By Andy McCartney published March 1, 2012

A “Digital Ocean” Model for Keeping Your Content on Course

More B2C and B2B marketers are shifting their focus toward increased digital in their tactical mix. Understanding the digital locations of their target audiences is becoming a standard step in the creation of a digital plan, but many are overlooking the intentions of their online audiences, and aren’t adapting their content and tactics accordingly.

This blog introduces the concept of the digital ocean and the need to locate and market to both fishers (those actively researching products/services) and swimmers (those who are just “hanging out” online, rather than actively seeking out your information).

Most likely, we are all beyond the trial-and-error phase of digital and have realized that an intelligent, synchronized, and aligned plan is needed to maximize our digital investment. We know that every content plan needs to start with a prime objective. For example, in the B2C world, it may be to collect marketable contacts (via a coupon or offer); for B2B, it may be to generate leads with a primary call-to-action of a signup for an online trial.

So the next challenge is how to stay on course with your targeted audience. This is where the analogy of the “digital ocean” can be helpful.

Think of the ocean as representing all the possible online channels and locations (e.g., search, websites, blogs, social communities, ads, articles, email, text, etc.) where your audience can be reached. Now, consider whether you are trying to reach targets who are actively looking for a product, service, or offer like yours (fishers), or those who aren’t actively looking but may respond to a discussion, or an ad, or a blog if it’s related to their interests (swimmers), or both.

Drop your anchor, and choose your bait

Take a look at the graphic below:

The digital ocean — a B2B example.

If your audience is ready to go fishing, your job is to know where to go to catch them, and how to lure them toward you.

Ask yourself what digital mechanisms and places they would rely on to identify, research, and evaluate their choices. What is the likely journey they would take on the way to selecting your product, service, or offering?

Then, you need to create the appropriate fishing bait — comprising content, search results, and outbound campaigns — to attain consideration. The content and tactics you use here should focus on drawing attention and demonstrating your expertise, such as case studies, white papers, and product demos (you can see some additional content suggestions in the graphic).

However, the tactics used to attract swimmers can be very different — they need to be more educational and less promotional. Social media plays a bigger role here, as that is where your target audience “hangs out” and engages with people and content on their interests. With swimmers, creating or engaging in conversations is a natural fit as a content tactic, as it lets you add value and insight without being overly promotional. Advertising on social and industry sites using pinpoint profiling and targeting is usually possible and worthwhile.

Search keywords can also differ depending on whether your audience is fishing or swimming. Fishers tend to connect with more action- and competition-oriented search terms that are aimed at a product or service type (e.g., the cheapest airline ticket to London, the best performing mutual fund, etc.), where swimmers are usually more interested in education and discovering information that is related to their topic of interest (e.g., mortgage industry best practices, groups that discuss diabetes).

The digital ocean — a B2B example.

To work on this concept yourself, try printing and filling in the worksheet above to help you identify locations and search terms based on the intent of your target audience. (While this worksheet was designed for B2B, the concepts still apply to B2C content marketing.)

Research for your worksheet

You may already have conducted research on the digital locations and behavior of your target markets, which should make this task easier. You could regard this task as creating a persona with split personalities, one when seeking products/services and the other when interacting online without a purchase intention. If you do not have any data from prior research, there are a number of ways to approach this depending on your budget and timeframe. I have worked with companies who have brought in an agency to conduct a complete target market analysis, where other companies have leveraged a social listening service. You could survey your existing customers, or send this worksheet out to a selection of your own employees who spend time interacting in your digital ocean.

Once you have completed the worksheet, make sure that your content marketing efforts are focused on the search keywords and tactics that are most likely to drive engagement and response. Make sure your SEO practices mirror the intention of the audience, so that your content matches their requirements and desires. If you are marketing towards both swimmers and fishers, ensure your content, keywords, and tags include both names of and uses for your products/services. For example, a manufacturer who sells chemicals or plastics needs to include keywords for product names/categories such as “dibenzylamino ethyl acetate” or “performance polymers,” as well as more solution/fishing oriented keywords such as “top performing wiper blades” or “liquid polymer case studies.” Put yourself in the shoes of the potential customer to determine both the journey you would take toward a business relationship, and the keywords/content of value along the way.

I often see excellent content fail to reach its goals because it doesn’t align with the audience’s timing and intentions. So at the very least, the digital ocean worksheet activity can help you conduct a gut check on your digital- and content marketing-mapping efforts.

Image courtesy of Rosemary McCartney

Author: Andy McCartney

Andy McCartney is a broadly experienced marketing strategist, practitioner and entrepreneur who has spent the last 25 years consulting and collaborating with hundreds of companies of all sizes in Europe and North America. He is the founder of iMcCMarketing and a senior contributor to Econsultancy . Connect with Andy on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @imccmarketing.

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