Image by Krzysztof Urbanowicz

The line between writing for search engines and writing for humans has disappeared. Google wants what your customers also want – engaging content.

As a result, content marketing is on the rise. Quite simply, the idea is to create content based on ideas, not products. So, instead of trying to sell something, you are engaging with your potential customers and offering them something useful or interesting (or preferably both) in return for visiting your site.

The upshot is that if visitors love your content, they’ll grow to love your brand – and you’ll be who they’re thinking of when they’re in ‘buying mode’.

No matter what sector you’re in, your customers want to be inspired by content. 80% of business decision makers would rather read a series of articles, instead of advertisements and 60% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading custom content on their site.

But content marketing is about more than just attention-grabbing. Once a potential customer has become aware of your product or services, you have to hold their attention throughout the decision-making process.

The Buying Process

To create content that converts, you need to think about how real people buy things. At one extreme, you’ve got impulse buys – these are usually low-risk purchases, driven by logic or emotion but rarely both.

For other, higher-risk purchases, you usually have to appeal to logic and emotion to persuade a potential customer that they need/want your product or service. Few people splash out on a £500 computer or handbag without doing their research first and ascertaining that this really is the best product, and you really are the best retailer selling it, for them.

The transition from total ignorance to loyal customer doesn’t happen overnight – it’s the beginning of long journey and your potential customer could lose interest at any step of the way. Your job is to keep them engaged, and that’s where content marketing comes in.

The diagram often used to describe this process is like a funnel, starting with a wide entrance representing the awareness stage. The funnel gradually gets narrower, as it gets towards the final stage of ‘loyal customer’. Different diagrams will break it down into more or less stages and give them different names, but the general process is the same – first the customer becomes aware that you exist, then they consider whether or not to buy from you, and then they actually go ahead and place that order.

At each stage, more and more potential customers drop off, who’ve lost interest, been put off or been snapped up by the competition. The funnel shows the startling difference between how many people are aware of your brand and how many people will actually buy from you regularly – and all that sit between.

Here is every stage of the process, alongside the kind of content you can create to keep potential customers engaged.

1.       Awareness

At this stage, a potential customer has stumbled across your site, or one of your marketing campaigns, and they’ve become aware that you offer something that they might want. To engage with people at this stage, it’s important to position yourself as an expert and create plenty of engaging content that is interesting, but not directly promoting any products or services.

Examples of this would be informative or entertaining articles on your blog, infographics and fun, branded apps or games that carry subtle branding but don’t try to sell the user anything. At this stage, your content should be interesting to anyone that would fall into your target demographic, even if they are not necessarily ready to start shopping. As a result, this kind of content is extremely sharable – raising awareness of your brand even further.

2.       Interest

By this point, they are interested – so the trick is to keep them interested! They’ve returned to your site to find out a bit more, so you need to make sure the content on your site is relevant to what they want to know. Find out what questions they are asking and answer them.

For this you could develop eBooks, detailed guides relevant to your sector, animations and quizzes.

At this stage, you are looking to create unique content which is interesting and useful – preferably interesting enough for potential customers to be willing to exchange their email address for access to a download etc. This way you can gather the details of those that are interested (obviously don’t litter their inbox with offers and general brand promotion) but you can gently nudge them through each step of the process.

3.       Evaluation

Next, your potential customers will want to see if you look credible. By this point, they will be looking to see if your business meets their buying criteria – and most importantly, they’ll be deciding whether or not they trust you enough to hand over their credit card details.

To prove your worth, you’ll need some good customer testimonials, case studies, whitepapers (if relevant), statistics and employee profiles. The aim is still to create engaging content but with more of an emphasis on building trust. However, don’t forget the basics like a clear returns policy and delivery information too.

4.       Trial

Now, they are very nearly your customers. The final nudge needed is for them to imagine what it would be like to buy from you. If the picture you paint matches their expectations, they are very likely to go ahead.

So that customers can get a feel for what you’re like before they buy, and make their mind up once and for all that the product is right for them, you’ll need demo videos, a helpful FAQ page, buying guides and interactive tools such as a sizing calculator for a clothing retailer or a ‘how many packs do I need?’ calculator for a DIY brand selling floor tiles.

5.       Adoption

By this point, they’ve made it through the funnel to the final click ‘buy’. But the buying process doesn’t quite stop here and neither does your customer’s appetite for content. To keep your customers engaged and increase the chance that they will buy from you again, you need to keep them inspired with new content which brings me onto the final stage in the buying process…

6.       Loyalty

The goal of any business is to gain a large following of loyal customers – these are people who are likely to spend more and spread the word about your business. Plus customer retention is often cheaper than luring in new customers.

To get to this stage, consistency is key. You need to make sure you meet the expectations laid out in the buying process and continue to create content that engages them. Put links to your social media profiles on the order confirmation page to grow your following, and then make an effort to share engaging and relevant content there so that your brand stays visible to your customers until they’re ready to make a second purchase. Don’t just expect them to remember you!

If you’re still unsure where to begin, check out the examples in this content marketing guide (from page 63 onwards) that show how different companies have created content specific to each step in the buying process. This article is also well worth a read.

Content marketing is about more than just raising awareness about your brand – it’s a way to engage with people and offer something of real value to your customers, and potential customers.

Have you developed a content marketing strategy that really works for you? Let me know of your success stories in the comments