When it comes to content marketing and content strategy, most companies really don’t get it. They think that content is just crap we send to people that includes specials, offers, promotions and things about us. Hopefully they at least move to the mindset of education. However, as it pertains to educating their audience, I find that the vast majority of content that I come across falls into the category of characterizing, describing or explaining why you should be taking a particular approach, thinking about a particular topic or focused on a particular set of problems at this high level, conceptual, (almost) preaching level.
What it lacks is any prescriptive or actionable information that the reader could actually use to go and start solving the problems, and I think a lot of folks in the content strategy and creation world believe that for some reason, they’re doing themselves a service by explaining to the audience what they should be doing and why it’s important without going into any detail about how it should be done or really offering any tangible help.
That misses the mark for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, it creates a barrier between you and your customers. What it says is, “This is really important. You need to do it, but the only way you’re going to get there is by calling me and paying me.”
Generally that’s not how individuals come to addressing any sort of initiative or project whether it’s helping my company or self-help. There’s a natural human tendency to want to try things oneself, whether it’s fitness or weight loss or business process improvement. The natural approach is, “Let me see how far I can take this on my own.” If the tools and the techniques to make that happen are kept behind the firewall so to speak, what it says is, “I’m not going to give you those unless you’re willing to pay for them.”
The second thing it does is it creates an impediment to individuals or companies wishing to embark on their journey. You see, whatever you’re talking about (again, weight loss, fitness, business process improvement, marketing expertise, whatever) is a journey. In fact, I talk about this with my clients. I try to help them define, or at least think about, their customer’s journey from wherever they’re starting to the point they’re actually ready to work with you.
Oftentimes, the point of the conversation where they want to start talking to us is far down the road from when they started thinking about this. You see a lot of statistics saying, “Well, the average buyer is 60 percent of the way through the decision process before they want to talk to a salesperson.”
Well, of course they don’t want to talk to a salesperson, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk to you if you’re approaching them as a friend or as a helper. That’s why I’m saying you’ve really got to figure out how to reach into the buyer’s journey much earlier and not just stand at a pulpit, point down and say, “You need to be doing this stuff.” Instead offer to help them early on for free, or maybe for a nominal fee. You have to start by giving them something.
If you go through my blogs, my posts, my articles, they all are written from the standpoint of, “How can my readers consume this article and then go take action on it?” Hopefully you get some early success and benefit, pleasure and reward from the action you’ve taken, and by doing so, not only further your goals and objectives, but also think kindly of me.
I want you to think, “Wow, that was great. Townsend recommended this. I just went and did it, and look what it got me. I want to do more of it.” Maybe you’re ready to do more of it with me or maybe you just want to do some more of it yourself. That’s your business, your journey, and I think a lot of vendors and service providers are really terrified that somehow if they give it away, that there will be nothing left to buy. That’s just fundamentally not true, and it really is a sad testament to a zero sum and scarcity mindset.
My takeaway for you and your content strategy is to think about the market you play in. Think about the businesses you serve. Think about the people that are your customers, their title and their role. Then think about the logical set of business problems and situations they are encountering right now that are probably 3, 6, 9, 12 months away from maturity where they would actually want to solve that problem in a serious way with an investment with a vendor.
They’re just starting to clink around. They’re just starting to noodle it in their mind. What can you give them? What kind of tool? What kind of checklists? What kind of process document? What kind of diagnostic technique could you give them to start to create a little bit of order in the chaos and the disorganization that is their thinking?
In doing so, you don’t have to directly serve your product or service. You don’t have to create a straight line between whatever it is you are providing that person and what they’re going to pay you for. However, you do need to create an absolutely clear association between what they do, who they are and your desire to and commitment to helping and supporting them. What you’re going to find is that you’re going to be approached far earlier in the process by customers saying, “Hey, I’ve been able to move myself to this point with your help, and I really appreciate it. Thank you for that. Now I’m ready to take it to the next level.”
After all, do you really want to babysit those prospects who are just at the early stages of playing with an idea? You’re going to invest valuable selling energy and people energy to get them to get started. Think about if you really want to say to those people, “Listen, you’re at the first step of a path that I’m excited you’re taking and that I hope to join you on, but let me help you in the first stage of your journey. Let me help you in ways that I don’t even need to charge you for because I want you to have success. I want you to begin to see the benefits of business process improvement or data analytics or CRM software (or whatever the product/service).” Whatever the topic is, we need to give people a head start and not simply make the journey an insurmountable hill to climb that they then have the privilege of having us do for them.
I know this is probably a little challenging from a conceptual standpoint, but I’m happy to share other examples because I’ve been implementing these techniques with my clients. It’s a simple practice that, once again, you’ve got to think about your target prospect, their company and their title when determining your content strategy. Think about where they are today, which probably means they’re not ready to buy your solution. They’re not even thinking about the problem holistically. So what are the things that are bouncing around in their head that will probably lead them to define a problem and want your solution and how can you help them with these early stages of the game?
By Townsend Wardlaw
We would love to hear your personal stories of how you’ve gotten ahead of the need or demand curve and reached out to your prospects to help them far before they actually needed something on a professional level, as well as whether or not that worked for you. Please feel free to share in the comments section below!
photo credit: sr320 on flickr.com