Originally published December 5, 2013 on the Content Marketing Institute blog here.
How to Convert Content Marketing to Revenue – The 7 Pieces of the Puzzle
It’s not easy to convert content marketing to revenue. According to the B2B (North America) Content Marketing 2016 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends survey published by CMI, 88% of B2B marketers are using content marketing (down from 93% in 2014) and only 6% consider their efforts as “very effective” (down from 9% in 2014). Although we are not sure what the term “very effective” means to those responding, it is safe to assume that revenue generation influences whether or not the effort is effective at some level. In the B2B world of marketing, if our content and associated content marketing efforts are not generating revenue, then we should fix it or stop the effort altogether so budget and resources can be diverted to those tactics that are generating revenue.
The framework I am presenting is highly effective and measurable. I present the solution to converting content to revenue as 7 pieces of a puzzle rather than a linear series of steps because the process is best viewed in a linear fashion, but not necessarily executed in a linear fashion. If you put together each piece of the puzzle with the whole in mind, you will generate revenue with your content. I have employed this framework at a global electronics manufacturing company resulting in growth rates of 20% to 30%. It works. For every piece of content you intend to create, you should visualize how it will churn through the 7 Pieces and out the revenue end.
Caveat: Basic Content Marketing 101 presumes you are creating content that is relevant and useful to your target audience so they can do their jobs better because of the content your organization is providing. This 7 Piece framework works based on this premise. If you produce a bunch of content masquerading as education, for example, that is really a product promotion, it won’t work. To put it bluntly, if your content is crap, this process will not work.
Puzzle Piece 1 – The Fundamentals. As mentioned above, this won’t work without effective content, an effective creation process or having the tools necessary for distribution and measurement. The first fundamental task is creating effective content. It’s not all that easy as we see with only ‘9% very effective’ CMI survey result. Those companies who excel at content marketing that generates revenue have worked hard to gain executive sponsorship, a ‘content’ based culture in the sales and marketing organizations, and resources supporting a content marketing strategy.
The second critical fundamental piece that must be in place before this process is effective is a proper marketing plan. Make sure you have written a proper marketing plan for your business before proceeding. Every step in this process requires that you have a thorough understanding of your business and the target market. There is a lot of information available about how to create effective content as well as an effective supporting environment. A great place to start is on the CMI website.
The third critical fundamental piece is a proper toolset. You will need to have the following apparatus in place for this process to work efficiently and effectively:
From this point on, I’ll assume you have a good content creation machine in place, a written marketing plan, and a robust toolset in place. Now you and are ready to move on to the next piece.
Puzzle Piece 2 – Distribute and Make it Find-able. Content will not significantly drive revenue by just sitting on your website. I suspect many of those companies who deem their content marketing efforts less than very effective are creating good content, but only parking it on their website hoping for improved SEO. Don’t get me wrong, good content parked on the website will improve SEO, but it is not enough by itself to measurably affect revenue.
Content distribution must be integral to your marketing strategy and tactics. The content you create must be used extensively with both outbound and inbound tactics. Your outbound ads must promote the content and your inbound tactics like pay per click (ppc) must promote the content. Stop promoting your products! Instead, promote your content! Promoting content is a far better way to engage with your target audience than telling them about your product or service. Sorry, but it’s true, your audience perceives your product or service as a commodity. The sooner you embrace that idea, the sooner you can start generating 20% and 30% growth rates. Offer your content via all outbound channels where your target audience congregates; emails, print ads, email ads, digital ads, direct mail, social media, etc. Inbound SEM ads should also promote the content. This idea of promoting content in place of product is sometimes hard for the organization to understand. You are likely to get strong pushback at this point. This is where the preparation of your organization comes into play. You must have strong executive support and a content marketing culture or at least a strong understanding in place. Otherwise, your product managers and sales people will freak out and possibly hinder your content marketing strategy. They may even force you back to a product based strategy and back to those dismal growth numbers of 1% to 5%.
Puzzle Piece 3 – The Conversion Point (landing page). It is imperative that all outbound and inbound activities drive to a custom landing page. DO NOT send them to a regular web page! Even more importantly, DO NOT send them to your home page! Once they take the action step (click or typed URL), they should be directed to a custom designed landing page. The landing page must be designed specifically around the offer of the content. If you send them to one of your regular web pages, you lose, especially if you send them to a product page. The more relevant you can make the landing page, the better chance you will have at earning their engagement.
