David Hume, an 18th-century Scottish philosopher, said that human reason doesn’t actually direct motivations and behavior — rather, feelings do. Hume discovered this by observing his own mind in action, but since then, science has proven that he was right.
For example, Joshua Greene, a neuroscientist at Harvard, has extensively studied the interconnectedness of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, known as the seat of abstract reasoning, with the dopamine system. He says, “From a neural and evolutionary perspective, our reasoning systems are not independent logic machines. They are outgrowths of more primitive mammalian systems for selecting rewarding behaviors.” Luiz Pessoa, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, similarly has written, “‘Affective’ brain regions participate in cognition, on the one hand, and ‘cognitive’ brain regions participate in emotion.”
Reason and emotion work together to drive behavior
Both of these researchers have shown that reason and emotion both have a role to play in decision-making. Reason influences motivations and behavior by triggering feelings that drive motivations and behavior. If you’re about to eat your third piece of carrot cake, and you use your reason to remind yourself how sick you felt after you last ate three pieces of carrot cake, the feeling of disgust will outweigh your feeling of desire to eat the cake.
What does this have to do with content marketing?
People don’t buy based solely on logic or emotion. Decision-making is a mix of both. For this reason, you’ll want to provide an appropriate mix of content types that engage your prospects’ emotions and rational thinking processes at each stage.
It’s helpful to look at content types in a matrix based on two axes: buyer’s journey stage and emotional/rational spectrum. Every type of content falls somewhere in this matrix. (The matrix below is based on Distilled’s B2C version.)
Let’s look at these content types and how you can best use each.
1. Brand advertising
Brand advertising works to create an emotional connection with prospective customers. A great example is Google’s AdWords Stories series. In the Zingerman’s video, Google manages to associate with their brand all the warm fuzzies generated by sharing good food around a table filled with friends. Brand advertising includes your brand, but it’s not primarily about your brand. Its purpose is to shape the feelings that prospective customers experience when they think of your brand.
Quizzes accomplish two things simultaneously. They showcase your company’s expertise, and (because they ignite natural curiosity) they capture attention. Quizzes can take many forms, from social media games to hosted lead magnets (like my Content Strategy Quiz).
3. Events and conferences
Events and conferences can take place live or online as a virtual summit. These events give attendees the opportunity to meet your company’s team members and each other, creating positive vibes as they make valuable connections and learn information that will help them. While events and conferences require a lot of resources to pull off, they can also pay big dividends in terms of generating awareness and providing opportunities to guide existing leads to the next stage in the funnel.
Competitions are ideal for generating word of mouth and user-submitted content. Photo submission contests, photo caption contests, and innovation contests have all been used effectively by B2B brands. And there are endless ways to run competitions, so you can create one that aligns perfectly with your brand’s personality. Competitions present a special opportunity for B2B companies since few B2B brands are using them in their content strategy.
Visual content is easy to digest quickly. For prospects who aren’t yet ready to dive into the details, infographics serve to capture attention and get them thinking about the problem they face.
6. Educational videos
Another popular type of visual content, educational videos will appeal to many prospects in the early stages of the buyer’s journey. Videos are especially effective when paired with articles — after prospects become intrigued by watching a video, they can read on for more information. HubSpot is a great example of a B2B company using video effectively.
Audio content is also ideal for the awareness stage since it allows prospects to consume information on the go. Salesforce produces multiple podcasts — one for each persona. Podcasts are resource-intensive, but they can be extremely effective at attracting prospects in the early stages. (Personal experience: I discovered the business coach I’ve been working with for the last 10 months via his podcast.)
8. Social media posts
Social media posts are often used to repurpose existing content. But don’t overlook original content for social media. Sharing anecdotes and starting conversations with thought-provoking questions are proven to engage B2B audiences.
9. Blog articles
At this point in the matrix, we get into written content. Some people prefer written content at every stage in the buyer’s journey, but nearly everyone is looking for written content in the consideration and decision stages. Blog articles are a reliable way to capture prospects no matter where they are in the process. And they’re essential for SEO — the pillar post and cluster posts strategy is ideal for generating internal links and encourages prospects to visit additional pages on your site).
