire interest and qualify prospects can be found within the FAQs on an organization’s web site. Within each question and answer are opportunities to deliver tightly focused information that informs and influences the reader. Review related content, and build it into the FAQ. Fill any content gaps, to ensure prospects have access to a robust and relevant set of useful information.
Aligning content to the buying cycle and incorporating relevant CTAs isn’t the sole domain of the marketing department. Aligning content – and objectives – across the universe of brand messaging will deliver a more coherent face to your audience, and ultimately, build qualified interest for your brand.
Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and will be leading a session titled Driving Qualified Audiences Into the Funnel Using Rich Media and Distribution Networks for All Access pass holders at next week’s Online Marketing Summit. There’s still time to register for the event, and here’s a code good for 30% off your registration: SMPRN1