Content marketing is an essential part of any lead generation marketing program. For instance, B2B marketers already allocate 30% of their budgets to content marketing; with over half planning to increase this spend over the next 12 months.

B2B Content Marketing Spending (Over the Next 12 Months)

piechart for J. Kiselstein's blog

Chart from Slam Jafri’s excellent blog from Search Engine Watch:

Content marketing can be a daunting task to initiate in either B2B or B2C; however, with a little forethought and preparation, you can create a plug-and-play system. That system is more like a complex conveyor belt with multiple entry points and intersecting tracks, all leading to your end goal—the sale.

The first rule of content marketing: Do not launch content before you have at least one full cycle of buyer’s journey content ready.

If you plan to capture the attention of a potential customer, you must be prepared to pick up the conversation where the prospect has first engaged and continue the conversation all the way to your end goal—the sale.

Have a plan for content development, or it will eat up your time and profits faster than a great white on Shark Week. To avoid this always feared scope creep, develop an information wireframe that will outline the content journey from “Awareness” to “Offer.” At KERN, we have developed the Progressive Persona Profiling™ tool that helps plot content based on each stage of the new buyer’s journey. This process will help you to step back and hear the conversation from the standpoint of your prospect, helping you to tailor your content to their needs and create seamless transitions between the stages.

The second rule of content marketing: Be prepared to capture your prospect’s attention, no matter where they are in the buyer’s journey.

To successfully build leads and feed your buy cycle conveyor belt, you have to build a truly cyclical content communication stream that has an entry point for every potential prospect, no matter where they are in the buyer’s journey. No matter what their interest or education level on a given subject or product, your first communication must provide multiple options for engagement.

Single content does not work. It limits your chances to engage your prospect where they want to be engaged and of continuing the conversation. You have to cast a wide net of information or risk losing the prospect’s attention before you even have the opportunity to begin a two-way conversation.

This does not mean you need to create massive amounts of new content for each stage. You should “explode” your current content into small pieces designed for each stage and each media. Take a large white paper and parse that out for blogs and articles for a knowledge center or your corporate site. Take existing video and retool it for your YouTube channel. If you use a targeted lead capture email program, offer up a buffet of content by focusing on one or two pieces of content, but driving them to a resource center that has one juicy tidbit for each stage of the buy cycle, allowing them to engage with the content that interests them, on their own terms.

The third rule of content marketing: Learn from the prospect’s interaction with your content and segment them appropriately.

The content the prospect initially engages with will allow you to estimate what they want or need to hear next. Track and measure which content is being read and which is not.

Your prospect will self-select their place in the buyer’s journey. From there, you can flip the switch on your conveyor belt and serve up the next piece of content, continuing the conversation until you have fulfilled your prospect’s informational needs and have led them to the opportunity to purchase your product. Automated marketing technology allows your prospect to be quickly segmented and sent the proper message based on their current behavior.

The fourth rule of content marketing: Content marketing is an ongoing conversation, not a linear monologue. Continue to learn about your prospect beyond their first action.

This seems counterintuitive to the third rule, but remember the new buyer cycle is not linear. Do not assume at any stage that your potential customer is certain of what information they want. Use their initial selection as a guide to start them at a given point in the cycle, but always offer secondary information in a less prominent position in your communication that allows them the opportunity to engage with content from a different stage of the journey. This will reduce fallout by always allowing them to engage with the content that is relevant to them at that moment.

Allow them to choose their own content path by offering multiple content options while continually leading them to the next buy cycle stage. Their path does not have to be linear, as long as it ends with an informed purchase.

The fifth rule of content marketing: Be a trusted advisor, not a salesperson.

If you have developed a relationship through the consideration and research stages by positioning yourself as a trusted advisor with valuable content, then your conversion rates will climb. Consumers are very wary of a salesperson masquerading as an advisor. You must earn their trust by providing fair, truthful, comprehensive and useful information. Remember, you are building a relationship. Establishing yourself as an informational resource will warm the waters for future opportunities to reengage with your prospect.

These rules will help you establish a sustainable conversation with your prospect at any point in the new buyer’s journey. Everyone absorbs and engages with the buy cycle process differently and the place any given individual is within the stages is unpredictable. Yet the stages are consistent, and we can track and measure a prospect’s behavior to ensure we are sending them the right content. Cast a wide net, offer insightful content and allow the prospect to choose their own journey. Master this, and you are a true content marketer.

Come back to again soon, as we delve deeper into the nuances of the buy cycle stages.