How To Use Content Marketing To Increase Sales
Content marketing has been around far longer than you might imagine. Even though it has become a buzzword in the last decade or so, it predates the internet. Way back in 1672 two brothers Jan and Nicolaes van der Heyden from Amsterdam used great story-telling and content to talk about a new invention they wanted to sell - the modern fire hose! They did it so successfully through the various whitepapers, infographics (visuals), social sharing and demos, that they became an international sensation. The image below is one such example that compares the old fire hose (left) with the newly invented fire hose (right). The new hose gave the firefighters better range and enabled them to enter the burning building to extinguish the fire directly. Very convincing right? If they could do it more than 350 years ago, why not you?
Content, if delivered with the right intent, can be a great way to directly or indirectly improve sales right through the buying process. Let's take a look.
The popular definition outlined by the Content Marketing Institute holds the answer to what content marketing must always endeavor to do. Here is the definition:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
Great content needs to be relevant and useful to your prospects and customers. More importantly, it needs to add value to the person reading it.
Let's look at the 5-step buying process, the need of the prospect/customer at every stage, and what type of content can be created to add value to them.
Step 1 - Discovery The sales journey always starts with the recognition or acknowledgment of a problem or challenge that is being faced. Following that is the acceptance that a solution must be found.
The content for prospects at this stage needs to describe the problem more in detail and explore the possibility of a solution that might exist. Here, you might consider introducing your solution in-depth without actually promoting or selling it explicitly. The content needs to be inspirational enough to push the prospect to explore more. Perhaps consider whitepapers, journal articles, in-depth blogs, and articles by experts.
Step 2 - Consideration
Once the solution is identified, and specific requirements are drawn out, the search for the best option begins. This search generally ends with the preference for one, or a limited number of, options.
The content at this stage needs to give the prospect enough and more information about your solution or product. It must compare or build a strong enough case for you as the best solution available. The content needs to be informative about the product and company with enough proof points without being boastful. You might consider advertorials, influencer videos, and in-depth product/solution reviews.
Step 3 - Decision
As the prospect moves towards the execution of a choice, they must feel that your solution is the best option (for them) and that a purchase will not disappoint them.
The content needs to be convincing enough to nudge them towards a purchase. This might seem similar to what might be seen in sales and advertising, but it is more nuanced. The use of testimonials (influencers), case studies, and other material that support your brand credentials might be considered.
Step 4 - Implementation or How to Use
After the actual purchase, the product or service needs to be put into use. At this stage, the prospect becomes the customer and needs to be supported and advised on the use(s) of your product or service.
By giving them assisting content at this stage, it becomes a timely service to the newly acquired customer. Content like how-to videos, visual guides, product demos, chat rooms with existing users, can be considered.
Step 5 - Use and Advocacy
Now that your prospects have become customers, it is important to not only retain but also nudge them to become brand advocates.
The creation of content that builds a stronger bond to you helps to increase customer satisfaction, brand engagement, and customer loyalty. You might consider regular newsletters, social media forums, training for super-users, and other content to keep your customers engaged.
The sales process usually is not as linear as the steps might indicate, so having enough and more content for your audience always helps. If your audience finds value when they need it, they are more likely to become a customer.
The key to adding value is to "listen" to your audience, they will most often tell you what they need if you just ask!
Ultimately, content marketing is about your audience and what they care about. Never about what you want to say!