In the previous post, The One Stop, Five Step, Quick Start Content Marketing Plan, I wrote about the five steps involved in creating a basic content marketing plan. Now, let’s go in-depth on the first step — Identify the Action You Seek. While this step is obviously about goal setting, I avoid that term in favor of using language that focuses on action. Otherwise, it’s too easy to conceive goals in a vague, often immeasurable way.
State Content Marketing Goals in Terms of Action
Ask a business owner what their goals for content marketing are and they are likely to say something general like, “to get more customers”. While that’s obviously the goal for the long term, it’s not particularly useful in this case because it will be difficult to measure whether or not their marketing activities are successful. Even if the business gets more customers, how will they know that the increase was a result of content marketing? It could have been the result something else altogether. Perhaps a competitor went out of business, or new construction brought more street traffic to the area, or a cold snap encouraged people to visit their sweater shop.
If you are specific in stating your goal for your content marketing and, if you assess that goal against verifiable measurement indicators, it will be far easier to learn what you did right in your content marketing, as well as what you need to improve.
The Sales Funnel
Effective goal setting is closely related to the “sales funnel” of a given business. This is the process of moving a prospective customer through several stages of involvement with a business, ultimately (if all goes well) ending with that prospect becoming a customer. Names for each stage of the funnel vary by industry, but generally there are five stages that are expressed in terms of audience segments or marketer actions. I prefer the following scheme, in which each stage of the funnel is labeled in terms of the stages of a content marketing plan.
- Attraction (at the wide top of the funnel)
- Engagement (second ring, a little down from the top)
- Nurturing (third ring, just at the top of the funnel’s bottom spout)
- Selling (fourth ring, almost to the end of the funnel)
- Delivering (the tip of the funnel, where a business delivers a product or service)
The Attraction Stage
You should have a goal for each stage of the funnel. Take the example of an architect who designs homes in an upscale area near Atlanta. His firm can design about 15 homes per year and, since he now has 10 clients, his overall goal is to get 5 more clients to sign contracts within the next year. In this case, his goal for the “Attract” stage might be: “Capture the attention of at least 300 people interested in architecture and home building who live in the Atlanta area and do so by the end of FY 2015.” He chose the 300 number because he knows he must attract many people if, in the end, he is to have at least 5 qualified customers.
The next step, then, is for the architect to create quality content about building ideas, architecture styles, luxury materials, decorating and other topics that are likely to attract people interested in building a new house. Because his homes are located in an upscale community, the architect decides to focus on the luxury market, thereby further defining his target audience in terms of income, not just geographic area. Being this specific helps him develop content that is more likely to appeal to his target audience.
The Engagement Stage
Let’s say this strategy works and 300+ visitors are attracted to the architect’s website. They view his portfolio and read some articles. Some click on a link to go to the firm’s YouTube channel to watch a video of a house being built. Some comment on the articles and a few request more information via a site link. Those visitors who clicked, commented or requested information are now in the second stage of the funnel. They are engaged. Using Google Analytics, the architect can see how many people clicked and commented on the website. He can capture the email addresses of all those people who requested more information and put them into a special email list for follow up.
The Nurturing Stage and Beyond
Now the architect needs to write an action goal for the Nurture stage of the funnel. Those who require nurturing are the people on the email list, so at this point content marketing efforts toward that group move to an email platform. Email is great for this group because it can be customized for each individual prospect. It allows the architect to develop a deeper relationship with those prospects who show the most promise of becoming clients.
Thus, a goal for this stage might be “Succeed in getting at least 50 people to participate in a contest or attend an evening seminar at our office.” The content offered to this group via email then seeks to draw each person further along the sales funnel. It could take the form of a poll or contest designed to elicit additional information about each prospect’s needs and wants. The firm might offer a free eBook called “How to Work Well with Your Architect” or invite recipients to come to the firm’s office for a free seminar.
If the architect succeeds in meeting the Nurturing goal, the next phase will be to develop a goal for the Selling stage, and so on, through to the end of the funnel, which is when people sign a contract for a new home and the architect delivers his services.
Assessment Guides Future Content Development
While all of this is going on, the architect continues work at the top of the funnel — using content marketing to attract more prospects to the website, to measure those results with a reliable analytics program and identify prospects as they move into later sales stages. The architect will also need to review the analytics to determine which pieces of content were most effective in moving prospects through the funnel. This information will guide content development activities in the future.
Not surprisingly, managing an actual content marketing plan is seldom this straightforward. Expect bumps in the road and missed opportunities along the way, particularly if you are trying to execute content marketing while also running your business. There is the option of retaining a professional company to handle content marketing for you. But whether you do it yourself or hire an expert, it is useful for business owners to have a basic understanding of content marketing. This relatively new form of marketing has many advantages in that it is cost-effective, measurable and, most importantly, gets results.