You’ll have to make some decisions about how they acquire the content once they are on the landing page. Will you gate it or offer it with just a click? The harder it is to get the content, they higher will be your abandonment rate. Conversely, the easier it is, the more broad your reach. I love to give away content for free without any strings attached because it gets wider exposure and still builds awareness and credibility within your target audience. The three components of your landing page are:
Remember, your outbound ads and your ppc ads should both drive to the landing page. Do not fill the landing page with product based information. The last thing you want is for your visitor to feel like they were victim to a bait and switch tactic tricking them by offering valuable information, but directing them to a product page.
Puzzle Piece 4 – The Call to Action Step. Although the CTA is integrated to Piece 3, it is important enough to merit its own section. This is where the quality of your content matters. If you have created something that is of interest to your target audience, they will take an action to learn more. You have to tell them what you want them to do!! In the digital realm, it usually involves a click. Again, you have to tell them to “click here to get the paper” or “Register here” for example. Don’t leave it up to the reader to figure out what they’re supposed to do. If it isn’t really easy, you might lose them. If you don’t make it clear about what you are offering and how to get it, you’ll lose a great deal of effectiveness.
Puzzle Piece 5 – Qualification. At this point, a person from your target audience has clicked or responded to the CTA in your ad, arrived at your custom landing page, has been delighted to easily obtain a useful and helpful piece of content, put your brand top of their mind, associated value with your brand and associated your company with a particular offering. Additionally, they may have explored your website, shared the content via their social media channels, forwarded the email or even requested a contact action from your sales team. At this point, it is important to decide what happens next. Are they a marketing qualified lead (MQL) that is sent over to the sales team for direct action? Are they sent to a nurturing program? Are they left alone until they see your next great piece of content? Each of these choices are valid actions and will depend on your particular business practices.
Regardless of your business practice, you must consciously decide what happens next. Your work as a modern marketer is not over at the point of click or the download. Assuming you are fishing in the pond where your target audience resides, I suggest only two options: pass them to sales as a MQL or send them to a nurturing program. This is where your marketing automation platform is a critical component of the content to conversion process. Throughout the nurturing process, your contacts will be receiving more great useful information (content) and getting to know your company and the associated offering through regular website visits. As they visit and interact with the content, you should be measuring that activity ideally with some type of lead scoring program.
Success of the qualification step depends on close alignment with the sales team. You should have an agreement in place specifying the point at which any of these contacts should be considered ready for a call. Your decision may be to just let the contacts decide for themselves when to proactively reach out to your sales team.
Puzzle Piece 6 – Pass the Contact Information to the Sales Pipeline. If your content is educational and you’ve complied with all the best practices of offers, ppc, landing page, etc., you’ll be flooding the top of the funnel and the sales team with qualified leads as well as filling the nurturing funnel with tons of future buyers. I would like to re-emphasize the importance of collaborating with sales on each campaign. They need to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening as the leads start flowing into their in-boxes. Those contacts that do not qualify are sent to a content based nurturing program. While in the nurturing program (where you offer them even more great content you’ve created) they are engaging more deeply with your company and its value proposition. As they engage, you are increasing awareness and credibility in their minds. When the day comes around and they finally are ready to buy what you offer, your firm gets the call because of this awareness and the credibility you have achieved.
Step 7 – The Purchase – The final step is, of course, the purchase and, hopefully, many future purchases. After the contact is passed along to the sales funnel, content can be used to move them along in their decision process towards a positive outcome for your firm. Sales people should be trained how to use your ‘later funnel stage’ content to help close more deals. Late stage content is where you talk about your products, case studies, application notes, etc.
Keep in mind these seven pieces of the puzzle for each and every piece of content you create. You should never create content without having a plan for conversion clearly specified. Effective content marketing is heavily interwoven with the marketing strategy and tactics as well as the sales process. Cultivating your target audience so they become life-long customers is all about engagement. You want them to place your brand and associated offering top of mind and with a great deal of credibility. If you are able to achieve this position in their minds, when the day comes around and they are ready to purchase the thing you are offering, your firm gets the call. Competitors who are not using this type of framework may get a call, but they will have minimal credibility and only be used for a price comparison. This 7 Piece framework makes your firm the winner of market share and accelerated revenue growth rates.