Ask the Right QuestionsFor several years we’ve talked about the “Hidden Sales Cycle” in various forms, the idea that frictionless access to a content community allows your buyers to answer their own questions and largely control their buyer’s journey. Often discussed in terms of “percent of the buyer’s journey competed before customers reach…” this dynamic has driven the need for content marketing as a strategic differentiator. It has also driven development of a ton of content; content that you must compete against for a relatively fixed quantity of attention. This means that your content needs to be spot on, and that’s why we see high-performing marketers in our research studies (based on Aberdeen’ performance benchmarking methodology) more likely to align their content marketing to buyer needs (industry, persona, decision stage, etc.). But what does this alignment really mean and how should it be reflected in your content strategy?

In the case of industry alignment and even persona, for example, the answer may seem relatively simple. It’s content that speaks to the cares and concerns of that industry or buyer profile, highlighting the challenge of a particular industry regulation or shared super-trend, or speaking to the job role of the persona. But content aligned to the buyer’s journey may not be as straightforward. More often than not, the question of content alignment centers on asset type and whether the content is registration-gated or not. This is a helpful place to start, but probably won’t be adequate. Instead, your content must provide value to the reader by fulfilling their information needs, otherwise they’ll go elsewhere. Call it the law of content survival – content that’s best adapted to the information needs of the buyer will survive.

These informational needs can be considered in the form of a question, with content connected to the answer. Aberdeen has developed a framework for planning content alignment outlined in Aberdeen’s May 2014 Content Marketing and the Road to Revenue: Answering the Questions report. It looks at the critical questions that buyers tend to ask — either implicitly or explicitly — at various moments along their decision journey, with high-level recommendations for how content can address them.

At the core of this model is the relevance of the content to address each of these questions, and to answer it in a way that’s both genuine and supports the differentiated capabilities of your solution. The ultimate question for you to consider is this: do you know the critical questions of your buyers?