2021 Trends: How to Squeeze Sales Out of Content
We’ve come a long way from keyword stuffing.
In 2021, content marketing—the latest form of advertising—will earn a bigger presence in your annual marketing budget because it does four valuable things: 1) moves future customers down the sales funnel in a way that makes them believe it was their idea, 2) drives engagement, which is a new-fangled word for “involvement” that breeds commitment, 3) connects the marketing team with the sales team, which tends to blame the other for shortfalls, and 4) provides 24/7 traffic back to your website for years after the last time any money or energy was spent on it.
In other words, you should expect to see more brands using narratives as a form of currency. To accomplish this feat, more brands will start speaking directly to their prospects—about their wants and needs, as opposed to new products and services.
Are you ready to embrace this trend to get more bang for the bottom line? You’re going to need to build a content funnel. Let me walk you through the six steps:
Step 1: Audience
When it comes to any form of communication, listening is the most important skill, not talking, not spamming.
Please remember this one hot tip: In life, you never know someone until you know what they want. You could be in business with a partner for 30 years, but if you don’t know what they want, you’re in trouble.
Here’s another tip: People, like your prospects, change all the time. The 15-year-old you doesn’t want the same things as the 21-year-old you or the 35-year-old…definitely not the 52-year-old you.
So how do I speak to my prospects, which are, in effect, a moving target?
Research is the answer.
And this is why you should always keep your enemies close. Most people don’t think about their direct competition as being part of their company’s assets, but they are! Who else knows what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to your prospects? Don’t let pride get in the way. Tap your rivals’ marketing campaigns through competitive intelligence and learn what you should do next….on their dime!
There are many tools with ranging price points that you can use to find out what your competitors are doing and what is happening in the marketplace in general.
When it comes to “awareness” at the top of the content funnel, social media listening is a great place to start.
To glean competitive intelligence, here are some specific digital marketing tools such as:
- Facebook Audience Insights is free and invaluable in terms of developing “personas” or profiles of your target audience. This tool tells you how old they are, where they are, what they like and much more. And you don’t need to run a Facebook ad campaign to take advantage of the trove of demographics. Want free market research, Audience Insights is a good place to spend some time.
- Talkwalker.com is a media-monitoring tool that has recently added a robust social media monitoring platform. And that is important because social media posts provide insight into what will trend next before it goes viral. (This is a great place to source for future blog content.)
- Hashtagify.me provides great insight on the value of hashtags and trending content.
- Google Keyword Planner and SEMRush provide valuable knowledge about which keywords to use in your content to reach the first page of search results.
- Google Trends tells you which words/phrases to use to get more eyeballs…and it comes with context, so you can see if a keyword is building in popularity or fading.
- SimilarWeb.com gives you a quick snapshot of your competitor’s website traffic and tactics.
- And VisualPing alerts you when your competitor changes their webpages, which can give your insight into their digital marketing strategy.
Bottom line, your entire content funnel hinges on how successful you are at building the foundation, which begins with marketplace and competitor research. You must know your audience before you take your next move.
Step 2. Key Messaging
At this point, you’ve done your research. You understand where you are in relation to your prospects and how you should speak to them.
Key messaging is the next step because it starts to bring your strategy to life. Key messaging is a series of talking points that capture the essence of your brand story. Let’s face it, once you have a story, you must repeat it and reinforce it again and again and again.
As you develop the brand story, there are a few key points that you must grasp:
Content Writing insight: People Pay More for Experience
From time to time, I am asked to speak at an industry conference or at a company event. At some point, I ask the audience, “So what do you sell?” And they start rattling off-brand names of widgets and doo-hickies.
And then I say, “No, that’s not what you really sell. Every brand sells the same thing. You sell an experience. Do you know why? Because that‘s what the marketplace is buying. You should always be selling what people are buying.”
An organization creates an experience every time it interacts with a customer at every step along the way from nurturing, engaging, purchasing, delivery and support. The compilation of outcomes from each stage makes up the “experience”, which customers process to determine future buying decisions.
Walt Disney isn’t the only company selling an experience. Your company is…and you can promote it through content.
When you build your content funnel, make sure you are able to tell stories about your company’s experience and, more importantly, about the experience it provides.
Content Writing Insight: Helping is the New Selling
People no longer seek, they search. So how do you get them to find your brand?
Be helpful. That’s how to draw people closer to you and your brand.
From a content perspective, there are two “levers” that you need to pull to generate more revenue.
And if you like alliteration, you’re going to love this formula: Reputation + Relationships = Revenue.
In other words, the better reputation you can build for your brand, the more relationships you will have. From a business perspective, more relationships equal more revenue.
Most salespeople leave the “reputation” variable out of the equation. You need to increase sales by 20 percent, right? So what do you do? You send out emails, make calls, attend conferences and networking events. You know exactly why you want a relationship with your prospects, but do they know why they want a relationship with you?
And that is why “reputation” is so important.
To build reputation, you should consider giving something of value first…which is where “Helping is the new Selling” comes in.
