By Jodi Harris published April 4, 2012

The Content Match Game: Tips for Better Content Alignment Throughout the Buying Cycle

You’ve heard the mantra before: Content marketing works best when it’s delivered to the right target, at the right time, using the right message to drive interest and sales. But the key question is how do you tell if you are providing value every step of the way or are just throwing everything out there and hoping your information will reach consumers at the right moment?

Yes, content works well when it comes to driving consumer demand. And, in turn, existing demand can create an ideal opportunity to deliver valuable, informative content. Yet marketers don’t always recognize how holistically these two marketing functions are linked to each other and to the various stages in the customer’s buying process — an oversight that needlessly complicates the job of any marketer.

Fortunately, there are some successful strategies for aligning and delivering content that will (to borrow a phrase from Hollywood’s latest storytelling success — “The Hunger Games”) turn the odds of a purchase ever in your favor.

During Content Marketing Institute’s latest webinar, Content to Customer: Aligning and Delivering Content According to the Buying Process, Eloqua’s Joe Chernov and Elle Woulfe shared a framework to help marketers address the most pressing customer goals and create the types of content that will work best at each phase of the purchase funnel.

What’s in a lead?

While many marketers simply identify any potential customer as a lead, according to Joe Chernov, Eloqua’s VP of Content Marketing, this term leaves out vital information about customers’ content interests, and their current mindset and motivations behind those interests. The broad usage of the term also fails to take into consideration important details you may have already gathered through earlier engagements they’ve initiated with your company. For these reasons, Eloqua uses the following four categories to more clearly define potential customers and help content marketers direct their communications more effectively.

  • Suspects: A Suspect is every possible person who fits the criteria of your target market but hasn’t yet taken any action after accessing your content. These are people who could be interested in buying your products at some point down the line, or they may have just come across your content through an interest unrelated to a purchase.
  • Prospects: When consumers in your target market have actively supplied personal information in exchange for more of your content, they become Prospects. This group includes consumers who have searched online for information on products that are relevant to your business, but who might not be actively engaged in the purchase process at the moment.
  • Leads: In the Eloqua framework, Prospects that fit your consumer profile and have demonstrated a desired behavior or intent are referred to as Leads. At this stage, you know this consumer has an interest, and your use of content can help you determine if they are sales-ready.
  • Opportunities: When your content has helped to put you in touch with a consumer who fits your buyer persona and is looking to make a purchase, you’ve created an Opportunity.

The right content for the right stage

Once you have categorized your potential customer, it’s time to create and deliver content. Whether they are ready to make a purchase now or are just window shopping, your goal should be to support their current informational needs and move them through the buying cycle.

Suspects

What information they want: Suspects are looking for companies to share what they know as an organization — not what they sell. So the content marketer’s goal at this stage is to get content to spread from person to person in the hopes that the more people it reaches, the better the chance that it will reach a potential prospect.

What content works well: According to Joe Chernov, a blog should be the hub of your content wheel in this phase. He also advises content marketers to avoid using forms when communicating with Suspects, as anything that interrupts consumers’ ability to view your content is a surefire way to blunt its spread at this stage of the marketing game.

Some content formats that do work well here include:

Best platforms for delivering content to Suspects:

  • Blogs
  • Social networks
  • Branded outposts (e.g., your company’s video channel or other owned media platforms)
  • Partner sites

Prospects

What information they want: In general, Prospects are looking for content that feeds their professional interests and provides a service, whether it be helping them solve a problem, giving them some targeted business tips, or arming them with information that can help them get buy-in from team decision-makers.

From the content marketer’s perspective, the goal at this stage is to collect information on people you haven’t established a relationship with yet, and to gather more information from those you have. This makes the Prospect stage a good time to start using forms as a gateway to your content.

As it’s all about conversions, at this stage, Joe Chernov recommends that marketers deliver content that speaks to Prospects’ fears and pain points. He also advises marketers to make sure they are pairing the channel they use with the role, as not all channels work for all titles.

Content that works well for Prospects:

  • Email
  • Advertising/Display
  • Direct mail
  • Events (both online and in-person)
  • eBooks/Guides
  • Chapters from physical books
  • Licensed analyst reports
  • Webinars

Leads

What information they want: Like Prospects, Leads also want content that addresses their business pains. But they differ in the types of information they will find most useful, and not all hand-raisers will turn out to be sales-ready decision makers.

At this stage, Elle Woulfe, Senior Marketing Programs Manager at Eloqua, advises marketers to focus on communicating with what she refers to as the sales-accepted lead — those with the Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing (BANT) to make a purchase decision.

Woulfe supports the use of progressive profiling at this stage — where you determine what information you already have on the lead, and then ask only for information that is missing. This allows marketers to gather more useful information without overwhelming the potential lead with repetitive requests. She also urges marketers to follow a Golden Rule of Content: Ask if the content you are pushing out is advancing the customer’s process.

Content that works well for Leads: Woulfe has found that product-related information works well here, as long as the consumer is comfortable with the level of content you are providing, and advises marketers that this is the stage where automated nurturing can begin to transition to an actual sales rep.

Preferred content formats for reaching leads include:

  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Demo videos
  • Product comparisons

Opportunities

What information they want: Once your content has created an Opportunity, it’s up to you to help the consumer make a purchasing decision that they will be satisfied with, and to make that decision quickly. This includes providing clear, transparent pricing information because, as Woulfe says, you are better off supplying this information proactively than waiting for your competitors to do it for you. For content marketers, this also means staying involved — nurturing the buyer all the way through the close of the deal, and not relying exclusively on the sales rep to deliver content.

Content that works well for Opportunities:

  • ROI calculators
  • Pricing sheets
  • RFP generators and templates

Woulfe also warns content marketers that just because these may be “dry” topics, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be presented in a vital, exciting way. She also encourages marketers to consider bundling their best Opportunity-stage content into a single buying center.

If you missed the live webinar, you can still benefit from these and other insights shared by Eloqua by viewing the archive version here. You can also download the slide presentation here.

Author: Jodi Harris

Jodi Harris is the editorial content manager for Content Marketing Institute. She also runs an independent content strategy and management business: Jodi Harris Content Consulting. Jodi has developed and managed print and digital content projects for marketing, entertainment, automotive, health care, and biotech publishers, as well as for entertainment industry and media brands. You can follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.

Other posts by Jodi Harris

  • http://scalabilityproject.com/ Shade Wilson

    Good post. I completely agree, planning for different types of engagement throughout the process is very important. 

    I’d also add that sometimes you have to let the buyer “choose their own adventure”. Plan your content and contact strategy for a stage by stage processes, but also allow a suspect/prospect, etc. to take their own shortcuts when they want to. Most probably won’t, but some will want to move faster through the funnel than others.

  • predsicker

    Great article Jodi – thanks for sharing!

  • tcmarketeer

    Great, comprehensive overview. It’s great to keep all of this in mind while creating content, but also important to not get bogged down and let this structure keep you from producing as much content as possible and and as regularly as possible. Thanks for posting! 

  • Jodi Harris

    Thanks Shade. You make a good point. Even the most well thought out plan needs some flexibility and diversity. Give them a variety of quality content at every stage and you can certainly increase the odds that they’ll reach a comfortable point of interaction and conversion. 

  • Wendy

    Thank you Jodi, this very helpful to me being that I am new to MLM area. I am absorbing and learning new ideas to make this new journal I have embarked upon successful.

  • Jodi Harris

    Thanks for the kind words Wendy. It’s nice to hear you found the information to be useful. Good luck with your new journal!