Marcus Sheridan, aka @TheSalesLion, sells in-ground fiberglass pools. He also happens to be an instinctive content marketer who dispenses with theory and goes straight to tactics that work. His presentation kicked off the second day of Content Marketing World 2012 with raw truth and unbridled energy.
Marcus started out emphasizing the absolute requirement that we think about how our customers behave. Where do they turn when they’re looking for information? Google. And what questions do they Google? A prospect’s questions usually follow a pattern:
- Price – They want to know how much it costs
- Problems – Consumers want to know if it solves a problem.
- Comparisons – They want to compare you to your competitors
- The Best – They want to know what product/solution in the space is considered “the best”
- Reviews – They want credible reviews.
In sales, Marcus noted, we don’t hear questions, we hear our answers. As marketers, this translates into publishing what we want our market to hear.
The questions customers ask should be at the center of your approach to content creation. As your teams to tell you what the questions they hear every day from customers? Turn those questions into titles of blog posts and get going, says Marcus. Within 30 minutes of mining your organization for questions, you’ll come up with dozens and dozens of ideas for blog posts and other content.
The golden rule of content marketing, according to Marcus, is “They ask, you answer.” People who are good listeners never run out of content. There’s a dearth of content that actually answers consumers’ questions.
The Zero Moment of Truth is that moment in time between a customer’s first exposure to your brand (e.g. an ad, a piece of content) and the moment in which they make the decision to buy. Being present in that moment enables brands to capture this potent opportunity to influence the looming outcome. Being absent from this moment all but ensures a brand is overlooked.
The pervasiveness of mobile devices has changed how people consume content and make purchasing decisions, giving rise to the “cross-platform consumer” — and the ZMOT. This fragmentation of our audiences’ attention between devices — and the simple fact that people can pull the information they want whenever they need it via the phone in their pocket – requires communicators to think differently about the content they produce, with respect to the role of content in the marketing approach.
Bridging digital & analog – anticipating online behavior
Despite the fact that we often create distinct campaigns and content for print and digital, it’s important to remember that our audiences don’t fall into one category or the other. In most cases, they readily consume analog and digital media, and bounce freely Back and forth between different types and formats of media.
So rather than using an “either or” mindset when planning content, a more anticipatory approach is useful. Anticipating what behavior content will inspire and planning accordingly is an effective means of bridging online and off-line media.
A simple way to begin this approach is to think about three things:
- What actions will the content drive?
- What opportunities will these actions create for the organization?
- What tactics need to be in place to convert actions to opportunities?
Here are some examples of different actions content can produce, and the requisite opportunities and tactics for each.
Potential action #1 — social discussion:
Action: Content creates social discussion. People on social networks are talking about the content you published.
Opportunity: Social discussion affords the brand a number of opportunities, including:
- Building awareness & word of mouth volume
- Generating leads
- Solidifying a relationship with some readers
Tactics: To capture these opportunities, the content creator needs to employ a variety of tactics, including:
- Defining and publicizing a hashtag for the subject (or using one that’s already established) will help people find the content on Twitter.
- Creating smart, relevant presences in other social networks where you know key audiences are present (e.g. Facebook, SlideShare, Pinterest) will cultivate an audience likely to amplify your messages. Be sure the teams administering those presences are informed of key messaging well in advance of deployment, and that related content and images have been shared with them. The best way to annoy your social teams – and to reduce the impact of key messages – is to loop them in after the message is deployed and put them in the position of playing catch-up.
- Researching related search terms, buying them as part of an SEM strategy and incorporating them into messaging will have an important dual effect – audiences will be able to more readily find your content, and the search engine rankings for related web sites may improve.
Potential action #2 — cultivating (& converting) consideration
Action: Consideration. The content you publish triggers purchases, or (at least) strong consideration of a purchase of the product, event or service you’re promoting.
Opportunity: Active consideration triggers a variety of new behaviors, many of which start with a search of some type, including:
- Sequential search – An interested audience member conducts a search after coming into contact with the content. They may use their PC for the search, or they may use a mobile device.
- Spur of the moment search – An interested member of your audience whips out their mobile device to kill time, and starts looking for information related to what you’re promoting.
- Calls to action: Your reader is eager to learn more, and is seeking a path to follow to access additional information.
Tactics: Capturing people in the consideration phase requires the company to deliver information crucial to supporting the decision process – where and when the prospect is seeking it.
- Decision affirmation: Related content, such as testimonials and case studies, provide decision support and inspire confidence.
- Decision affirmation from the crowd: It’s not at all uncommon to see people querying others on Facebook, Twitter and other networks about a potential purchase. Providing content that is readily shared will help spread your message among other potential prospects, even as the original prospect continues gathering feedback.
- Especially if the product or service is purchased through a retail location, providing hours of operation, location details and a phone number are key. Search your business from a mobile phone. If a map to your location with other key details doesn’t show up at the top of the screen, it’s time to improve the mobile version of your web site.
- And even if your product or service isn’t sold in retail establishments, your customers are using mobile devices. Ensure you have excellent mobile content that works across all platforms.
Generating social discussion and triggering consideration are just two of the actions the content you publish can inspire. Audience behavior and preferences, desired outcomes and other actions sparked by your content marketing programs will vary by organization and industry. However, the cross-platform information consumer is a reality for all communicators, and integrating our online and off-line communications to capture opportunity and maximize results is an important aspect of any communications strategy.