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What you need to do to excel at content marketing

You already know a thing or two about creating engaging content. Pumping out more content each passing year, you’re probably capturing increasingly better results. Your audience is growing, engagement is on the rise, and leads are pouring into your funnel; you believe you’re heading in the right direction. But, are you?

Content serves many purposes, comes in many different shapes and sizes, and does one of two things: It joins consumers on their journey. Or, it invites them to join yours–for a few seconds, a minute, day, week or an entire life-cycle.

What eludes most marketers, isn’t the ability to dish out savvy content; it’s the execution of creating evolving multi-channeled “content journeys”. That’s right, it’s the depth, lenght, and substance of the journey that makes the difference between extraordinary and ordinary marketing.

What is a “content journey”?Think of it this way–people are contextual beings. Content is contextual. The entire digital hemisphere is contextual. When there is alignment between content, placement and your audience, a journey is either born, joined or deepened.

How does a content journey differ from a customer journey?A customer journey tells a complete or partial story of the customer’s experience as they interact with your company. It outlines what they feel, think, know, question and want to achieve at every touch point and at different stages of the buying cycle –generally taking the shape of an infographic or map. You can have as many customer journeys as you have personas and products, depending on how granular you want to get. The “content journey” on the other hand, is a strategic content dissemination plan, that overlays the customer journey map, outlining how different pieces of content will work together at different stages of the buying cycle, to achieve multiple goals such as: offering insight into buyer questions and concerns, encouraging dialogue, converting, closing and beyond. Unlike a customer journey that’s somewhat static, content journeys are dynamic and take many shapes and turns. You’re able to have hundreds of vertically, and horizontally integrated, linear and non-linear content journeys associated with a single customer journey– all driven by the number of entry and exist points into and out of dialogue, and your different conversion points. Your only limitation is context. The more angles you cover, the more successful your program. It’s law.

How are marketers currently utilizing customer and content journeys?
A whopping 88% of marketers come up with content ideas on the fly, usually during meetings. The customer journey is rarely considered. The focus is on how to attract and convert more traffic. Which promises great results, but is incredibly ineffective. Content journeys are even less common. Yet, it’s absolutely impossible to succeed without proper planning and exceptional execution–no matter your budget.

Where does one begin developing customer and content journeys?It’s quite simple actually. Start off with a mountain of customer data, about ten pounds of coffee and a good pair of water shoes. If you’ve never developed customer profiles, personas or journeys before, you’re about to get your feet wet. There are really only 5 steps that need to be considered: determining who, why, where, what and when. Once you have these steps covered you’ll start seeing opportunities you didn’t see before–an entire marketing program organically emerges.

Who: Your personas.You can’t go any further until you know your customers so specifically, you’re able to map entire dialogues with them, and know precisely how each will evolve in their purchasing journey. You must discern what dialogues are most valuable, that your customers naturally resonate with, and your sales force can easily jump in on, driving up your end profits. As you go through this process, you’ll find it easy to identify multiple personas. The key to recognize is that even the largest organization will find it difficult to produce enough diverse content to align with every potential persona in every market segment for every offering. Choose no more than three to four personas that you, your staff, your products, services and company can comfortably come into alignment with. To create your personas, you must take a long walk in their shoes. You must examine how they navigate the complex act of purchasing your products, taking into account the whole of your competitive landscape, and how they relate to marketing at each stage of the buying cycle across all channels. You need to be acutely aware of the cultural, social, personal and psychological factors that influence their behavior. And, you cannot conclude your research until you’ve identified how each of your personas behave online, and not just in relation to your products and services. Your personas need to be based on hard data, not assumptions. And, since there is more data than there is knowledge of what to do with it, you’re best served to consult an expert.

If you would like a persona template- a general summary of each consumer type, please request in the comment section. This will be a very valuable tool in shaping your content journeys.

Why: Your customer journey map.There are countless opposing views as to what your customer journey map should and should not include, and advice on how to structure and present this information. When your goal is to understand what matters most to your customers in order to serve them better, and improve their experience, then that’s all you need to work with. You’ve already come into much knowledge while researching your personas. Now you need to consolidate what you’ve learned and take it to the next level of presentation. It helps to ask the right questions:
* Why did they begin their search for a new product or solution at this time?
* How will their knowledge level concerning your products and services influence their journey?
* What do you anticipate their journey to look like?
* What are the different touch points and channels along their journey?
* What departments and staff will they come in contact with?
* What cultural, social, personal and psychological factors will most impact their decisions at different stages of the buying cycle?
* How do your products and services and solutions satisfy their needs?
* What is their perceived value of your products, services and solutions?
* What experiences are they wanting to have?
* Are there any experience gaps, between what you believe and what your customers want?
* What do they perceive as benefits.

