Aberdeen’s 2012 Marketing Lead Management: From the Top of the Funnel to the Top Line report noted that, on average, prospects receive 10 marketing touches through the course of a successful buyer’s journey (one that ends in “closed-won”). This means that the part of the mission that was once near-exclusive to Sales -- that of shaping the buyer’s vision -- is now shared with Marketing, which is assuming an increasing share of responsibility. Content marketing now plays a critical role in shaping buyers’ vision in the “hidden sales cycle;” it’s the alchemy of buyer intent by using education and entertainment to move buyers from latent need to requirements.
The following is adapted from Aberdeen Group’s July 2013 report Alchemy of Intent: Content Marketing in the Lead-to-Revenue Cycle.
Over half of the companies surveyed for Aberdeen’s Content Marketing study indicated that the move to nurture-based marketing, which often goes hand-in-hand with adoption of marketing automation, increases the need for relevant content to support marketing campaigns. This pressure couples with proliferation of new channels and changing buyer expectations as well as with diminishing success from traditional marketing vehicles. Clearly, all the ingredients for the hidden sales cycle are present among respondents.
The strategic initiatives pursued by Leaders reflect their focus on using content in nurture-based marketing campaigns as well, and starts to paint a more granular view of how these top-performing companies achieve their success. Namely, 50% of Leaders focus on improving the targeting of content marketing efforts and nearly as many (47%) look to increase the quantity of relevant content being published to their website as top initiatives. (Also check out Content Marketing: 3 Tools for Unique Content Curation and Delivery.)
Perhaps more than any other content marketing competency, firms should focus on the alignment of their content marketing efforts from several perspectives. One area of alignment that’s often overlooked (though clearly less so by Leaders) is the alignment of content to the sales methodology and sale process in general. This goes back to the realization that content marketing is now at least partly responsible for shaping the buyer vision, the same vision that Sales must leverage (or “reengineer”) in the active sales process.
Editor's Note: Looking for content marketing tools? Check out Content Marketing: 3 Tools for Unique Content Curation and Delivery.
Alignment of content to the funnel stage of the buyer and the buyer persona represent the essential elements of a content marketing map or matrix. Leaders are 93% more likely than Followers to align content to the stage of the buyer’s decision journey. Doing so not only requires the necessary content, but also knowledge of the decision journey of their buyers, which can be obtained through both direct interviews and behavioral data.
The percentage of firms aligning content to the buyer persona is lower overall, but still more likely to be pursued by Leaders. Obviously, most companies focus on their primary buyer first, expanding to support additional buyer profiles as sophistication with content marketing increases. For example, in line-of-business applications, technical buyers may enter the decision journey to conduct technical vetting at a late stage of the process. Companies who are aware of this buyer can have the appropriate technical primers available, and perhaps even proactively share it with the primary persona for distribution internally. The point is that this is not alignment for alignment’s sake, but rather about getting marketing content right: right content, at the right stage of the funnel, for the right persona.
Turning finally to measuring the impact of content marketing, the ability to understand how content is performing in specific channels clearly separates Leaders and Followers. For example, Leaders are 58% more likely than Followers to track how specific content is performing (79% vs. 50%) and more than twice as likely as Followers to track attribution to content (39% vs. 18%). When it comes to content analytics, companies should consider taking a page from the book of direct marketing and think about the lift, or incremental performance gain, associated with a specific asset. For example, Aberdeen’s June 2013 report Content Marketing ROI: Quantifying the Value of the Difference found that the difference in the conversion metrics of Leaders and Followers translated into a $10,000 difference in per customer acquisition cost.