Make sure your content is helpful so your brand will become likable. People do business with people they like. And people have a strong tendency to like people who help them.
Step 3. Framing
When I talk about “content”, people often think I’m talking about writing. And I am, a little bit.
Writing is the “finish” on content; it’s the last piece of the puzzle that brings everything together. And while writing is very important, it’s not the only vital piece of the content process.
When I talk about content development, I’m talking about extracting data, synthesizing knowledge and framing information.
This process can be a tall order.
I’m talking about quickly building trust with subject matter experts so they will share their knowledge. Then, you must take the knowledge and translate it into plain-spoken English, leaving behind jargon, eye-chart-like acronyms and big words that may or may not win you a game of Scrabble. More importantly, you need to take their knowledge and turn it into, “This is what it means” for your intended audience.
There is another key point you need to understand before you start framing content. Your organization doesn’t invest in marketing because it wants more marketing. Your company invests in marketing because it wants more sales.
As you move forward, it would be beneficial to think of “marketing” as “sales support.”
So, before you start developing content, I’d like you to have the proper mindset of a salesperson, since you will be supporting that person with your efforts.
So let’s pretend you are sitting at a table across from an interested prospect. No matter your industry, you will need to answer three questions correctly to close the sale.
- Question #1: Have you ever worked with a company like mine?
- Question #2: What makes you special?/Why should I hire you?
- Question #3: How much?
These three questions seem simple enough. But, I assure you, they are loaded with the stuff that will make or break you as a marketing or sales support professional.
The first two questions are marketing questions; the third question is a sales question. Once someone asks, how much, you have already started negotiating.
But keep this in mind: You will never get to the third question, which is the money round, unless you answer the first two questions correctly. In other words, the three-question series is actually a sequence.
The first two questions do the “selling”, while the third question does the “closing.” And this is where most companies leave money on the table. Your sales staff should not be spending their time selling and promoting your brand; your sales staff should be closing opportunities….that’s where the money is.
So then, who should be selling your brand? The answer is simple: Your customers.
In the last decade, there have been several tech companies that have grown exponentially, but it’s not because they grew their sales staff exponentially. What they did was find a way to indoctrinate their customers into their sales force through a “word of mouth” campaign.
You can jumpstart “word of mouth” by engaging your existing customers and prospects with “storyselling” content. And once they believe in your brand, they will sell it for you.
So how do you motivate your customers, and others, to sell your brand?
It all starts with a compelling story. A good story can influence, unite and inspire others to take action.
From a content perspective, everything you produce should directly or indirectly address the first two marketing questions: “Have you ever worked with a company like mine before?” and “What makes you special?”
There are several ways to frame blog writing so it helps your intended audience in the context of those two questions.
One theme involves “thought leadership” content, which means adding your commentary to current, topical items in your industry. This theme works well in brand awareness campaigns.
A “Frequently Asked Question” theme is another way to help your target. The headline of each blog post should be a popular question that your audience is searching for online. You can begin to learn what the most popular questions are by using Google’s auto populate function, which shows up once you type a word in the search box. “Question” blog posts score higher in search-engine results, which is why they offer a big SEO benefit.
If you are ready to move to a lead-generation campaign, the blogs should be framed in a buyer’s journey theme.
In the beginning of the journey, you should focus on the “awareness” stage, which is the beginning. At this point, the object of your content should demonstrate to your target audience that they have a problem. I call these stories “scare” pieces because it needs to be written in a way that builds awareness and interest to motivate your prospects to take action. In reality, your prospects have a lot of things on their plate. In most cases, many things on their to-do list get pushed back because they don’t think it’s a priority. Your content needs to persuade them to see the real urgency that exists so they turn their energy and money to your solution.
Once your prospects understand that they have a problem that needs to be addressed, you need to move them to the “consideration” stage. During this part of the journey, content should resemble checklists that provide a step-by-step process to help your prospects solve the problem. Of course, each step in the process should relate back to the product or services that you offer.
And that brings me to a nuance. In the awareness and consideration stages, you should tacitly promote your brand…but not overtly. In other words, don’t mention or talk about your brand in the copy. Why? Because the intent of content marketing is to help and educate, not to make them feel like they are reading another sales piece.
Content marketing, however, is another form of advertising, which is why a portion of your ad budget should be used to invest in content marketing. Content marketing offers a crucial nurturing component that traditional advertisements can’t deliver. However, it takes time to nurture…6 to 10 “touches” depending on which studies you believe. And that is why an investment in content marketing should be made to complement traditional ads—not substitute.
So if I shouldn’t mention my company in the “awareness” and “consideration” content stages, how does my brand benefit?
Well, even though you are not mentioning your brand, you should insert links throughout the blog post that take the reader back to specific pages on your company’s website. And that’s what I mean when I say “tacitly promote.”
Unlike the first two stages, the “Decision” stage, which is when the prospect is ready to buy, clearly states your brand’s name because it portrays it as the answer to a problem. The content in this stage hits your expertise hard, right when your prospect is looking for a reason to make an investment.
