competency content strategy

I’ve long had a problem with the traditional marketing funnel. It isn’t so much a problem with the fundamental mechanics it has come to represent as it is a problem with the metaphor itself.

For starters, it assumes the force of gravity. Which always makes me think we as marketers are helped by some inherent force pushing down on our “leads,” rather than them entering the funnel through their own volition. Unraveling that one is for another day. Suffice it to say, the funnel doesn’t seem real to me, and often misses some key assets—especially as it relates to content marketing.

So as a coffee snob that enjoys meditatively making pour overs each day, let’s make it a bit more real and focus specifically on what I’ve come to see as one of the most commonly overlooked stages in the content development process: Competency content.

What Is Competency Content?

Competency content is content that helps a potential customer understand the need for and value of your product before you mention your product or compare it to others.

As such, competency content sits directly after truly top of funnel discovery content and directly before consideration content. In this sense, it’s the type of content that goes beyond generic “what is” content but stops short of entering the realm of “here’s what” product-mentioning content.

competency content strategy

For discovery content, we’re talking about content (such as blog posts) that draw readers to your site. I say “readers” because that’s the best way to group what they are when they arrive. Some are certainly more likely to be interested in your product or service, but there’s a good chance they landed on your post because they think it can provide an answer to their question.

For example, thousands of readers per month do a Google search for “KPI” or “key performance indicator” simply to educate themselves. The vast majority of those readers land on a few of the informative resources my team has created.

The vast majority, also, have no intention of trialing our product. They simply came to read and learn, and we’re happy to provide such value.

From there, however, many content marketing strategies either lose patience or perhaps unknowingly skip developing competency content and jump right to consideration content.

For consideration content, we’re talking about case studies and demo video content. We’re even talking about overt “how to” content that shows readers how your product works or how it can solve their problem.

In our example, this would be like making the leap—and somewhat naively hoping our readers will make the leap—from “key performance indicator” all the way to “here’s how our business dashboard software lets you track them.”

Competency content serves as a bridge. Sure, most readers may not choose to cross that bridge. But we’re all far more likely to cross a busy highway if there’s a bridge to help us do it.

Creating Competency Content

The nature of competency content of course depends on many variables, but let’s say we’re in the business of selling old-school pour over coffee makers.

Perhaps for our discovery content we’re doing quite well in search engine results for “what is coffee?” Our articles tell the history of coffee, showcasing beautiful stories from coffee’s believed origin in Ethiopia all the way to the modern hipster coffee shops of today. They are of great value to a wide variety of readers.

Rather than jumping directly to “here’s why our pour over coffee maker is better than our competitor’s” or even “here’s how our pour over coffee maker makes a great cup”—the lens of competency content allows us to build bridges such as:

  1. Coffee is still made in its purest, richest form in many regions of Ethiopia. Here’s the process.
  2. The mechanization of making coffee has led to a dilution of its flavor and, in many cases, a reduction of its natural health benefits. Here’s the science behind why.
  3. True coffee connoisseurs know that the calming process of making coffee is inextricably linked to their enjoyment of drinking coffee.

These articles, depending on how our site was designed, would not need to mention our product. Their job would simply be to raise the competency level of our readers to a point where they would see why our product is valuable in the first place.

Many may stumble onto our site through discovery content, and already know why our product is valuable. That’s entirely fine. These readers are more likely to give us a try. Competency content in this case could reinforce their knowledge and provide the gentle nudge they need to purchase our product.

There’s a good chance, as they’ve trusted and been educated by our content, that we’ll have an advantage when/if they begin their comparative research.