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The 10-Step Process for Creating your Own Inbound Content Strategy - Part 1

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Every successful IT marketing campaign begins with a great plan, but just how do you go about creating your own kick-ass content marketing strategy?  One that goes beyond the theory, and is designed to deliver true business metrics - not just visits, but leads and sales opportunities?

In this two-part post, I'm going to walk you through the 10 steps we follow with every Influence Agents client, to create a tangible plan for achieving their 12-month growth goals.  Here's part one...

Step 1: Internal Research

Chances are you’ve been in business a while, and have picked up one or two key pieces of knowledge and insight into what makes your buyers tick.  Your strategy should be all about welcoming more of the customers you wish to do business with – the “ideal fit” customers that tick all the boxes of a fruitful, long-term, loyal relationship.

Start by interviewing internally, anyone that has a customer-facing role, and who can contribute to documenting your Buyer Personas (most companies we work with have 3 to 5 key target personas).  Ask staff about the profile and traits of customers that have proven to be the most pleasant to work with, that have shown the greatest results (often achieved through great communication and buy-in), or have shown the greatest profitability to your company.

Step 2: Web or Desk Research

People are often more honest and open, and share unfiltered opinion and reviews of their experiences, when done online.  The conversation is not usually directed to any individual, and could come in the form of a blog article, a status update on any one of a variety of social media channels, a review or testimonial, video … whatever format and wherever it appears in the public domain, you should be listening for it, as part of your ongoing research into target buyers.

Use tools like BuzzSumo to search online channels for trending content and topics, identify the most popular platforms on which industry-specific content is shared, identify common questions and industry influencers, too.  There are many other tool and places to look online, such as:

Quora – a “social” question and answer site

LinkedIn – look into groups that comprise your target audience, to identify common themes, trends and recurring challenges

HubSpot Research – browse the latest sales and marketing research, statistics and trends across a range of industries and locations

Step 3: Customer Interviews

There’s no substitute for getting better acquainted with your existing customers, to find out the reasons behind their purchase with you, gather feedback on their experience of the buyer and onboarding journey, and identify opportunities to improve in future.  We start by asking 4 key questions, that inform our future strategy in marketing and sales:

  1. How did you first find out about [Company Name]?
    This question helps attribute new business to successful marketing channels, allowing you to build on tactics that work, or augment those that offer greater promise.
  2. What was the problem or greatest challenge you were looking for us to help with or solve completely?
    This question helps to identify the “trigger” – the need, the pain, the reason they felt they had to solve this problem now, at the expense of any other alternative solution.
  3. Is there anything [Company Name] could have done to improve the onboarding or early stages of the engagement?
    This helps to identify areas for improvement at a crucial stage of the relationship. How you begin your engagement with a new customer sets the tone for what follows, and can be a huge influence on your ability to retain the customer, and count on them for referral business in the future.  It also shows that you care about them and their perceptions of you as a company.
  4. What’s the best thing that [Company Name] has done for you since we began working together?
    End on a positive note, recognise the strengths in your offering, and more than that, this can be an invaluable platform from which to launch an “ask”. This is a tip I picked up years ago from the great Andy Bounds.  Assuming you get a flattering answer to this question, follow it up by asking “Who else do you know, that could benefit from that”?  I’ve not heard a better method for generating genuine referrals from your existing customers. 

Whether you use these or your own questions, be sure that you walk away from the discussion knowing a great deal more about the underlying reasons why people buy from you, and some indicators as to why they’ll stay with you for the long term.

Once you’ve completed all your research – internal interviews, web/desk research, and client interviews, use a tool like that provided by HubSpot at www.makemypersona.com to bring them to life.  There’s great power in being able to visualise the person you’re creating content for, as well as speaking to the challenges and goals they hold dear.  There’s even greater power when you’ve proven and backed up your assumptions with hard facts and “straight from the horse’s mouth” insight.

Step 4: Confirm Triggers & Goals

The customer interviews in particular should have provided you with some idea of the reasons why people reach out to you, and consider your services against the other options available to them.  More than that, ideally you’ll have identified “the straw that broke the camel’s back” – what it was that made it too painful to continue as things were, and finally opt for the solution you offered.  After all, the greatest competitor you have is the notion of “do nothing”.  Something made the suffering too unbearable, and if you now know what that something was, you’re ahead of the game.

