It’s no secret: Building your content strategy around the buyer’s journey won’t clarify what you need for effective content decision-making.
Consumers simply don’t follow a reliable, linear purchase process anymore. Too many research channels, feedback loops, and competing messages mean too few opportunities for your content to exert influence – if they could even find it – before they make a buying decision.
Today’s journey looks more like the back-and-forth gauntlet depicted in this graphic from Gartner (registration required.) It illustrates the complexity of the average B2B buying decision as the stakeholders navigate from problem identification to supplier selection, determining all the needs, requirements, and features and then (often) endlessly debating before a decision is made.
Every new content insight or resource introduced at the wrong time can hold up the customers’ decisions instead of easing their path to conversion.
In her Content Marketing World session, Ali Wert, Appfire’s senior director of content strategy, asserts that content marketers need a roadmap for building an audience-centric strategy that cuts through the confusion. That strategy must be consistent, scalable, and connected to the business goals.
To help, she shares five frameworks to build and implement a roadmap for more precise content decision-making across your enterprise.#Content marketers need a roadmap to build an audience-centric #ContentStrategy in a consistent, connected, and repeatable way, says @AliOrlandoWert via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
Signs your strategy needs an upgrade
When a strategy fails to account for today’s erratic and unpredictable buying paths, two results often arise – funnel vision and random acts of content. Ali says each can cause ripple effects that impact your content’s value and performance.
A strategy hyper-focused on a traditional funnel or linear buyer’s journey can result in short-sighted planning. “Funnel vision” can prevent you from addressing pre- and post-funnel engagement. “Ultimately, it means we can miss out on valuable opportunities to build long-term audiences who are engaged with us, even if they’re not in the purchasing process yet,” Ali says.
Look for these red flags to determine if your content program is guilty of funnel vision:
- Your audience of engaged fans is not growing. This keeps you from building trusted relationships with consumers interested in what you have to say, even if they aren’t yet in the market for a solution.
- Your brand’s products and services drive your content, not your audience’s interests. This can prevent your content from standing out and compelling consumers to consider your brand over others in a crowded marketplace.
- Your content metrics reporting prioritizes leads and mostly disregards long-term engagement – a key performance indicator (KPI) of brand affinity and future purchase intent.
- Your team takes “sales orders” for content instead of creating content based on organic needs and strategic opportunities. The resulting content often fails to reflect emerging needs and buying behaviors.
Random acts of content
Without a transparent, unifying framework, you may be creating random acts of content. Ali explains that’s when content gets created haphazardly, performs erratically, and fails to contribute anything meaningful to the business.
When this happens, some content performs well, but its success isn’t predictable or scalable for your strategy.
Among the signs your program operates in “random acts of content” mode:
- Neither your content team nor other related functions agree on the content strategy. Without that alignment, you may experience unnecessary collaborative friction and reduced productivity.
- The brand’s key messages are inconsistent across the organization. Internal confusion can create a disjointed audience experience across your content channels and platforms.
- You rely too heavily on vanity metrics or can’t sufficiently demonstrate content’s long-term impact on ROI. That can make it hard to get executive buy-in or the resources to drive brand success.
- The content strategy doesn’t scale as the brand launches new products, develops new personas, enters new verticals, or experiences a change in market conditions. This lack of growth can raise questions about the value of the brand’s content marketing program.
To get your content planning into alignment – and improve the effectiveness of the resulting assets, Ali recommends implementing these five frameworks to give your team a roadmap to navigate the non-linear buying process with the right content and positioning.
Establish high-level messaging with the StoryBrand framework
Successful content establishes two-way communication between your brand and your audience. So, you first need to identify what you want to get across. “A killer content marketing strategy must be preceded by strong positioning and messaging,” Ali says.A killer #ContentMarketing strategy must be preceded by strong positioning and messaging, says @AliOrlandoWert via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet
When creating those messages, you need to consider what will make them appealing and resonant for the consumer. The StoryBrand framework, developed by Donald Miller, is one way to find that.
In Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, he explains how the approach centers on the idea that consumers are more interested in connecting through relatable stories than brand-focused messaging.
As Donald said, “Ultimately, our audiences want to be invited into a story where they are the hero.”
The StoryBrand methodology maps out that hero’s journey – a path buyers can experience and relate to, not the path your brand wants them to take.
As you can see from the downloadable template (MyStoryBrand.com, registration required), the process starts with characterizing the “hero” of your brand’s story – i.e., your target persona.
From there, you detail their hero’s journey:
- Their goals and desires
- The problems preventing them from reaching those goals
- The guidance and processes to overcome those challenges
- The conditions or motivations driving them to take action (direct or transitional)
- The manifestations of success – and/or what might happen if they don’t.
In the last section of the template, you summarize the hero’s transformation story. Ali says that becomes the basis for your brand narrative, turned into multiple content assets, and later repackaged for additional channels and platforms.
Ali and her team worked through the StoryBrand exercise and presented the brand narrative example below. It describes how having the right plan and support (from the brand in the form of a “guide”) can transform an educational leader’s (the target persona) experience from feeling ineffective and disconnected (problem) to having the capacity to transform teaching and learning (success).
“This is not just a philosophical exercise,” Ali says. “We’re now using this narrative to drive our web page copy and video scripts.”
However, Ali says the StoryBrand framework works best for high-level messaging. To develop more detailed brand messages, consider the next framework.
Deepen message resonance with the marketecture framework
As business visionary Peter Drucker once said, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself.”
The marketecture framework helps you gain that deeper customer understanding and use it to position your messages for optimal resonance. Ali suggests using the simple template developed by the Pragmatic Institute (paid registration required), but you can also build your own. Simply divide message development into three columns – one for each of the framework’s fundamental components: why (market problems), what (the “marketectured” benefit your solution offers), and how (specific product features that address the problem).
In each column, describe your persona:
- Why: Articulate all their marketplace problems related to your business. Include high-level and nitty-gritty concerns, and describe them from the buyer’s point of view – for example: “Educators feel disconnected.“
- How: (Jump over the middle column to the “how” column.) Identify the specific feature(s) of your solution that could address each concern – for example: “online communities.” (Note: It’s fine to repeat features of your solutions if they apply to more than one market problem.)
- What: (Move back to the middle column.) Write benefit statements about how your chosen feature resolves each problem listed in the “why” column. Start each with a strong verb, like “build,” “connect,” or “partner” – for example: “Connect with other educators when it works for you with easy-to-access online communities.“
Ali says once you go through the exercise, you should have a comprehensive list of key problem statements and benefits statements. Group them into five or six key themes to inform the creation of an aligned messaging strategy. Make sure the resulting content always leads back to the identified pain points.
Connect messaging to content planning with the jobs-to-be-done framework
Awareness of the buyer’s deeper, emotional insights can help you plan relevant and useful stories. It also helps ensure the content speaks to your audience’s needs rather than focusing on your brand’s messaging priorities.
Once you’ve outlined your brand messaging, use the jobs-to-be-done framework to enhance the content’s resonance among your customers. It works by pinpointing the underlying aspirational goals that likely drive their purchase behaviors.
As Ali explains, the desire to buy something, such as a camera, isn’t the same as the “job” they want to accomplish with that purchase. “Maybe I’d like to capture memories with my family … or become a more-skilled photographer and launch a freelance business. Those are the jobs to be done – not purchasing the camera itself,” she says.
The framework is simple: Accomplish ____________ so that _______________.
Ali suggests layering it over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to surface the deeper emotional motivations that enable you to create more resonant, distinct content.
“It will help you zoom in on those painful, ‘papercut’ problems that keep people awake and keep them from succeeding in their jobs,” she says. “Who could they be, and what could they achieve if [your content] can remove those obstacles?”
Among the hierarchy of needs to consider:
- Physiological and safety – needs like food, clothing, and shelter
- Esteem and belonging/love – psychological needs like love, belonging, and self-esteem
- Self-fulfillment – personal aspiration achievement and self-actualization
Plan your full content experience with the audience needs framework
Your content also should meet buyers’ informational needs. That responsibility doesn’t begin or end with purchase-related information.
