“Content is king.”

It’s an oft-repeated expression in marketing departments. The recent explosion of content-based marketing campaigns and the constant pressure to create more content only serve to confirm the notion. But in all the hype surrounding the content itself, don’t forget that a related trend -- inbound marketing -- is on the rise, and with it the balance of power in B2B marketing departments has shifted yet again.

Inbound marketing has rendered outbound marketing all but obsolete. Due to advances in search and social technologies, customers engage vendors when it is convenient and optimal to them. Marketing’s role, therefore, is to be ready when customers do engage, and content is a big part of this responsibility.

Content that is compelling, focused and on time will drive the customer buying process forward. Content that is sloppy or misguided can derail an opportunity. So, how do marketers ensure their content plan is on target? Here are five steps to creating effective, customer-centric content:

Step 1: Get to Know Your Customer

Content mapping may seem tedious, but taking the time to plan your content strategy can add focus to your marketing efforts and save a lot of time in the long run. Create detailed profiles of your buyer personas and identify the types of content that would be most useful to each audience. Be sure you can answer the following questions:

  • What role does this person play in the sales cycle? (Influencer? Decision-maker?)
  • What problem is he or she facing that your product can solve?
  • What questions will this person have at each stage in the buying cycle?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it will be easier to define the content that best suits each constituency. Creating content with specific goals in mind is a far better use of your resources than creating content purely for the sake of having more material.

Step 2: Make Sure Content is Customer-Focused

Your customer likely didn’t seek out your blog or website because they wanted to read up on your company. Particularly in the early stages of the sales cycle, your brand means less to your customer than the industry expertise you can provide. So, instead of talking about what makes your business special, focus content on your ability to meet the customer’s needs, which will reinforce the point that it’s all about them.

Furthermore, make sure that the organization of your content is customer-friendly. Once you’ve built up your supply of content, consider organizing your website according to the needs of your buyer personas, or perhaps by the challenges prospects experience.

Also, make sure that information can be found fast. Using headers and lists can ensure that your customer is able to quickly find the exact information he or she needs.

Step 3: Grab Attention

Now that inbound marketing is in full swing and the average consumer prefers to find their own information on the Internet, SEO matters more than ever. Be sure to include keywords in your titles so your content can be found easily. Also, keep in mind that with so much content available to consumers at the click of a mouse, readers are scanning.

Even with targeted and valuable content, the wrong title or layout can prevent your material from being read. Including keywords, attention-grabbing titles and interesting graphics can ensure that your content grabs the eye and keeps the attention of today’s busy consumer.

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Step 4: Perfect Your Timing

The right content at the wrong time is a waste of your efforts. When it comes to content distribution, plan out the timing just as carefully as you did your buyer personas. Consider which questions your buyers will have at various stages in the sales process, and schedule content accordingly.

Effectively timed messaging gives your prospects the sense that you’re in tune with their unique concerns throughout the buying process. Timing content to match the level of customer engagement is key to lead nurturing, helping move prospects forward through the sales cycle.

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Step 5: Measure Your Success

As with any marketing initiative, measuring the success of content marketing is crucial. Measurement tools such as Google Analytics can help you identify the best performing content.

The advanced reporting tools available through many marketing automation platforms can allow users to take this analysis one step further. Not only can you see what content your prospects are interacting with, you can also see when and who. This visibility can provide marketers with a greater understanding of which content is most useful to customers at each stage in the sales cycle.

Tying content consumption to a prospect and following the individual from conversion to close allows you to evaluate which content messaging is driving qualified leads and leading to closed business. This insight helps marketers develop more effective content in the future.

Title Image courtesy of iQoncept (Shutterstock).

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