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PHOTO: Mihai Laz─âr

Organizations keep falling into the trap with their content programs of putting the cart — content dissemination — before the horse — the subject matter of the content. 

In their struggle to grab the attention of potential buyers, businesses fail to take the time upfront to define a clear purpose and a specific desired customer action for their blogs, podcasts, case studies, thought leadership or opinion pieces. There is an inherent danger in this approach. By taking this attitude, you will likely end up with a piece of unfocused and untargeted content, which will singularly fail to deliver the results you’re hoping for.

Does Your Content Have a Clear Purpose?

“Fuzzy goals are probably the most common cause of crappy content,” said Doug Kessler, creative director and co-founder of B2B content marketing agency Velocity Partners. “As a reader (or viewer or listener), you can tell pretty quickly that this content doesn’t know where it’s going or why.”

Content consumers will stop paying attention to purposeless articles, videos or podcasts, meaning all the work that went into its creation is wasted.

“Today, organizations create content for the sake of creating content — we need a whitepaper, a landing page, a brochure, a social media campaign, and on and on,” said Carla Johnson, a keynote speaker, author, and an outsourced CMO. “People focus so heavily on what they produce, but they don’t take time to think about why.”

Most content creators move forward with purposeless content because they think they have a clear goal, but it’s not one that they can clearly defend. “Often, it’s because they’re juggling two clashing goals (or audiences),” Velocity’s Kessler said. “Or they’re making assumptions that don’t hold. And, of course, a lot of content creation is simply by rote: an auto-pilot imitation of an existing template.”

Kessler advises that organizations steer clear of an approach often taken by marketers — that every piece of content will do every job — because that scattered focus never works. Instead, he recommends that organizations embrace a mix or “portfolio” of content that works together to move prospects towards a purchase.

Related Article: In Defense of Content Marketing

3 Questions to Use When Content Brainstorming

As part of the initial process of brainstorming a piece of content, whether working with an internal content team or in partnership with a third-party creator, make sure that you can succinctly answer three key questions:

  • What is the primary purpose of this content?
  • Who is the potential audience for this content?
  • What one action do I want consumers of this content to take?

By identifying a single purpose, a likely audience, and a single action for your content, you are putting some guardrails in place around what you’re creating to ensure a clear focus. Often, organizations may get caught up in trying to define multiple goals, several audiences, and a range of desired customer actions. You then run the risk of creating content that is unappealing to read because it’s overly vague, contains diluted messaging and unclear takeaways for your audience.

“Creating content without predefined goals is like walking through the forest without a compass and map,” said independent marketing consultant Dennis Shiao. “You won’t know where you’re going and will end up wandering aimlessly. Or worse, you’ll hike right into danger: right off a cliff or right into a pack of wild animals. Every piece of content should be created with specific goals in mind.”

Related Article: Is Your Business Producing Wasted Content?

How to Decide on a Purpose for Your Content

So, which types of purposeful content should organizations be considering when embarking on content development?

“The first place I tell clients to start with content is where it hurts the most,” Johnson said. “Maybe your company has a painful onboarding process. Look at content that you can create to make the process more fun — even enjoyable — for everyone. Do you have huge customer churn? Then maybe your demand gen campaigns are promising something that you can’t actually deliver. Or, maybe you’re ignoring your customers as soon as they walk through the door.”

If there are no obvious customer pain points, but your organization is still not getting the results you want from your content, Johnson suggests mapping out the customer journey and making a list of your content and where it fits within that journey.

“When companies do this, they generally see that 80 to 90% of their content focuses just on products (bottom of the funnel) and they’ve done nothing to help prospects understand if they even have a problem, or what problem they have (top of the funnel),” Johnson said. “It’s all product focused, and there’s nothing that lets customers know that they understand their problem. Start creating content that answers people’s questions earlier in their customer journey, and you’ll see greater success from less content.”

Velocity’s Kessler agrees with Johnson. “My favorite kind of content is the brand-level stuff that has one job and one job only: to celebrate a belief that the company holds dear,” he said. “If you take the burden of lead gen off of some of your content, it can soar to new places.”

It’s vital that organizations deliver purposeful content which their customers truly want, rather than assuming customers have a need for a thought leadership white paper or an industry research report. Shiao encourages organizations to actively engage with customers to determine exactly what they’re looking for in types of purposeful content.

“Send online surveys to customers, get them on the phone and invite them to coffee or lunch,” he said. “Ask them about their business challenges, as well as their preferences for content formats and content experiences. Then go build what they want.”

In deciding upon a primary purpose for a piece of content, think about the main reason why you want to communicate this content to prospects or customers. Next, come up with the potential audience for the content. Then, consider why your audience would want to read, view, or listen to this particular piece of content.

Related Article: Use Purpose-Driven Content to Drive Buyer Experiences

Combine Content Category, Purpose, Audience and Action

As you define the main activity you’d like prospects or customers to take after consuming your content, put yourself firmly in their shoes. You’ve already defined the audience for the piece of content, now consider where they are in the buyer’s journey and how your content can best meet their needs.

For example, think about potential buyers, midway through product evaluations, who are keen to finalize a shortlist of offerings which would be the best fit for their particular organization. One way to lead them to prioritize your product over that of your rivals are customer stories which focus specifically on how customers have benefited through deploying your technology.

Here are some suggestions for how your organization might think about creating purposeful content by agreeing on a category, a purpose, the potential audience, and a customer action. 

Content Category: Advocacy

  • Purpose: To take a stand on a current or emerging technology, work or social issue.
  • Audience: Buyers who have no knowledge of your organization and your products.
  • Customer Action: Use the content as their introduction to a potential partner who shares their values and that they can feel good about working with in future.

Content Category: Differentiation

  • Purpose: To positively position a key element of why your product or service will be more beneficial to customers than the alternatives provided by your competition.
  • Audience: Buyers are researching a potential purchase, who are new to your product.
  • Customer Action: Use the content as evidence internally for why they should start evaluating your product.

Content Category: Awareness

  • Purpose: To demonstrate that your organization is already an innovator in a particular technology or has plans to move in that direction.
  • Audience: Existing customers who are approaching contract renewal.
  • Customer Action: Use the content to help counter internal objections about your organization’s perceived lack of innovation, which may work against a renewal.

You can see from these suggestions that different content formats lend themselves well to each category. For example, advocacy content could appear on your own organization’s website as a blog or a video or a podcast — or in all three formats — and/or as an opinion piece on a third-party website.

With any piece of previously created content, always think about how you might be able to repurpose and keep that content current across a variety of formats as well as tailoring and personalizing it to appeal to a different audience than its original target.

Related Article: 5 Ways to Stand Out in a Sea of Content

Use Purposeful Content to Make a Real Connection with Customers

It’s important that organizations agree on specific quantitative metrics to measure content success. “The reason for goals is clear: not only do they give teams the ability to assess the results and impact of the content, it helps inform future content strategy,” Shiao said. “If a content asset surpassed goals by 250%, determine what made it such a success and do more of that in the future.”

At the same time, content quality should be paramount. “Organizations create content without goals when they act in a ‘get it out the door’ mentality,” Shiao said. “The root cause is an environment in which the team is measured on quantity over quality, e.g., publish two blog posts per day over the next three months.”

Content, which is well-constructed around a single purpose, with one defined audience and an expected customer action outcome, has a key role to play in helping to facilitate customer acquisition and retention as well as lay the groundwork for cross-selling and upselling.

Related Article: Why Customer Experience Is Everything