57% Aligning content marketing with the buying cycle. Marketing has changed. of buyer's journey is complete before contacting sales 1

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1 Aligning content marketing with the buying cycle Marketing has changed. From product reviews and service forums through to technical specs and comparison sites, it has never been easier for customers to access the information they need to find solutions that match their needs, and compare their options. At the same time, they also have more options. The same technologies that have enabled buyers to pick and choose have lowered the barrier of entry for competitors across a whole range of communication channels and even helped spawn entirely new market categories as competitors scramble to differentiate their offerings. 57% of buyer's journey is complete before contacting sales 1 1 Google: B2B s Digital Evolution Page 1

2 What does this mean for the sales cycle? It means customers already know what they re buying before suppliers have the chance to talk to them. Although it varies greatly with product complexity and market maturity, today's buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out to the vendor. The math is simple Lori Wizdo, Forrester More choice means an eroded marketing dollar, as customers don t rely on sales messaging to buy. They don t need pamphlets or brochures, and can pull up technical specifications, prices and conditions on their smartphones. If a customer wants to put in the time, they can check out review sites and forums on the way to work, discuss which option meets their needs with friends and colleagues, and start pursuing their preferred solution before they go home for dinner and all without so much as a glance at your sales collateral. But there s a flip side to all this extra choice. Page 2

3 Customers need help An increase in information options means that it s harder for people to know who to trust, or even how to judge what s worth their time. All the standard benchmarks disappear in a haze of opinions, forum reviews and new product categories. There is a lot of information for them to process. And they will not be ready to enter the marketing funnel until they find a point of view they can trust. They need a voice they can rely on, a guide that relates to their needs and can help them decide if a solution meets their requirements whether it s a cinnamon bun or a server virtualization package. Making the case for content marketing Content marketing gives organizations the chance to change how they communicate with their key audiences, by shaping the conversation itself. Traditional patterns focus on gaining a single point of contact, and loading this touch with sales-heavy collateral to persuade a customer to buy. With content marketing, the aim is to attract customers by publishing content that the target audience finds valuable. The content can help the audience identify a pain point, solve a challenge, or weigh up options. The point of this value-adding focus is to grow brand awareness and loyalty by establishing your voice as a positive point of reference for a particular demographic. This authority helps organizations craft marketing messages that cut through the clutter, and become that trusted authority that guides their choices within the buying cycle. Page 3

4 What is thought leadership? Thought leadership is the recognition bestowed on an organization or individual by stakeholders who recognize these entities as authorities on particular subjects. Developing thought leadership means demonstrating an understanding of a particular field in a way that benefits the audience. For content, professional articles such as white papers and lab reports can go a long way, backed by blog posts, animations and other engaging collateral to show the audience that a company knows what it s talking about. Unlike other marketing activities, the content used in this stage is not aimed at promoting a specific product or solution. Instead, the messaging is directed at helping the reader identify an issue or overcome a challenge. This shows potential customers that an organization is actively involved inside their sphere of interests, and helps put the business in the position where the customer feels their needs are understood. Over time, the customer will come to associate these successful brands with these topics, building a precious place in the top-of-mind hierarchy. Stage 1: Demonstrate Thought Leadership At the wide end of the funnel, the key aim is to grow brand awareness. In the context of content marketing, the best way to grow brand awareness is to demonstrate thought leadership. How to measure success At this stage, the content is introducing key pain points, shifts in technology or key trends that are pertinent to the target market. This means that unlike other marketing activities it is hard to measure the effects of thought leadership initiatives directly in terms of sales or click-through rates. Instead, thought leadership helps build a lift in brand awareness, site visits, inbound search statistics, and download requests for content available on the topics you are marketing. Page 4

