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Listicles and clickbait headlines may grab attention, but do they speak to your intended audience? PHOTO: João Lavinha

Experts put content marketing on a pedestal, but practitioners remain surprisingly skeptical. Although 88 percent of B2B marketers have adopted content marketing, according to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B survey report, 70 percent of those marketers don’t believe that their strategies are effective.

Well, effective at what?

Avoid Sacrificing Intention for Attention

Content marketing doesn’t have rules. Some companies use it to spur ecommerce purchases, while others publish content to establish credibility or generate sales leads. The problems begin when brands unintentionally sacrifice intention for attention.

For example, imagine a company that makes project management software for engineers. Let’s call our invented company ‘Projidy.’ If Projidy published a blog post entitled "10 Disney Princesses Who Could Be Great on the Oil Rig," that would be attention overriding intention. And while the example sounds extreme, plenty of B2B blogs, white papers, etc. don’t have discernible purposes.

Let’s Optimize Your Content Strategy

What’s the remedy? I argue for a content strategy that maps personas’ needs to content and then measures that content’s success with key performance indicators (KPIs). Let’s discuss how to fix a content strategy by focusing on three aspects: Personas, Audits and Pipeline.

1. Personas: What Your Readers Want

Companies new to content marketing frequently turn to ‘content shops,’ which promise traffic but may neglect personas.

For example, let’s say Projidy, our imaginary B2B software company, hires a content shop. It produces 200 pieces of blog content with titles like ‘Top 5 Engineering Movies’ and ‘The 10 Funniest Engineering Jokes Ever.’

Those headlines are popular in new media and sometimes grab attention on social media. However, they misunderstand the audience.

Engineers are busy professionals, not web surfers looking for clickbait. They work on sensitive projects that require precision and careful management. They seek credible information that will help them perform their jobs better. That’s why project management software is of interest.

Thus, engineers seeking project management software don’t value cutesy content. They want information with which to assess and compare software. Kitschy content is ineffective because it fails to define and empathize with the engineer persona.

2. Audit: Assess the Quality of Your Content

Let’s say the content shop increases traffic. The visitors click on the blog posts but rarely request more information or contact Projidy’s sales team. After seeing the lackluster outcome, Projidy asks us for help.

We start by defining the engineer persona as we did above. Next, we perform a content audit, meaning we assess each piece of content to see what resonated with readers. We tag each piece of content using the ROT method: Is it Redundant, Outdated or Trivial?

For Projidy’s strategy, we identify content’s goal as lead generation for the sales team. Accordingly, we measure how often each blog post converts visitors to leads and how frequently those leads become customers. We could also examine higher-up-the-funnel metrics like call-to-action (CTA) clicks, attempts to fill out lead forms, newsletter sign-ups and cases where visitors reread the same blog post multiple times.

The audit confirms that engineers want professional information, not pop culture listicles. So we repurpose winners and learn from the losers.

3. Pipeline: Matching Personas and Content to Purchase Journeys

Projidy’s content marketing strategy is ineffective if we measure it strictly against the objective: creating leads. They need a new content marketing framework to correct the problem.

They need to coordinate their strategy with their pipeline, meaning the journey their prospects take toward becoming customers. For almost any product or service, a pipeline has three stages: Awareness, Consideration and Acquisition.

Awareness topics deliver a broad introduction. For instance:

  • The Principles of Project Management
  • Infographic: Software Trends in the Engineering Industry

Once visitors grasp the importance of project management technology, they need content that focuses on consideration. That helps people determine whether a product is compatible with their needs. For example:

  • The Process for Launching a Project Management Platform
  • Case Study: How Acme Engineering Uses Projidy

Acquisition content places readers in the mind of someone who has bought — or will buy — the product. In this case, the product is B2B software for engineers, so the topics could include:

  • Checklist for Vetting a Project Management Suite
  • Reorg: Transferring Your Team to a New Project Management Platform  

The Awareness, Consideration and Acquisition framework matches personas with the content they desire at each stage in the pipeline. Rather than merely catching attention, the content propels readers towards a purchase. And, with the right systems, we can measure whether the content served that purpose.

Content That Makes a Difference

Bottom line, you don’t need to BuzzFeed-ize your content to succeed. Instead of asking, “What topics will drive clicks?” pivot to, “What content does our audience seek from us?”

Your prospective customers may not be ready to convert, but remember that irrelevant clickbait content won’t be what wins them over. Mapping topics to personas, eliminating redundant, outdated or trivial content, and coordinating your content with the pipeline will be what aligns your operation with strategic, measurable goals.