Step 4: Content Formats
When it comes to communications, how you say something is more important than what you say.
And that’s why your content funnel should showcase a diverse amount of content formats.
Here is a sampling of content formats that move prospects:
Press releases are a formal marketing document that contains “news”, which is what separates it from other content pieces. If it’s new, important, interesting, shiny or sexy, then it’s probably news.
Press releases are written in an inverted-pyramid style, which means the most important news is at the beginning of the release. Background information fills out the remainder of the release. So you probably won’t see high time-duration numbers on releases, but they compel action.
When we distribute a release, it’s one of the most viewed items on the website and it’s normal to see a 75-80% increase in traffic to a targeted link, like a “Locate Your Sales Rep” page.
People have craved news since the beginning of time. And that need hasn’t gone away.
Case studies are very valuable because they answer both “marketing” questions in one shot. They demonstrate your company’s expertise and experience in various industries. And often times, they can become long-form testimonials as long as you have a willing customer.
Blog writing is a great way to generate nurturing content pieces.
More importantly, they are strategic delivery systems. Most people think they are stories.
So what are they delivering? Blog writing delivers targeted links that you want your prospects to click on so they can take action. Blog writing also delivers keywords that place your blog high up in search-engine results so your prospects can find your content…with the targeted links that they will click on so they can take action.
In addition to generating more website traffic and more writing for SEO, blog writing delivers a strong ROI. Last week, I reviewed a client’s Top 10 blog posts for the quarter and the fourth most popular blog was one that we haven’t put any time or energy behind for the last 18 months! And yet, it’s still driving pageviews.
Blog writing creates a repository of online content that serve as 24/7, on-demand help for your prospects whenever they are in need.
People tend to place great value on long-form content. Guides check that box. It’s an authoritative content piece that can cover the “awareness”, “consideration” or “decision” stage or all three at the same time. Bottom line, it creates a high-level platform that showcases your brand as the thought leader.
When it comes to explaining processes or products, a visual depiction may work better than a wall of words. Infographics can help you tell the story in an engaging, colorful way. People tend to retain visual information easier than the written word, especially when it comes to complex concepts.
If you can’t physically get in front of a prospect in a high-touch industry, such as financial services or healthcare, video is the way to go. Videos help capture you…as you are. Videos help you be seen as a real person, much like your prospects.
In addition, micro-videos work well in any space.
Social media is today’s word of mouth, which is a key distribution channel for indoctrinating your customers and prospects into your salesforce.
Sharing the other content formats that I have mentioned will make your social media efforts successful.
Just remember, there are two types of people on social media: People who are curious and people who are bored. People who are curious are looking for educational, longer-form, more in-depth information that answers their questions. People who are bored are looking for entertaining, shorter-form, superficial information. (Remember when I mentioned that micro-videos work?)
Step 5: Client Retention
Up to this point, I have talked about landing a customer with a content funnel.
But is that it?
Absolutely not. The only thing more valuable than business is repeat business. These are people who already know and like your brand. These are people who have already spent money on your brand. Please don’t exclude these people. Old business is more valuable than new business because you don’t have to invest any more marketing spend on them. And that means higher margins and more ROI.
You can create how-to content that will build your relationships with customers after they make a purchase so they will be more motivated to spend more with your brand in the future.
The how-to content should answer three questions that your customer will have in relation to the product/service that you just told them.
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to do
You will need to develop content that highlights hacks or shortcuts that will help prospects use your product or service. They may also need to learn additional skills or knowledge to maximize return on their purchase. How about creating content for that?
In addition, you could create product instructions, user manuals, maintenance guides or FAQs.
The possibilities are limitless. Just remember, you aren’t really selling a product or service. You are selling an experience. Now, make the experience as rich and as memorable as you can.
Step 6: Call-To-Actions
From a content perspective, calls-to-action or CTAs are the difference between a bounce and a conversion. To make things more interesting, CTAs turn marketing into modern-day psychology.
So how can your content compel someone to take a specific action?
The concept of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a great place to start because it is based on exclusivity.
As CoSchedule.com puts it, playing with someone’s built-in fear is challenging because fear is always based on something else.
For example, let’s look at the specific triggers that you can leverage:
- Panic: “If I miss out, I’ll never know if this could have changed my life!”
- Greed: “I have to have everything.”
- Comparison: “I don’t want to be the only person without this!”
- Curiosity: “Could this possibly be as amazing as they describe?”
- Pride: “I got in and you didn’t. Ha ha.”
These are themes and concepts that you will need to leverage to craft your next winning CTA. Like everything else in digital marketing, make sure you listen to the analytics. Data actually talks. Be confident to know that you will eventually hit it out of the park, but humble enough to allow the data to guide you. This will prevent that sinking feeling when you come to the realization that, yeah, you really should have zigged when you zagged 10 months ago.
Do you want to learn more ways content marketing can bring sales opportunities for your business? Contact us today, to start the conversation.