One of the most disorienting questions I get as a proponent of Content Marketing is this: “How do we know when we have the content we need?”
Why this question is disorienting should be obvious enough after a moment’s reflection, but it’s one I get fairly regularly. One might expect eventually to be “finished” creating marketing content if markets, products, buyer behavior, competitors, media, technology, social context or anything else that touches a business every day ever stopped evolving.
But of course, none of those things is ever static. There will always another question to answer, another objection to handle, another upheaval along the complicated road your customer travels before adopting your product.
The question beneath the question really is a rational one, however. The marketer really is looking for a way to prioritize, and to find a sense of equilibrium. He or she is really saying, “Look, we recognize that Content Marketing is a big commitment, and we just need a way to measure progress, and to know that there’s a ‘right’ way to do this.”
Actually, there is a way. Odds are that the organization’s marketing team already has a rather detailed roadmap that can give a discerning content marketer a clear and explicit picture of what content is needed to meet the company’s revenue objectives. It’s called the Customer Journey Map (or perhaps the Customer Experience Map).
The term “Customer Journey” has been gaining popularity over the last decade, as a way to capture the insight that your customer’s relationship with whatever it is that you sell is rarely love at first sight. This is especially true if your product is conceptual, digital, connected to the Web, or if it costs more than $100 or has more than half a dozen moving parts.
Your buyer travels a long and winding road to adoption, from recognition of a problem that needs solving (or simply an itch to own a widget like yours) to researching a solution, discovering that your product exists, sizing up its attributes, overcoming doubt, calming the naysayers who may have a stake in the decision, securing the funds, and ultimately getting to “Yes.”
Actually, from your perspective, the individual who buys your product still has a lengthy journey ahead. You’re looking for relationships that generate recurring revenue – follow-on sales, maintenance fees, upgrades, repeat purchases and the like. So the journey extends through the post-sale support phase as well.
It Probably Looks…Like a Map
It is likely that the Product Marketing or Product Management function took the lead in developing this map, as a way of understanding and gaining control over the customer experience. In flat organizations, Customer Journey Mapping may draw in quite senior executives, and probably involved direct input from customers as well. The product of this intensive introspection may take a variety of forms, including something that looks, quite literally, like a map. It may have features that remind you of a game.
I’ll provide some links below to articles that explain the Journey Mapping process in depth – it’s out of scope for this post. For now, I’ll note simply that it includes an effort to understand the buyers of your products as character stereotypes, called personas. It is useful to scope the exercise by limiting these personas to a small set, and classifying them by various demographic and psychographic characteristics.
The customer personas become characters in the linear narrative that plays out across your map, which is designed to capture the complex series of milestones each individual reaches on the way to becoming your customer. The traveler will experience an array of emotions along the way; sales people typically talk about “pain points,” and certainly discomfort gives rise to need. You hope to create elation at the discovery of your solution, but commitment to it will be punctuated by moments of skepticism, conflict and fear of making an expensive error, all of which must be anticipated and dealt with.
The Journey Map charts these emotional ups and downs, associating them with events in the sales cycle – some of which you can control and some you can’t. Also clearly visible on the map are your organization’s “touch points” – the actors on your side who interact with the customer and influence his or her decision. Over a sales cycle that may be months or even years long, there may be a number of touch points: Your advertising, your trade show staff, industry analysts or current reference customers of yours who know your product’s strengths and weaknesses, your inbound marketing team and inside sales force, the people who manage your social media presence, account executives, and eventually (you hope) post-sales support staff.
Moments of Truth
The Journey Map gives you a tool to understand what happens at each moment and each touch point, typically including certain “Moments of Truth” at which the buyer (and other stakeholders in the purchase decision, including supporters and potential naysayers) face complex and potentially make-or-break decisions. Having the map allows your product management and sales organizations to analyze how their touch points handle each of these predictable moments, to provide the best possible customer experience within the available budget, and maximize the likelihood of closing sales.
What does this war room exercise have to do with your role in content marketing?
Let’s return to the original question: What content do we need? Now think about what you can learn from the map. Over the time sequence that it represents, you can clearly see the points when and where the customer is going to lose her way and grasp for expert help. No doubt, you already know that content marketing includes the development of materials that help potential buyers to recognize the problem your product was designed to solve, understand the range of possible solutions available, and frame your offering in the best possible position among competing alternatives. But there are other times and places in the Customer Journey where your touch points have opportunities to influence the buyer’s decision-making.
At every moment of contact between the buyer and your touch points, there is an occasion to discover and list the issues and questions with which the buyer is grappling. Usually, the map will literally list those questions (sometimes in a table in a document, sometimes on a color-coded sticky note on a wall – there are many mapping techniques and styles).
Voila! Each question, at each point of contact on the map, is a clear indication that some type of content would be a valuable asset. Is there a complex technical issue the buyer will have to resolve for a stakeholder in her engineering department to get the OK to proceed? That’s a clear indication for a technical white paper or video – not only do you know it would have value, but you also know when in the sales cycle to introduce it, and through what touch points.
Is this the point where a buyer of this persona is experiencing uncertainty because of inevitable competitive noise? Now is the time to introduce a customer case study telling a success story involving a similar buyer with a related problem for which your product was the solution – or a reprint of an analyst report with your product in the “leader’s quadrant” for its category.
Many companies have undergone a Customer Experience or Customer Journey Mapping process and, ideally, are continuously updating and revising their maps. It doesn’t automatically follow that your content marketing team participated; you may not even know your company has such a map. It’s worth your while to find out. The place to look first is in Product Marketing or Product Management.
What you want from the custodians of the Journey Map is the opportunity to use it to build a catalog of must-have content. Bear in mind that some elements of your content inventory will be relatively durable – white papers, testimonial videos, case studies and certain kinds of infographics. Some of the needs you discover will be relatively ephemeral. Most of your social media elements will have this character – not a document to be written, but a series of posts in a blog or in social networks, each of which has a rhetorical lifespan measured in weeks, days, even hours in the case of a tweet.
The Journey Map will give you indications not only of what you should be building, but when it will be needed, by whom, for which buyer personas.
You also want to establish a relationship with the product team that brings content marketing into an active role in the process of updating, clarifying and enriching the map going forward. If your company’s Journey Map now lists the questions that arise at each point in the journey, it also should list the content you have or will generate to answer those questions.
Here are some resources to bring you up to speed on Journey Mapping, if you haven’t been involved before:
- “Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience” – Adam Richardson, Harvard Business Review
- “How To Map Your Customer Experience Journeys” – David Kay, DB Kay & Associates
- “Customer Interaction Maps: Plotting the Customer’s Journey” – Jeff Olsen, Allegiance Blog (Allegiance Software, Inc.)
A search will turn up dozens of other resources on Journey Mapping.
If your organization has never undergone a Journey Mapping process, Peter Dorfman Creative Services can facilitate a discussion to get that effort rolling. For more information on planning a Journey Mapping Workshop, contact Peter Dorfman.