Special Report - Inbound Marketing: The 4 Stages of Engagement
There is no debate: Relevant, meaningful, authentic content is the key to inbound marketing. It's paramount to attracting customers to your brand and keeping them engaged; especially when they're out of their normal buying cycles. It's a means of building loyal relationships that last. The problem is, one-size-fits-all content won't work throughout that lifecycle. Your content must be tailored to your customers at each stage of their journeys and kept current to maintain their interest.
IMN's second annual content marketing survey found the most effective content marketing vehicles (for marketers across industries and company sizes) to-date have been social media (51 percent), website (44 percent), email blasts (42 percent) and newsletters (42 percent).
The typical sales funnel reflects the stages of engagement—from awareness and consideration to decision and purchase. At each of those stages, the content that engages customers/prospects and the content delivery methods (including social, mobile and email) are often very different. One of the best ways to develop a sustainable content marketing program leveraging the right content at the right time is to use digital behavioral cues that enable marketers to match communications to the buying cycle—not only identifying shoppers who are in the decision-making process, but also finding creative ways to continue the conversation post-purchase.
Let's dive into the four stages of customer engagement—awareness, consideration, decision-making/purchase and post-purchase—and take a look at how marketers should leverage content to engage with customers and prospects at each stage.
This is the very top of the marketing funnel, where you're casting the widest net possible. Anybody is a marketing prospect at this point, so you're attempting to reach anyone with broad, universally appealing editorial content, videos, podcasts or other content types. It's more about volume than it is about laser-focus, so it's particularly important to have a solid editorial calendar that helps you lay out the roadmap for producing this kind of content.
Answer the question: "Why should I care?"
Middle-of-the-funnel content is more difficult to think about and to build into specific layers. But at the "consideration" stage, a specific offer probably isn't swaying potential customers' decisions one way or another. It's a time when they're weighing the differences in all of their options, so things like product comparisons are critical. What are the five things that make your products and services stand out over your competitors? Can you build that into some kind of an easy-to-remember infographic?
Answer the question: "Why should I buy?"
3. Decision-Making and Purchase
Now you're getting to the point where offers and follow-up start making a whole lot more sense. You've interested your prospect, and now it's time to nurture that interest with rich content that answers very specific questions. For example, if you run a pool and spa store in New England, now is the time to start layering in content about why it's important to have your pool serviced prior to Memorial Day, and bolster that content with a specific offer for a service.
Answer the question: "Why should I buy now?"
This is often the most challenging part of the content funnel: Identifying the types of content relevant to customers six to nine months post-purchase, when they may not be in the market for products or services, but you want content to keep them engaged with you.
At this stage, marketers can use newsletter content on general interest topics (such as recipes, workout tips and lifestyle articles) that a customer who isn't in the market for a product or service would be interested in reading. If customers receive a newsletter with a regular cadence and don't feel like they are inundated with marketing messages when they open it, they will be more likely to read it and stay engaged with the brand, even between purchases.
Additionally, trigger-based promotions with a call to action—timed to key events in the customer lifecycle, or to the change in seasons, to re-ignite a customer or prospects interest in and need for the brand's product or service—can be very effective at this stage.
Answer the question: "What next?"
Although content marketing programs that take each customer and prospect into consideration are the most successful, resources don't always allow them to be carried out in this fashion. According to the results of IMN's second annual content marketing survey, content marketing is a priority for marketers, but the marketing budget that is being allocated to it does not necessarily reflect its importance. Content marketing was a medium or high priority for 90 percent of respondents, but for nearly half of respondents (46 percent) it represented less than 10 percent of the marketing budget.
As more budget is allocated for content marketing programs, marketers will have adequate resources to develop content that they will be proud of (only 27 percent of survey respondents stated that the content their company distributes establishes them as a thought leader). This will allow marketers to put channel-specific strategies in place and utilize basic program tools, such as editorial calendars, to guide content topics and creation responsibilities.
Craig Fitzgerald is editorial director of Waltham, Mass.-based content marketing solutions provider IMN. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.