One statistic that gets thrown around too easily these days is how much of a buyer’s journey is completed before the first sales contact. Some analysts claim that it’s 60 percent. Some say it’s as much as 74 percent.

Regardless of which number is right, it comes down to this: buyers turn to external and brand-produced content more and more to reach a buying decision.

So why do most brands wait until after buyers raise their hands to optimize content for their needs and wants? Whether they use a marketing automation solution or other solution to personalize the experience -- most brands still treat visitors as just that -- unengaged “browsers” who will hopefully find content that resonate with them.

This has to change. Brands should view visitors as potential audiences. Every visitor, whether she becomes a buyer or not, has the potential to influence, inform or directly affect the buying outcome. Whether or not they actually purchase something, an engaged audience is an asset -- and the company should treat it as such from the very first contact.

The Tech Ecosystem - With Content at its Heart

Digital marketing has become an ecosystem of technology. And this ecosystem expands continuously to include new ways to engage and methods to measure that engagement. One look at Scott Brinker's MarTech Supergraphic shows just how fluid and, yes, huge this ecosystem really is.

An argument can be made that web CMS lies at the heart of this giant mosaic of technology solutions. As Brinker pointed out “The CMS is arguably the only required category in the entire landscape … All roads lead to the website (and hence the CMS.)”

With content being the centralizing force, the next question to ask is “for what purpose?” Among successful companies the answer is: to build an audience.

Content has to work harder. Businesses can't just serve up a wall of billboards that visitors might click when and if they have a need to purchase. A brand’s content should be the reason to visit in the first place, and the reason to return.

In short: content must provide value from the start. Value that convinces visitors to seek more information from your company. This is the difference between a simple visitor and an engaged audience member.

The Evolution of the CMS

Switching the goal from attracting visitors to building audiences requires the evolution of the CMS. The technology's performance must itself evolve, without losing sight of its original purpose.

Rather than simply “managing” or “publishing” content in a format that visitors can browse, the web CMS becomes an intelligent tool, that offers actionable insight on content performance. Marketers can use this information to optimize and evolve content before the audience member raises his hand to identify himself.

Here are some of the ways we have seen this in action:

Content Marketing

The days of “push” advertising are over. Content that delivers value and creates a relationship with potential and existing customers is the foundation to developing an audience. Forrester analyst Ryan Skinner clearly explains why content marketing matters.

Content Performance

Marketers need deeper data on both the people who buy, as well as those who don’t to inform marketing metrics. Content performance metrics -- specifically those against the audiences you don’t know -- can help marketers improve and continuously refine their marketing strategy.

Progressive Profiling

As audience members turn into leads, who in turn transform into opportunities, and so on -- understanding when and where to collect data from them becomes very important. Ask for too much -- and you risk losing them. Ask for too little, and you risk not knowing enough to give them an optimized experience.

Understanding how to collect and balance the use of data to optimize experiences from the very first visit is the first step in developing an audience.

Transforming Audiences into Opportunities

Ultimately, building an audience isn't the end goal -- it’s monetizing that audience in some way. Content to the rescue again: content helps turn audience members into leads and opportunities.

By continuously optimizing content for your audience based on their behavior and the explicit information that they provide, a great CMS can help deliver tailored digital experiences for the anonymous user, the well understood audience member, and the member who raises her hand, ready to talk about a purchase.

Knowing how content performs for individuals at all of these stages, provides the information needed to move that visitor on to the next stage. If we know nothing about visitors other than aggregate Google Analytics results, then we don’t have much information to base improvements on.

Content performance metrics that correspond to the customer journey gives marketers an understanding of the right content topics and forms for those stages. This is where the content platform “listens” as much as it “speaks.” It should understand the audience member as they enter, and create a more optimal experience at every click. It should provide insights such as:

  • Persona trends and/or persona discovery (for those the marketer has never accounted for).
  • Content gaps per persona in the content lifecycle
  • Editorial effectiveness (which writer or designer is creating the best assets)
  • Improved Engagement in Real Time -- ensuring that the content is being optimized from the very first click
  • Conversion -- allowing for insight into which content provides the best conversion from audience to lead.

The Next Step in Marketing’s Evolution

When Forrester analyst Lori Wizdo coined the term Lead to Revenue Management, she set a precedent of using marketing automation to make marketing more data-driven and accountable. But that only applies to the middle of the funnel – and if we start optimizing there, we’ll miss half the game.

Measure content performance. Focus on the top of the funnel to build audiences, rather than increasing visitors. This puts content on the right foot -- towards building business success and making the top of the funnel more data-driven.