When prospects are ready for a deeper dive into a topic of interest, e-books are an excellent format to use. They can also easily be used to make an emotional and rational case for solving a pain point. Whether you choose to gate them for lead gen or leave them ungated, e-books give you the opportunity to showcase your company’s expertise. E-books are also a valuable tool for the sales team — instead of “just following up,” salespeople can send prospects an e-book on a relevant topic.
11. Press releases
Creating a press release that media outlets will find compelling is a science in and of itself, but press releases are worth adding to your content strategy for one primary reason: they lend credibility to your company, even if they’re not picked up by media outlets.
Newsletters are great for staying top-of-mind with your audience, and they’re also an ideal format for guiding prospects further along the funnel. If you offer a mix of top-of-funnel content and related mid-funnel content like short case studies and testimonials, prospects will start thinking about how you can help them.
13. Direct response advertising
Direct response ads can take many forms, but the most common are search engine ads or social media ads. These ads are most often used for mid-funnel and bottom-of-the-funnel prospects and advertise demos or free trials. The goal of a direct response ad is to get the prospect to take immediate action.
14. Trend reports
Trend reports help motivate prospects at the top of the funnel or middle of the funnel, allowing them to see what their peers are doing and see how they measure up. For this reason, trend reports are perfect lead magnets. Because everyone wants to know what their peers are doing, this format has a built-in emotional hook. It also gives you an opportunity to make a rational argument for why your solution is a smart choice.
15. Buyer’s guides
Buyer’s guides are valued by prospects in the mid-funnel consideration stage, making them another excellent form for a lead magnet. They take a serious look at how to solve a significant problem. The purpose of a buyer’s guide is to show prospects the landscape of possible solutions and subtly make a case for why the type of solution your company offers is the best choice for people like them.
16. Original research
Original research positions your team as thought leaders and subject matter experts. Beyond this, research reports will help you build natural links for SEO, since bloggers and media outlets will link to the research in their commentary.
17. Product videos
Video can be used for more than top-of-funnel education. Video content is helpful to prospects who want to see your product in action. This type of content is especially effective for B2B SaaS companies.
18. White papers
White papers provide an opportunity for you to make a rational argument for your product. Mid-funnel and bottom-of-the funnel prospects need data and hard facts to present to others involved in the decision-making process who require a clear path to ROI.
19. Case studies
Case studies help prospects to envision how you can help them by telling the story of how you’ve helped others like them. Customer stories are particularly compelling because they engage the emotions (prospects can identify with the pain) and the logical brain (as claims are backed up with facts and stats).
20. About us pages
Prospects likely won’t care about your About Us page until they’re considering working with you. But once they reach that stage in the funnel, they want to get to know your team and gain confidence that your company will be good to work with. Use your About Us page to build a personal connection since your prospects want to buy from people they like and resonate with, not a faceless company). Your About Us page should showcase your company culture and the expertise of your team.
21. FAQ pages
FAQ pages do more than prevent your team from having to field the same questions over and over. They give you the opportunity to get prospects thinking about the questions they should be asking. FAQs are a great way to lead prospects through the funnel as they realize the important factors that affect their buying decision — factors that your company excels in.
Calculators can be used to help prospects see any number of benefits that your product provides. The most popular is the ROI calculator, helping prospects to calculate the average ROI a similar customer would experience.
23. Product pages
Product pages are often overlooked as a part of content strategy, but they shouldn’t be. A product page is an ideal opportunity for you to convert a bottom-of-the-funnel lead. If you make an emotionally-engaging yet rational argument for how your product can solve particular pain points and how it works to do so, prospects are likely to hit the call-to-action button.
Testimonials are generated by your customers, but how you use them can ensure you influence your prospects at just the right time. Sprinkle relevant testimonials on your home page, case study pages, and product pages.
25. Pricing pages
Your pricing page has multiple jobs to do because it will be visited by prospects at all stages of the funnel. Some prospects will start at your pricing page because they have a set price point in mind based on other pricing pages they’ve seen or based on a random number they came up with in their minds. Your pricing page must make the case for why your pricing offers excellent value for what the prospect will receive in exchange for the money. Of course, you must list the features included at each tier, but focus on the benefits of these features as well.
Create content to engage your prospects’ reason and emotion
Effective content strategy doesn’t only map content to each stage in a buyer’s journey. It also outlines varying types of content to engage reason and emotion at each stage.