Document these triggers, as well as the counterpart goals expressed by your prospects and customers.  An example might look like this:

Trigger: We’ve suffered a massive loss of data after a recent cyber-attack, and we can’t afford to let this happen again.

Goal: Put in place robust cyber-security processes and solutions, as well as data backup procedures, in order to maximise our levels of protection.

I recommend you identify four triggers and supporting goals, which can later be mapped to four quarterly content campaigns.  After the first year, you should repeat this process and interrogate the results of your first four campaigns, driving decisions about next year’s strategy.

Step 5: Map your ToFu Content & Lead Generation Offers

Don’t worry; you haven’t strayed onto a vegan blog!  ToFu, in this context, is a common shortening of the term “top of funnel”.  It’s difficult to talk about marketing without talking about funnels, and whether you agree with the principles and terminology, the intention is what’s important.  This is content relating to the first touch points with new prospects.  Driven by the triggers and goals you’ve identified, it’s time to start planning content that speaks to those topics and triggers.

In the example given earlier, you might decide to create some content on the topic of security and preventing data loss at the hands of cyber-attacks.  There are three key assets that will assist you to connect with the right audience, at this stage:

Blogs
Many of your blog posts should be dedicated to the task of answering common questions posed by your buyer persona, in relation to the trigger or goal.  Again, using the cyber-security example, you might choose titles such as…

“X ways to stay better protected against the growing threat of cyber-attack” or

“How to educate your entire organisation on the importance of ultra-secure passwords”

Even better, make it about a very specific target industry or niche…

“How the healthcare sector are more at risk than ever to malware and DOS attacks”

By way of promotion, you’ll likely be sharing links to posts in your social channels, such as LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as generating organic search traffic in the longer term.  Make titles and content as compelling and helpful as possible, in order to maximise their effectiveness in connecting with your audience. 

Pillar Resource

The hot topic at the moment, thanks largely to changes in the way Google and other search engines are connecting search with content.  The advent of AI, machine learning and natural language processing has caused a fundamental shift in the way we search.  More than 38% of people now use voice search on a weekly basis, so emphasis has shifted from specific keywords to topics.

Here’s a video that explains the concept… 

So what does a pillar resource look like?  It’s typically longer than a standard blog post – often 2,500 to 3,000 words, rather than the more popular 400-600 range – and contains more formats of media, embedded through the page, to support the written word.  By covering a core topic on a pillar page, and having supporting subtopic-focused articles linking into that pillar, you are telling Google and other search engines that you’re a credible source.  There’s evidence to support this approach in improving ranking and traffic potential, across a range of industries.  A popular way to create pillar content is to repurpose eBooks or white papers that might have existed only in PDF format, and turn them into a web page.

Check out our own Pillar Resource example – Conduct your own HubSpot portal audit

Lead Generation

Buyers still need a string call-to-action if they’re to continue the discussion with you.  A softly, softly approach still works, and if your visitors have already digested your expert content, you’ve earned a certain amount of credibility and trust.  It’s time to offer something else, but rather than jump straight for the jugular by offering a “consultation” or “discovery call”, it might be more appropriate to invite them to a webinar or an online evaluation, first. 

This should only be done when value has been provided first – that’s the purpose of your blogs and pillar content.  Only then can you comfortably ask for a prospect’s name and email address in exchange for more value.  There’s a growing reticence across the buyer landscape, to enter information into forms, so you’ve got to provide a very good reason to do so.  Consider going beyond the tried-and-tested-to-death eBook approach, and look at formats that can get your prospects excited.

Some ideas:

  • A web app that evaluates your visitor’s current provisions when it comes to cyber-security, and provides a score and top 3 actions they can take, to improve their protection levels
  • Video training on how their employees can set uber-secure passwords and better protect their information
  • A webinar on how GDPR and other compliance issues impact upon the IT systems adopted by companies in a particular sector

Ultimately, your lead generation offers need to scream “THIS CONTENT/ASSET IS WORTH FAR MORE THAN OPTING IN TO OUR SUBSCRIBER DATABASE”.  It’s the first step to nurturing the lead, so be overt in telling them that you’ll respect their information, never share it with 3rd party entities, and will contact them sparingly.

In Part 2, we’ll cover the qualification stages of the buyer journey, and how your strategy should support after-sales, too.

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Matt Hodkinson

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