A robust content strategy should build brand affinity among consumers who aren’t yet in the market. It also should provide for their informational needs after they’ve purchased a solution.
It’s not the marketer’s job to tell consumers when and where to access those resources. Instead, Ali says, it’s the marketer’s job to ensure you’re covering the full spectrum of content types they may be looking for.
That’s where the audience needs framework comes into play. Ali developed it to account for five types of valuable content that marketers can create for each persona – from pre-funnel to build brand affinity to post-purchase to sustain their brand connection.
Ali recommends considering your brand’s specific use cases and your audience’s priorities to determine which five needs to examine through your framework. For example, in a B2B scenario, your audience’s content needs might include:
- Best practices that help consumers learn about relevant issues and share your brand’s thought leadership
- Enjoyment content that delivers moments of surprise and delight, such as branded memes or entertaining videos
- Information that helps consumers identify and validate their needs and raise their awareness of potential solutions
- Answers to their questions about how to approach their needs and vet potential solutions
- Help with using their purchased solutions and getting more value from them
One way to apply this framework is by taking an existing content audit spreadsheet mapped to buyer funnel stages and categorizing the content against the five dimensions of audience needs you’ve selected.
For example, she used a client’s content audit that showed a good balance of the awareness, consideration, and decision stages.
However, remapping that content with the audience-needs framework revealed gaps in their coverage of enjoyment and best practices. With that information, Ali’s client could create new content to better serve the target audience better across all their needs.
“It helped us get more intentional about what types of content to create and what to pull back on,” Ali says. But, she also points out that you can use the framework for initial content planning, too. For this, there’s no need to work from an audit spreadsheet – just start fresh by mapping valuable content types and topics to the audience needs you identified.
Give ‘funnel jumpers’ control with the content playground framework
As sharp as your audience’s understanding may be, the lack of a predictable buying path still makes it challenging. “Sometimes, we just don’t know where they are in their journey,” Ali says. “They could be very new to a concept and need a high-level conceptual explanation, or they could be pros who have done their research and are ready to dig into specific tactics.”
To solve this problem, tackle topics in a variety of depths and levels of experience. It helps ensure you’re addressing their needs no matter when and where they enter your brand’s experience. It allows them to explore your content assets on their terms.
Ali’s final recommendation – the content playground framework – can help you do that.
Atlassian’s Ashley Faus first developed this narrative framework, presenting it as a way to treat the content experience as a playground: “People can enter and exit as they desire, they can go in any order, and they can engage with content ‘the wrong way.”
The model divides content into three categories:
- Conceptual focuses on the how and why of the topic for those beginning their explorations
- Strategic focuses on processes, tools, and fundamental insights that place conceptual benefits and ideas in a practical, relatable context
- Tactical provides prescriptive, step-by-step guidance that helps the audience implement relevant concepts and strategies
After identifying the topics to cover in each of the three narratives, you map them to the content types (e.g., text, videos, interactive, long-form, short-form, etc.) and distribution channels and platforms you’ll use to share them.
You can find a template for this in Ashley’s original presentation.
Putting it all together
You can map together all five frameworks into an insightful editorial calendar. Ali shared an example of how this might be laid out using the B2B audience needs she identified above. (Download the free template on slide 23 of her presentation.)
The editorial calendar includes the following:
- Publishing date
- Content title
- Target keyword
- Level of content depth (strategic, conceptual, or tactical)
- Audience need (best practices, enjoyment, info, answers, help) and targeted persona
Walking through the columns in this editorial calendar lets you clearly see a snapshot of what’s missing. It can guide your decisions on what content pieces to create next to ensure you’re giving your audience all the options they’re looking for.
Create a strategy that clarifies content needs and brand opportunities
To improve your content marketing’s success, you should build your strategy around the journey the audience wants to take – not just one your brand dictates for them. These five frameworks combined have helped Ali build a plan that supports that goal. Now it’s up to you.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute