Content marketing is not just about lead generation. It should also be about closing business and retaining customers.

That’s the core idea behind the Return on Content framework – linking content to the sales journey. My existing blogs on the subject focus a lot on B2B, where thought leadership is often the focus for content. I now want to look at B2C and how the framework is affected by the different dynamics of this type of marketing.

The difference: there isn’t one

Fundamentally of course there isn’t a lot of difference between the two in terms of content marketing, or the stages in the sales journey. What tends to be the big difference is the time between the stages – B2B tends to have a longer lead cycle, of course.

But the aims are the same with the target market: to build or maintain a brand, develop leads, nurture them through the shortlisting process, close the deal, then retain and grow the customer.

The RoC framework is designed to give the marketer a way of commissioning content which works across all of these stages and actually converts prospects to customers. It’s a single view of content.

From attraction to conversion

The faster flow from research to purchase in most B2C situations actually means that the same content set can be really useful with the same customer as they go through the process.

Let me take a great B2C example. I want to book a special holiday, maybe an anniversary trip. I’m in research mode.

I can Google luxury holidays and get a plethora of offers. Endless choice. Too much, in fact. That’s sales. Can someone help?

I can still go to a travel agent and sit down for an hour with an ‘expert’ who will take me through the choices, make some recommendations and book it for me. This is content marketing in an offline world. Actually the experts are often no such thing – they know 10% more than I do and in former times had the advantage of information at their fingertips.

But now we all do. Information overload, in fact. So content marketing is designed to attract the consumer in research – or pre-research – mode and be helpful. I have an idea of where I want to go, but it’s only vague at this stage.

Yet pretty much all holiday sites are effectively smart brochures, assuming you know where you want to go and listing your options. Why aren’t the major holiday companies producing great content which talk to me about my challenges rather than their offers?

So, in this example wouldn’t it be great if there were videos and sharp written content about planning the perfect anniversary trip? Maybe even a microsite on the subject, with contributions from customers as well as company content. And the good news: this can feature real experts, with real insights. This content hub would be able to feed YouTube, Facebook, be great for SEO, build conversations – and be available as part of the sales journey online. This then becomes my starting point.

In general terms, there should be quick, easily digestible content – such as a short video or easy list – and then more detailed content to provide some meat to the process as the consumer digs a bit deeper.

The key next stage is to link this research stage content to the solutions offered by the company involved. We want to be on the shortlist. That means links to specific holidays which reflect the options outlined in the guide. I believe a lot of content marketing doesn’t do this basic thing: link through to what we sell.

Now the aim is to close the deal with this customer. This is where a single view of content should kick in. We should have included in our content plan some tools to help the customer make the purchase decision. These can be featured as part of the sales process. They relate to the general issue – booking a special trip – but are linked to the specific choice. They are helpful.

By ensuring the content features here we are reinforcing our position as experts and guides in the decision, not just providers of a deal.

From prospect to customer: retention and growth

So, we move through to the retention stage, something many holiday companies are terrible at doing. They want to crosssell me more services for my holiday, but where is the retention strategy? Once again, our content marketing should play its role directly in customer service.

We know this is a special trip. So let’s repackage some of the great content and suggest this to the customer as part of our onboarding process. Reminders, tips, suggested things to do, videos about making the trip special – all of that great content should be reused at this stage to reinforce the fact that we want to help and we’re offering more than just a product.

Included in this will of course be crosselling and upselling suggestions, so there is additional revenue to be won through the optimised use of content marketing.

So, I’ve had my trip. In general, holiday companies aren’t great at following up. They’re very transactional. Content marketing can change that. Let’s use it in a growth strategy for this customer.

Now our consumer can be a contributor. Can they provide some tips or feedback for our ‘special trip’ content hub? Is there anything we know from the numbers about their next likely action – can we suggest other content for them which they may find of interest? This will keep them engaged with us and potentially customers for their next holiday.

Return on Content: linking content to revenue

You can, I hope, quickly see how this approach can be applied to all consumer products. What’s more, if you combine this with smart analytics then the segmented content strategy can become even more sophisticated.

The aim is simple: to ensure that content isn’t just a way of attracting attention, but also a clear tool in closing business and providing superior customer service.