top of mindI remember when I first decided to study marketing. It seemed cool and creative. I was always good at Art and English, but struggled in Math and Science, so it seemed like a natural fit. Come up with great ideas and then bring them to life on TV, the radio or in print. I could do that!

That was the 90’s, before anyone had begun to seriously look at the internet as a marketing channel. TV shows like Mad Men tend to perpetuate this myth that marketing is all about creativity. Sure, creativity is an important part of marketing, but the reality is that marketing is more like a science than an art.

Uh oh.

Thank goodness I’m older and wiser and in a better position to buckle down and study the science of marketing than I was when in school!

That was then…

Traditionally, marketing classes taught that the buying process began when people realized they had a need. Once people realized that need – say, for a new pair of sneakers – they then went to the store and comparison shopped until they found something that was right for them. After they purchased their sneakers, their experience wearing them would either convince them to buy the same type of sneakers again, or to switch brands the next time they buy.

Google has described this process as follows:

Google first moment of truth resized 600

In this model, there are three steps – stimulus, first moment of truth and second moment of truth. The discipline of marketing was designed to target people at each of these stages.

This is now…

The world is a bit different now, and these days people don’t usually just walk into a store and start comparison shopping. We as buyers are more educated than ever and more often than not, before we walk into a store, we have Googled (or Yahoo’d or Bing’d) information about sneakers to determine which brands and models are best for us. By the time we enter the store (if we even DO walk into a store, because let’s face it, many of us are buying online), we not only know what we want – we know how much we’re willing to pay for it.

The folks at Google have watched this change take place and have a new way to describe how people buy. It’s called the “four moments” model:

Google zero moment of truth resized 600

Now, there are four steps in our buying process – stimulus, the zero moment of truth, the first moment of truth, and the second moment of truth.

Today, effective marketing must target buyers at the zero moment of truth – and the key to doing that is content.

Why content?

Think about how you search for information online. If you’re like me, you treat search engines like they’re people. If I need to find a good Mexican restaurant in Atlanta, I’m more likely to type (or ask Siri) “What is the best Mexican restaurant in Atlanta?” than I am to search “Mexican restaurant Atlanta.” The latter is pretty old school and is what many pay per click advertisers focus on when designing their campaigns and developing ad copy. The former – considered a “long tail” keyword – is harder to target using paid advertising, but pretty easy to develop content around.

Think about it. “What is the best Mexican restaurant in Atlanta?” would make a great blog – especially if you are a Mexican restaurant. And if you happen to have a blog by that name, odds are that it will be at or near the top of the search engine results when I Google it. If it is, I will most likely click on it, and when I do, it will lead me to your website and I will have the answer to my question AND a plan for dinner that night!

Voila! Top of mind marketing at its finest!

Getting Started

If content is the key, then how do you figure out what type of content to create? It all begins with the development of buyer personas. We’ve written a lot about this in the past and you can read about it in our blog here. The idea is that you get to know your buyers really well and then use that information to develop content that is targeted specifically at their pain points and answers their questions.

It’s also important to understand how your buyers’ information needs change throughout the buying process. When we first begin to research our purchases online, we are looking at different types of information than we do just before we buy. Think about that sneaker example. When you first start researching sneakers, you are most likely looking to narrow down the options to sneakers that are designed or running or cross training or basketball, etc. Once you’ve identified the best types for the sport in which you’re planning to participate, you can then consider which sneakers are designed to fit your feet (Are you flat footed? Do you have a high arch? Do you pronate?). Then, you look at prices.

Just like our information needs evolve when we shop for sneakers, they also change as we carry out the due diligence to purchase consulting services, computers, insurance, or real estate.

Your audience personas will not only help you target your content, they will also provide you a solid foundation on which to create the right content for the right time in the buying cycle. For more on this, see our blogs on creating content for the top, middle and bottom of the funnel.

The great part about creating content that responds to your buyers’ needs is that you won’t have to worry so much about search engine optimizaton (SEO). The best keywords, backlinks and meta tags aren’t worth a hill of beans unless you have great on-page content. Without it, search engines won’t rank you and your buyers won’t find you (and those that do won’t stay long!).

Anyone can create great content

You don’t have to be a professional writer or graphic designer to create compelling content. In fact, the best content tends to be the stuff that lets the creator’s personality shine through and takes advantage of their strengths:

  • If you’re a great writer, create whitepapers, ebooks or case studies
  • If you don’t like writing but are comfortable in front of an audience, do a webinar or make a video in which you are featured
  • If you’re particularly well spoken, start podcasting
  • If you’ve got killer graphic design skills, create an infographic

Just as there are all different types of people, there are tons of different types of content. The key is to keep it simple and pick a format with which you are comfortable. When you do that, you’ll be more likely to stick with it and when it comes to content and inbound marketing, consistency is key!

Read more: Chicken or the Egg? Where Content Fits into Demand Generation Strategy