Out of school I went into marketing, but not the type of marketing we see today in B2B environments.
The day-to-day goal was to launch a campaign and drive a ton of engagement. Makes sense, right? Simply come up with a creative campaign and get people to engage. If they did en masse, I succeeded – plain and simple. Then it was on to the next campaign with little regard for where we left off.
Today, with models like the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall, we’ve learned the importance of a path (or journey, as I prefer to think about it). We all have come to understand the importance of a journey through emails where we carefully use tools like Marketo, Eloqua, HubSpot, and others to orchestrate a well-nurtured journey.
That thinking has come a long way. For example, a couple years ago, I test drove a car – the next day: nothing. The week after: nada, silence. Recently, I test drove a Tesla (no, I’m not in the market for one – I wish!). All of a sudden, I’m on a journey fueled by well-thought-out emails that have nurtured me and kept me intrigued.
Yay – we’re evolving! As marketers, we’ve started to note the importance of the experience and are learning about the value of a continued journey through mediums like email.
Well, it’s time we get there with content, too. More on that shortly, but let me really drive home the importance of a journey with some less modern-marketing-minded examples of how we’ve evolved.
How we watch TV
The obvious one talked about so much these days is the evolution of TV thanks to the genius of Netflix.
The dead end: Back in the day (well actually, still the present for normal cable TV) when I was done watching a show, it was simply over – no recommendation of more content, no altered path. I’d simply wait for the credits to finish, sit through a few commercials, and maybe refrain from flipping the channel. At best, they’d tell me what’s coming next week – you know that line: “Stay tuned for scenes from our next episode!” Next week? I’m focused on next minute!
The ongoing journey: Ahh, Netflix – within seconds of finishing an episode or movie, a little box tells me the next piece is there for me and will load in seconds. If I’m not ready to binge on that, I can exit to the Netflix home screen and see other content that is recommended just for me. Pretty slick, huh? Or is it just pretty obvious?
How we play games
Here’s another one to think about: the evolution of the end of a video game.
The dead end: Remember what used to happen at the end of a game of Pac-Man, Mario Bros, or Blades of Steel? Pretty sure it was a button called “Exit” or “Game Over”. We were basically being told it’s a good time to go do something else (considering the hours that I could waste playing one video game, maybe this wasn’t such a bad suggestion).
The ongoing journey: The end of a video game today has virtually gone away. Those who’ve played Candy Crush, Heads Up, or whatever else is trending know there’s always an opportunity to “Try Again” or go back a level and try later. We are even sometimes enticed to go so far as purchasing credits to continue playing.
How we (should) consume content
This concept of an ongoing journey that leads us to a purchase or conversion is what we need to think about as content marketers. The good news is that the technology out there and the framework of the Internet has made this very feasible.
Today, each content asset we have online is typically powered by a simple URL structure – i.e., a cloud-based experience. Our videos, blog posts, infographics, podcasts, and even white papers can all live online on our own websites. (Not going to explain how that’s possible, but feel free to check out Uberflip to see how.) The fact that all of these assets live online as URLs means we should be able to create a path from one piece of content to another regardless of asset type.
Despite this ability, what we often see online is a “dead end” or what I like to call the “silo-ification of content” by format.
The content dead end
There a few common mistakes marketers seem to make that lead their audiences to a dead end (or an outcome which no longer involves their own content). I wrote a post a couple years ago called 'Why Do We Send Our Inbound Leads Outbound?', where I take a deep dive into how marketers are so quick to send people to find content on channels like YouTube.
The problem with YouTube is that it’s pretty much worse than a dead end – it’s a long tunnel towards obscurity. YouTube is about ongoing engagement, but in the interest of serving ads through more content – not in converting along your path. A recent guest on my podcast, Content Pros, talked about how a “great conversion rate” on YouTube is around a lousy 0.2%.
YouTube isn’t the only dead-end creator; other formats and channels of content suffer from similar challenges to create a path. Take the good old PDF as a prime example. Remember, our goal with content needs to be that after someone enjoys a great piece, they can jump to another. The problem with PDFs – which are still used in so many assets like eBooks, white papers, how-to guides, and the odd infographic – is that they are offline assets. Although they are downloaded via a URL, and in many cases are viewed inside our browser, there is no easy way to serve up a continued path, such as recommended content or a call-to-action, after the engagement.
Without that continued journey, our audience likely closes the tab and moves on to whatever happens to catch their attention next. As marketers, we need to control our audience’s steps by giving them options to stick around our site as long as possible.
Our team constantly has this in mind in when building our own content journeys. As it pertains to our use of PDFs, we serve that content in a Flipbook (our own proprietary tool for documents) or we use an iframe to embed a SlideShare presentation right on our site. By serving content in these ways, we can do things like suggest a related next piece or serve a contextual call-to-action beside the asset in case the reader is ready to convert.
Beware the silo-ification of content
The tips above on ensuring content lives on your site, ready to be found, come with a word of caution: please do not dump content into groups by format. You know what I mean: all videos live under the video (or webinar) tab, eBooks live under white papers, articles under blog, and so on.
This second mistake is what I referred to earlier as the silo-ification of content. We all do it! Why? Maybe because that’s how we create the content or possibly because that’s how our CMS was set up for us.
Regardless, do you think people come to your site and say, “Hey, I’m going to figure out what these guys do by watching videos about them or reading white papers”? Not very likely. In this modern day of marketing, our audiences are modern, too. They come from channels like LinkedIn where content is delivered to them by interest or is related to people and topics they’ve followed. We need to emulate this experience in our own content delivery by creating a path around each topic.
Creating an epic experience
One of my favorite recent examples of a company creating a great experience around their content journey comes from Booker. Booker sells software to handle logistics around your business like booking appointments. They sell these services to salon and spa owners as well as pet groomers. Both groups need their offering, but as you can imagine, the content needs to be very different.
If Jim (the marketer) at Booker simply dropped all his content into silos by format, his pet groomers would have to sift through different tabs to build a path. Along the way, they’d be bumping into info on booking pedicures and massages. Don’t get me wrong, this is great content (and it may remind the reader they are past due for a spa date), but it just doesn't make sense if the visitor is focused on their poodle.
To overcome this challenge, Jim created a great resource center broken down by topic, mirroring the problems and interests which will garner the attention of his various audiences (i.e. personas).
Take a look at the grey bar above the content in the image below which provides different journeys for Jim’s different buyers:
Try and think about your audience and your content in a similar structure by creating designated paths. How would you organize your content to create a more engaging path where, regardless of format, there’s a contextual next step encouraging visitors to continue down a certain path?
When you start focusing on the content journey, you’ll start challenging all of your content strategies: where does it live, what do we create to complement it, and ultimately, what’s working? The planning needs to return from the opportunity that these are all URLs and, hence, you need to determine the path you want to create.
Think about your different channels as follows:
Your SEO strategy: If someone finds an asset via search and comes to your experience, how will you offer a contextual next step so they don’t click back to Google’s results to find more relevant content?
Your social posts: How do you ensure that the link in your tweet takes the visitor to an asset which will lead to another piece of content, versus having them click on that top right ‘X’ and heading back to Twitter’s infinite scroll?
Your email sends: If your subscriber clicks on a content link in the email you sent, be sure to offer more beyond that one asset. Don’t force them to go back to your email to find another link. We know that as soon as people get back to their inbox, there are 1, 2 or 20 more messages waiting to distract them from your path.
Creating a well-thought-out path will lock people in like a good book you just can’t put down. The key is to ensure you put thought into these paths and create a great content experience to pull it all together.
Ready to start creating a memorable content journey? Start with these building blocks for a solid experience.