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5 Vital Classes of Content: A Simple Framework

rugby team-palm frond hatsI have a picture sitting on my desk of my college rugby team. In the picture, there are two rows of a total of 18 young men in red and white striped uniforms, each with a very serious look on his face, as the team is about to take the field behind them. What makes this picture unique, and what often captures the attention of passersby, are the hand-woven, flower-adorned, palm frond hats each man is wearing — obviously not typical of the standard rugby uniform! 

Recently, someone asked me about that picture and I found it difficult to explain, as the story behind the photo has several layers to it:

The abbreviated version is that we were on a rugby tour in New Caledonia, about to play its under-23 national team. But we weren’t just college rugby players quickly passing through for a game — our team was on a several-weeks-long tour of the South Pacific. We frequently found ourselves in the position of serving as cultural ambassadors to the places and people we visited. After this particular game in Nouméa, local children crowded around us for autographs. Several of my teammates literally gave the shirts off their backs and the shoes off their feet to these children who had so little to call their own.

As for the hats, they were woven by the women of a small, remote village we had visited the previous day. We spent the day playing touch rugby barefoot with the villagers and kids and were treated to a traditional feast as thanks. This particular village was close to a military base where U.S. troops had been staged for the invasion of Iwo Jima during World War II, and we were thanked by the village chief for the role the United States had played in those times — a particularly moving gesture to those of us whose grandfathers had fought in the Pacific, including one player whose grandfather had actually been stationed in New Caledonia, just a few miles away.

To me, the picture represents so much more than just a rugby team wearing funny hats. Had I not shared all parts of the story, my description of the picture would have had significantly less of an impact on my audience. It was this situation that spurred me to think about storytelling in the world of content marketing and its impact on prospects in the buyer’s journey and, ultimately, it became the inspiration behind my developing a framework for content with a purpose.

Content with a purpose

Content is the vehicle by which a company tells its story. It highlights the products, the team that stands behind them, and everything else that business has to offer — and is, ultimately, responsible for driving conversions. Creating content is a role that cannot be ignored; after all, it is what today’s prospects solely engage with during the first 70 percent of their buyer’s journeys. That means that if content doesn’t do its job well, potential buyers will move on to the next vendor before even speaking to a sales rep.

Just like my rugby picture, there are multiple layers to effectively telling the entire story of a company, and as such it is necessary to employ multiple classes of content. In fact, there are five vital content classes, and employing them together is essential for telling the full story. Think of these content classes as a pyramid with five layers moving from the base to the tip. At the bottom of the pyramid is the foundational content that highlights the product and company, and moving up the pyramid is content that engages audiences on a deeper level, motivating them to act.

Each content class in the pyramid is defined by its purpose, or the specific effect on the buyer that it is aiming to achieve. Why define class by purpose? First, content is developed more effectively when you know its end goal. And second, defining content classes by purpose will help ensure you’re engaging buyers on all levels, which will ultimately keep them moving through the buying cycle and on to conversion. The pyramid, therefore, acts as a framework for creating content with a purpose.

colorful pyramid-inspirational to informational

A simple framework for creating content

Content Class No. 1: Informational

Purpose: To build confidence and knowledge in your product

Informational content includes the facts, figures, details, and explanations of a company and its offerings. Types of informational content include data sheets, product pages, case studies, and press releases.

Successful informational content helps your buyers understand how your product fits their needs, how it works, and how it resolves their problems, resulting in the mindset: “Your product is great.”

Content Class No. 2: Contextual

Purpose: To build confidence and respect for your company and its position in your industry

Contextual content includes thought leadership; best practices; and market trends, insights, and analyses. It shows that your company is an industry authority on relevant subject matter. Types of contextual content include blogs, white papers, solution pages, webinars, and contributed articles.

Effective contextual content proves to your buyers that they can trust your business for the best innovations and for reliable advice. Not only does it convince buyers that your product will meet their needs, but also that your team understands the market and the best ways buyers can tackle their challenges, resulting in the mindset: “Your company is great.”

Content Class No. 3: Emotional

Purpose: To instill feelings of goodwill and affinity in your buyers

Emotional content includes anecdotes and imagery of everyday life and successes and situations that people can relate to and connect with. Types of emotional content include images, videos, and blogs.

Emotional content represents a big leap, from highlighting a company and its product to focusing more on the audience. It causes buyers to feel good about the company — not so much in that they can trust and rely on it, but in that they feel the company can relate to them and their interests. Emotional content drives positive vibes that result in the mindset: “I feel connected.”

Content Class No. 4: Motivational

Purpose: To incite your audience into taking a desired action

Motivational content includes stories of courage to pursue what’s new and different and pushes buyers to take on big challenges — and to push the boundaries themselves. Types of motivational content include case studies, research reports, and industry stories.

Successful motivational content propels buyers into motion by showing them the impact they can make, resulting in the mindset: “I am going to take action.”

Content Class No. 5: Inspirational

Purpose: To influence your buyers’ beliefs on what is possible

Inspirational content includes novel perspectives and stories of dreams and visions. It focuses on the human condition and often aims to change how readers think, what they do, and how they relate to others. Types of inspirational content can include videos, blogs, and microsites.

Inspirational content drives buyers to think beyond their direct role and impact, progressing to thoughts on how they can bring significantly larger benefits to their company and their own customers as a whole, resulting in the mindset: “I am going to change the world.”

Content purpose and the buyer’s journey

The stages of any buyer’s journey typically include discovering, learning, choosing, and procuring.

By leveraging a framework for content with a purpose, you can provide a balanced content approach that ignites intellectual, emotional, and passionate engagement with your buyers — all of which are imperative to keeping prospects moving through the buyer’s journey. Conversely, if you do not employ all classes of content, you will lose prospects at some stage.

Indeed, every marketer and sales rep has likely encountered three common content pitfalls that result in losing a potential buyer at some stage in the cycle to a competitive alternative.

  1. Focusing purely on creating informational content. Your product may sound great to the buyer, but they leave your funnel in the choosing stage, stating, “Nice product, but we have gone with another vendor that understands our needs better.” 
  2. Providing both informational and contextual content that makes no emotional connection to the buyer, leading them to exit your funnel very late in the sales process — in fact, you may be left guessing as to why they chose a different product because they simply disappeared.
  3. Providing too much fluff content, causing your buyers to immediately leave during the learning stage because they “don’t understand what your product can do.”

The better solution is to provide buyers with informational and contextual content and start to establish an emotional connection as well. The buyer reaches the procuring stage, stating, “I want you guys to win, to be the vendor I work with.” And when you engage your buyer leveraging every class of content, right up through motivational and inspirational, the buyer gloriously declares, “Let’s find a way to do business together.”

When creating content — especially in the B2B world, where long buying cycles mean that the role of content is stretched over a wide length of time — it’s absolutely essential for marketers to employ all five classes of content, each of which has its own specific purpose or desired effect on your buyers. When used in its entirety, the content with a purpose framework ensures that you engage with prospects in all the ways you need to in order to convert them. As a result, you establish a more relevant and powerful connection with buyers, from understanding your product and company, to feeling good about your company, and finally to being motivated and inspired to act.

Looking for more guidance on creating content that drives buyers to conversion? Don’t miss Content Marketing World 2014, September 8–11, 2014. We’re less than a week away from this year’s event, so register today!