They say if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, and it’s as true of blogging as of everything else. So if you’re blogging regularly but getting little or no response, or people are unsubscribing from your list, it would be worth looking in detail at how you plan your content marketing.
There are two elements to planning content marketing:
- what you want to achieve from it
- who you’re aiming it at
You need to be clear on both before you even open that new Word page and start writing.
What do you want to achieve?
Let’s take them one by one. Firstly, what do you want your content to achieve?
Your readers may be at any point in the sales funnel, from “getting to know you” at the top to “I want it now” at the tip. Your content can only address them at one stage, so decide which you’re targeting before you start.
Targeting is where content calendars come in useful. They help you plan what sort of content you’ll write when, and, if you have a team of writers, who’ll write it. If you’re a solopreneur or freelancer you can use your calendar to see where you might like input from a guest blogger.
There are free content management calendars all over the internet. Many of them are designed for large teams, so take a good look before you download – there’s only so much wall you want to cover!
A calendar is only worth as much as what’s written on it, of course. This is where the various stages of the buying funnel come into their own, in helping you decide what content to post.
Most of your output should be for the people right at the rim of the funnel, who aren’t yet clued up about you. It should explain how your product or service can help them: save them time, money, hassle or all three. You’re creating a need, a desire, in your readers. They may never have heard of your product or service; it’s your job to make them want it real bad.
A lot of business writers are very factual about their products but it’s worth remembering that at least 80% of purchases are made with the heart, not the head. Logic is normally brought in to justify a decision that’s already been made.
Part of the “heart” side of the equation is you: your business, your personality, your brand. Nobody buys Nike or Adidas trainers just because they need trainers; there are plenty of cheaper alternatives that do the job equally well. It’s all image – smoke and mirrors – but by golly it’s profitable.
Your story is another emotional element: how your business started, why it turned out the way it is, what your guiding philosophy or idea is (think Costa Coffee’s Italian theme, Body Shop’s early recycling/organic philosophy). You don’t need a tear-jerker – in fact you’re better off avoiding those unless you’re a charity – but you do need a story that people can relate to.
If you can’t write a story so that it touches your reader’s emotions, find a writer who can. It will pay you!
The most effective emotional buttons are, in no particular order:
- fear of missing out
- wanting to be popular/respected
- keeping up with the Joneses… yet still wanting to be unique
- worry about the future, especially if it involves money, old age or children
- amusement (but humour needs a very delicate touch – irony, for example, is very often misunderstood)
- lack of time and/or money
- too much hassle/not enough sleep
- wanting to be fitter/slimmer/healthier
- avoiding stuff we don’t like (visiting the dentist…)
- being happy
In other words, you’ve plenty of choice!
How do you press these emotional buy-buttons? Very gently. With information, not a sales pitch (that comes later). At this point, as I said, you’re just creating need and making your product look like the answer to prayer.
Baiting the hook
The second stage, which obviously needs a different tone and approach, is more educational. Now you’re talking to people who know they need a product or service similar to what you offer, and who probably know you exist. Yours may be only one of several solutions they’re investigating, so you need to give them details.
You still need emotion in your posts, because the decision to buy from you hasn’t yet been made, and may not be if you don’t bait the hook and give them a good emotional reason to come to you.
Further down the funnel, your reader has finished their research into the available solutions to their problem. Now it’s a question of who they buy from, so you can get less educational and let a bit of real promotional talk come through. This is where your special offers come in, and anything else that differentiates your product from your competitors’.
USP: Ultra Special Product
So what does make your product stand out from everyone else’s?
Why should people buy from you rather than from your competitors?
It’s dispiriting how often I get a puzzled “I don’t really know” from clients in response to these questions. If you don’t know, how on earth can you expect your prospects to? If you don’t know, what gets you out of bed in the morning?
If you don’t know, find out. Before you write another word.
It’s the difference between getting rich and going bust.
Who’s your friend?
As I said at the beginning, sorting out what you’re going to write and when is only half the battle. The other vital element is knowing who you’re writing to. Who is your perfect customer?
Have you ever sat down and visualised them? Do you know which of the emotions above will work for them? What keeps them awake o’ nights? What makes them buy a product or service like yours? If you don’t know, you could be aiming at entirely the wrong target or using a scattergun instead of a rifle, if you’ll excuse the analogy.
And that’s a total waste of your time, money and effort.
Back to the drawing board
If you’re unsure who your audience are, take some time before the New Year to sit down with a pencil and pad and make a list. Make a drawing, if you’re gifted that way. At least picture them in your head. (Do this before you plan your content!)
What age are your ideal clients? What sort of house do they live in, and where? What car do they drive? What are their hobbies? Do they have kids? Aged parents? Are they dressy or scruffy? Larks or owls? Analytical or empathetic? Which social media platform do they mainly use? Where will they read your words of wisdom, and where might they share them? … And any other questions that might be specific to what you sell.
There isn’t space here to discuss what different age groups prefer to read, where and when they do that and how it makes a difference to your marketing, but I’ll be covering it in a future blog. It does matter, though, so it’s worth taking the time to do the exercise.
It may be that your product or service is applicable to a wide range of ages and lifestyles (think B&Q or supermarkets). If so, do the exercise for different age groups. If you run Tesco, for example, you might compare and contrast the needs and habits of schoolkids, students and young singles, young families, and so on.
You’d also think about Tesco in relation to Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl and your other competitors, and that’s another exercise that’s worth doing over the holiday. What differentiates you from your competitors? Why do people buy from you rather than them, or vice-versa? What opportunities and threats does that create? (Yup, a good old-fashioned SWOT analysis.)
An alternative to trying to work it all out yourself is to ask your colleagues (if you have them). Better still, do a survey with your customers, either by email or in person. Your response rate may not be very high (it will rise if you offer an incentive!) but the answers should at least be accurate. You won’t be able to ask some of the more personal questions, so you’ll still have to use your imagination/experience for them.
Planning your content marketing needn’t be a chore; in fact it can be fun, especially if several of you get together to do it. And if you want to get a worthwhile return on your investment of time and effort in content marketing, it needs doing (as does the back-end work: the promoting – but that’s another story).
I hope you’ll come to love it and I look forward to hearing your results through next year. Please comment below or email me (see side panel).
Inspiration for this post came from