In an essay written in 1996, Bill Gates coined the term “Content is King” to describe the future of the Internet as a marketplace for content. In our recent Pandemic Punditry conversation with Graham Hawkins, he correctly affirmed that not only is content king, but it is the entire royal family! Christopher Lockhead, the co-author of the best-selling book Play Bigger, recently posted on his LinkedIn that “you can’t be legendary at marketing unless you’re great at sales. Too many marketing people are viewed as a joke by salespeople (harsh, but true). Because too many marketing people suck in-front of customers.” In his opinion, If you can’t sell one-on-one, then you cannot market. Sales skills are foundational for every marketer. We would add, marketing skills are foundational for every salesperson! The distinctions between these two business functions have never been murkier and interdependent than they are now.
Content marketing in the buying process
The textbook definition of content marketing is, “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” According to a recent study by Demand Gen Report, 77% of respondents looked at 3 or more pieces of content before engaging with a salesperson. Depending on where they are in their buying process, the types of content that they engage with varies.
If you were to do an audit of your marketing content would your offerings mirror these findings? Given how important infographics and listicles are in the early stages of the buying process, marketers must know how to sell. They must be able to succinctly distill value propositions and address specific needs faced by buyers. Only then can they create effective infographics and listicles.
Otherwise, there’s a high likelihood that buyers will discount your offerings very early on in the sales process. Hence, the onus is on the marketer to ensure the buying process progresses to the point the buyer feels compelled to contact the salesperson. The days of marketing blaming sales for non-performance is over. The data is clear – content drives buying decisions! Is your CMO and marketing teams up to the challenge?
How CMO’s and marketing teams can create good content
Having established that content drives buying behaviour, how can CMOs and marketing teams ensure that content experiences are consistent across owned and third-party channels? What does that mean in practical and tactical terms? Owned channels refer to any medium where you have full editorial control on the content that is being posted therein.
Third-party channels are those where you have little to no control over the said content. These may include content authored by third party publications or analysts, peer reviews or user-generated feedback and ratings, and content published by industry influencers. Given your limited ability to influence content experience outcomes, your product and services must meet with market expectations. That means delivering on the promises made to the buyer and match or exceed the marketing hype on your owned channels. If you’re flogging a product or a service, it behooves you to ensure that its benefits are consistent with the expectation your marketing and sales teams have set. In other words, the buying experience and ownership experience need to, at minimum, match expectations.
Creating compelling content-driven buyer experiences involves the active participation of all stakeholders within a company. This is not something that should be outsourced to the sales and marketing teams to figure out and execute. In fact, we would advise against this outsourcing content execution to digital marketing agencies, third party content writers, advertising agencies, and the like.
Content without context, content without conversion is not content marketing! This pandemic presents a unique opportunity to strategically revisit the experiences you are sharing with your buyers.
Are they compelling enough to initially grab a prospect’s attention? Does your content facilitate the buying process by helping potential customers make-sense of all the confusing content out there? Is your content architected and curated to support your buyer’s journey? If the answer to any of these questions is negative, then you are not treating your company’s growth engine with the deference and respect true royalty it deserves!