Armed with this information, you’re ready to put together your maps. Create an individual map for each persona, since their journeys could be very different, and could possibly include different touch points and expectations. Break their experience into phases or buying stages. Depending on what is happening with each persona at each phase, you may choose to create end-to-end maps for all of the different phases. In this way, you’re not limited by a template.

What and Where: Executing your content journeys.Once you’ve established your customer journey maps, it’s time to create your content journeys. With this step it’s important that you don’t regress into promotional thinking. In order to use content effectively you must be clear about what content needs to do. Content is powerful. It can bring you closer to your customers, or alienate them. When executed properly, your content becomes about:

* how your company and products solve buyer problems
* educating buyers concerning the use and applications of your products
* how their lifestyle or situations will directly change as result of your using your product (rather than explaining your product features and benefits)
* humanizing your brand, by demonstrating understanding of your potential customers’ pressures, concerns, challenges, and expectations.
* guiding customers to choose what makes the most sense for them, because you genuinely care for their well-being. A bad fit impacts your bottom line also.
* demonstrating mystery of your subject matter and your love for helping customers
* engaging buyers into meaningful dialogues
* helping buyers understand their options amidst a vast competitive landscape, demonstrating how and where you fit in
* mediating expectations
* creating raving fans–the kind that love you back.

The above gives you your content strategy, and points to your brand story. You’re now ready to grab your customer journey maps, and start discerning how best to execute your vision right down to each individual piece of content you’re about to create. There are three primary steps to creating effective content journeys:

*Identify entry, exit and re-entry points into dialogue.Refer back to your persona charts to identify placements, such as contextual websites you audience frequents. Think of the dialogues that can naturally evolve from there, in relation to your customer journey map. Discern at what point your customers may exit the conversation–be ready to figure out creative ways to re-engage them. Get all of your content ideas on paper, in whatever format works best for you. Don’t worry about organizing your ideas just yet, this could hinder your creative flow.

*Determine how different types of content work together.What are your customers needing from you? What questions do they immediately need answered? What will entice them to engage deeper? How is this information best packaged and presented? Different types of content work better at different stages of the customer journey and dialogue. Lifestyle and engagement blogs, research and technical articles, emails, guides, ebooks, white papers, case studies, info-graphics, interviews, videos and opinion posts, can all be seamlessly brought together to make it easy for customers to navigate in and out of your content journeys. By creating patterns that integrate different types of content, you’re able to quickly scale your program without creating confusion for your self and customers.

* Develop linear and nonlinear content journeys.
Set aside everything you’ve read or been told about blogging, inbound and content marketing and creating conversion paths. Consider this–we’re creating more content every 2 days than we have throughout history leading up to 2013, yet 61% are frustrated with their content experience. There’s something wrong with this picture, don’t you agree? To illustrate this point, I encourage you to stop reading and google “how long does it take to succeed with content marketing?” You’ll come across all sorts of answers and subject matter experts. Most will advise you to create a mountain of ‘original’ content and to prepare yourself for poor results in your first 2 years. The problem with that is your buying cycle most likely doesn’t span over 2 years. Exceptional customer experiences are not served by the ounce. You must leverage continuity by developing complete and integrated content journeys. This is the underlining message of this article.How do you do this?After mapping your entry, exit and re-entry points into dialogue, your next step is to identify the individual pieces of content you’ll be creating. Come up with titles, and the theme of each piece, the type, the tone, the purpose and end goal. It is effective to create individual mini-maps for each dialogue, that outline where the dialogue originates, how it evolves, and what piece of content is used where, why, and most importantly how. Your maps turn into powerful content briefs that keep your writers and outside agencies focused on the entire journey.

When:Executing content development. Armed with your content journeys, you’re ready to schedule and delegate content development and dissemination activities. The more journey’s you’ve mapped out, the more in-depth this exercise becomes. Depending on the size and expertise of your team, you may want to deploy your program in stages over multiple months, or an entire calendar year–keeping in mind that each journey has a life of it’s own. Schedule an entire journey at a specific time and never publish less than an entire journey. It’s always best to group journeys based on the length of the buying cycle. If your journeys are made up of different types of content, and there are different team members and specialized agencies involved, make sure everyone is on the same schedule.

How:Executing content dissemination. This step calls for mastery of the digital and social hemisphere, content workflow integration, sales force enablement and predictive analytics. It is your biggest uphill climb. Your dissemination strategy is not a simple content distribution plan,but rather an actionable predictive model that aligns your content and brand story with an audience of one. Market segments don’t consume content, individuals do. And, as they do, you adapt by delivering the next piece of content they would naturally want to look at.

How?Since that’s outside the scope of this article, and takes into account many factors such as your budget and objectives–we can set up a one-on-one discussion, at your office, or by phone/skype, where we can explore these possibilities in greater detail.

Are you inspired to take your content marketing to the next level?

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