5 Stage 2: Introduce Solutions and Benefits Key demographics start to recognize an organization as a trusted authority in its chosen market niche once it builds a foundation of trust within the marketplace. Once established, the next step is to introduce key products and services as solutions to the issues identified in the first stage. Because the market now views the organization as a trusted source, it helps to adopt an approach that casts the content in a helpful light. This makes content such as product sheets, webinars and demonstrations invaluable, as they help re-state customer pain points before introducing pertinent features that resolve them. Perhaps the most important part of this stage is to demonstrate the relationship between the features that solve a challenge and the benefits they deliver from a human perspective. This helps strengthen the understanding that the organization is aware of customer needs, and builds the case that the solutions will have a positive impact on the person making the purchase decision. Keeping in touch In keeping with the personal nature of the relationship built by staged content marketing, nurture s help to keep an organization top-of-mind throughout the sales process. With so much of the sales decision taking place away from the direct control of business, permission-based nurture s play an invaluable role in content marketing. They give organizations a channel to inform and influence customers. Using nurture s, organizations can put valuable information and actionable insights in front of their customers. This helps enhance and promote the customer s relationship with the organization, and keeps them favorably positioned for the eventual purchase decision. Page 5

6 Stage 3: Provide Validation This far along the buying cycle, customers are very well informed. They know their needs, and have a sound understanding of the options at their disposal. For organizations looking to sell, this means stepping away from the thought leadership content and solution-focused messaging. Instead, marketing efforts should give them the information they need to weigh up their best options. For content marketing, this means crafting pieces that help them make decisions. These can include case studies, white papers, customer testimonials, comparison sheets, product calculators and technical specifications. The point of this material is to remove any doubts about how a solution fits their needs. If they were uncertain before, this stage of content marketing should clear it up. The people left at the end of this stage are considered validated leads who are ready to buy, and should get transferred to the sales team for nurturing. Again, marketing plays a key role by helping to validate customers who may have got in touch in the past. Sending them informative collateral has the double-barrel effect of giving them valuable data on their options, while also letting the marketing teams assess their interactions. If they click or download an asset, chances are they re interested. Page 6

7 Content marketing is not always easy Making the case for content marketing is not always an easy task, as it can require a lot of assets and resources. But to make all this happen, organizations need serious marketing resources: Effective content marketing requires materials that add value. These materials need to live somewhere accessible, like a blog, for easy customer reference. The blog needs to drive interaction, with regular posts of informative, actionable content, and gated sections that help generate leads. In addition, content marketing requires expert resources to grow an audience, build their trust and help measure their levels of interest. Essentially, permission-based marketing drives costeffective interactions that are otherwise hard to come by. Trained marketing manager/staff Copywriting team for content development Dedicated blog site Marketing assets and landing pages to house them Social Media accounts and management tools Resources to build and manage campaigns If they already have these resources in-house, then they will have to divert them from current tasks. If they are not available in-house, then the organization will have to either outsource their marketing, or start hiring talent that can take on a newly-created role. This is why it s important to start with the end in mind. Page 7

8 About Elastic Digital Elastic Digital makes it easy for you to generate leads, with Elastic Grid, a simple and effective demand generation platform. Elastic Grid is supported by dedicated creative services and partner concierge services to help partners get the most from your Grid. With over 3,000 partners, the Grid generates thousands of leads for our clients partners every week, in 20+ languages, across 100+ countries. In its first three years it generated forecast revenue pipeline in excess of $1 billion dollars. If you feel that your channel marketing efforts could benefit from the combined attentions of Elastic Grid, supported by our dedicated, channel-experienced digital agency and partner concierge services, please get in touch. Finding a framework A strategic content marketing plan helps organizations plot out requirements according to the stages of the buying cycle. This long-term focus simplifies campaign management by making it easier to optimize resource allocations for the campaigns and tactics that work to an organization s strengths. The result? Content marketing that scales as resources become available, with better conversion rates, and powerful ROI. E: W: Sydney, Australia T: San Jose, USA T: Salt Lake City, USA T: Bucharest, Romania T: Page 8

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