By Heather Rast published July 25, 2012

Create Content that Nurtures — and Nudges — Your Prospects

content that nurtures prospects, CMIContent both motivates actions and resolves problems. As marketing communications practitioners, it’s natural for us to think about what it takes to get a little attention from a buyer. But are we doing all we should with our content to nurture those buyer prospects that are milling around the periphery of the sales funnel — gradually mitigating their concerns, soothing their anxieties, and building their confidence so that they are ready to advance through the sales funnel?

The nurture phase requires content that motivates inquiry

Content marketing strategy that targets the inquiry stage should try to establish credibility and confirm notions about the appropriateness of a product within the initial consideration set. It may also seek to establish the company’s authority in the category while influencing hierarchal preference.

In a recent chat with Ruth Stevens, CEO of eMarketing Strategy and author of “Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers,” Ruth shared her point of view about the role content plays in lead development efforts:

“Profitable action is all about hand raising. Top performing content products like white papers, primary research reports, video segments, and special guides or eBooks may each be used to motivate readers to offer their personal contact details in exchange for the information product.”

And while basic data capture may provide little to no insight into the precise mental state of the prospect (i.e., where they sit in the buying cycle), the data is a precursor to any contextual activity that may follow — including nurturing.

What nurtures prospect interest?

Stevenson notes that content takes a beefy role in forging and developing the relationship a brand has with an interested prospect. A brand can nurture that interest when it provides more advanced education and specialized insight in a non-threatening, approachable manner. Properly timed, content designed in lockstep with natural decision-making progression can solidify brand position and open gateways to more free-flowing communication.

In this phase, a content strategy should build on the mental space the brand or product has come to occupy in the target’s mind through the use of discrete offers and variable communication formats, ranging from blog posts, videos, and opinion papers to case studies, webinars, and videos. A recent survey by DemandGen provides some insight into the content products potentially best suited for various stages of a buyer’s readiness. The appropriateness of your content for the need stage, for example, could influence whether your brand is chosen over the competition.

Content marketing that nurtures leads

“Having any kind of nurturing program is better than none at all, although of course systematic engagement is best.” Stevens cited a 2008 study by the Aberdeen Group covering B2B lead nurturing to prove her point. The study found that, “…superior performing organizations are two times more likely than their peers to leverage lead nurturing programs.” The survey also found that “Best-in-Class” companies achieve significantly higher performing lead to sales revenue, response rates, lead qualification rates, and average order values than companies falling into lesser “Industry Average” or “Laggard” categories.

The implications of this study certainly give pause. And although there hasn’t been anything like it published in the past couple of years, it’s reasonable to assume companies with nurturing programs tied to strategic content marketing plans are creating better revenue opportunities than those that aren’t.

Take heed of these common errors

If you’ve been nudging internal stakeholders to formalize a content planning process in collaboration with business development efforts, here are a few suggestions from the experts that you might find helpful:

  • Map customer interest to your solution/product. “Philosophically, the biggest mistake is thinking that people are interested in your product or service. Rather, you should start from the mindset that they could not care less. Then, eventually map what they are interested in to your ultimate solutions.” – Paul McKeon, President of The Content Factor;
  • Have a grip on the buyer’s journey before embarking on a content audit. “The problem with most content audits lies in the execution. Existing assets have usually been created in an earlier era with a different mindset. They are frequently ‘solutions brochures,’ data sheets, case studies, and more that have been created within a ‘product push’ mentality. But today’s content marketing requires a softer touch with the focus on the prospect or customer’s interests, not our products.” – Paul McKeon
  • Don’t sacrifice inbound for outbound.Inbound marketing alone can take a long time to identify prospects and decision-makers and, as a result, may not address very early and very late buying stages. Outbound calling has some benefits including that of a personal, real-time connection where a rep can make a deeper dive to fully understand the buyer’s situation.” – Dan McDade, President/CEO of PointClear.
  • Thought-starter:  Does your sales team have content resources that match up with common questions, rebuttals, or concerns? Are those resources well matched to human-to-human interaction (i.e., bite-sized length, narrowly focused, strong calls-to-action, etc.)? The best solution may differ from that needed by a self-directed buyer searching the web.
  • Measure everything you need, but report only what is important. “Design an analytics pyramid (a structure of measurement using a variety of metrics to surface specific insight for individual stakeholders) by identifying priorities. Define measurements that align with individual department goals and feed up into larger goals. You end up with a hierarchy of measurements that provides a clear view of what’s important and to whom. Give those folks the data that matters to them.” – Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi, from their book, “Managing Content Marketing”.

Want more content marketing inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with 100 content marketing examples.

Author: Heather Rast

Heather Rast is Principal of Insights & Ingenuity, a Cedar Rapids digital marketing company. Heather applies brand development methodologies to help companies plan, create, and govern web content that serves their online communities. She contributes to Social Media Explorer, 99 designs, HubSpot and Workshifting blogs. Find her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @heatherrast.

Other posts by Heather Rast

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  • Drew West, Deltek

    Great article, Heather, with excellent recommendations. 

    • http://twitter.com/heatherrast Heather Rast

      Thanks, Drew. Glad you found some value!

  • http://allmarketingsolutions.co.uk/social-media-marketing-services Ayaz

    Excellent Post Heather, and learned few new things and tips from the post.