Last week Parse.ly’s CEO and Co-Founder, Sachin Kamdar, and Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at Gradient Works, Jenn Deering Davis, caught up on a webinar focusing on The Audience Journey and How to Craft Content that Drives Actionable Results in today’s digital climate.
Sachin and Jenn called on 30+ years of industry expertise to discuss how content plays a crucial role in the audience journey and how to use it most effectively. Given the nature of the topic I wanted to provide an overview of the discussion and answer a few of the key questions brought up by attendees during the webinar.
Table of Contents
- What an audience journey should look like
- Analyzing content performance data
- Content metrics that matter
- Writing to your target audience
Content marketing is evolving
In early 2020, The Content Marketing Institute found that 50% of B2B marketers and 59% of B2C marketers planned to increase their content marketing budgets over the course of the year, and looking back on the events of the past 6 months, Sachin and Jenn are confident that these numbers must have increased significantly. We know that more content budget means more content production, so the questions we have to look at for Q4 and going into 2021 are: How are you going to stand out? How do you reach your target audience?
These days, content marketing is so much more than writing what’s interesting. For a long time it was purely creative, where you write, hope, and do your best to reach and engage your target audience. Now, since we have so many channels and so much content, we have to not just think about what customers want to consume, but where and how.
The modern content marketer knows that data analysis is just as important as the creative writing part. That’s because, as Sachin puts it, ‘data isn’t just data, it’s your audience’s voice.’ It’s them telling you what they care about and what they think and it’s on you to be receptive.
The boom in content production and the access we have to data on audience engagement presents us with a huge opportunity. We can listen to our target audiences and use what we learn to be much more prescriptive about content creation and content strategy. Backing up your content marketing decisions with data doesn’t make it less creative, it gives you an opportunity to do it smarter.
Sachin and Jenn made a point during the webinar to highlight three things that every successful content marketer should be doing:
- Understand what your company is trying to achieve with content.
- Back that up with quantitative and qualitative data.
- ‘Shout that from the mountaintops!’ Tell your colleagues what’s working and why.
Understanding the audience journey
The audience journey depicts the mindsets and stages customers go through when they interact with your company. Sachin and Jenn suggest looking at it as a top, middle, and bottom of funnel model: awareness -> engagement -> purchase.
Content plays a vital role at each stage. It’s how your customers get introduced to, learn about, and eventually decide to purchase your products or services. With the audience journey in mind, the important thing to think about for each piece of content you write is: when people come to read this, how are they engaging with us? Are they clicking on multiple pieces of content? Signing up for our newsletter? Sharing on social? You also need to be thinking about what the intended action is that you want from them at each stage of the funnel.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the time, people don’t just start with top-of-funnel marketing and go directly down the funnel. They go back and forth naturally. That’s why you need to work with all teams (sales, product marketing, support, etc.), not just marketing, on writing content for and understanding your audience journey.
Different content for each stage of the journey
The audience for this webinar was split between the B2B and B2C worlds (43% B2B, 22% B2C, and 33% both) and for the most part worked in the content marketing/strategy space (the rest working in demand gen, growth marketing, or PR/media). Given this background, Jenn and Sachin asked the audience what the primary goal of their content was which yielded some interesting results.
Not coming as a huge surprise, the majority of our audience was focusing their content on the purchase stage – bottom-of-funnel sales. Q4 is in full swing, and we know that leads/revenue are always top of mind, especially for less mature companies. For companies in this mindset, Sachin and Jenn recommend writing case studies and product/service reviews as a way to help push more customers across the finish line. The awareness stage should also be a big focus for growing companies. Focus on creating content like brief articles, social posts, and ads as well as strengthening partnerships and SEO.
More mature companies, on the other hand, have the opportunity to gear a good portion of their content towards the engagement stage of the audience journey and focus on strengthening audience loyalty or providing thought leadership. Sachin and Jenn recommend creating denser content like eBooks, webinars, data studies, blogs, product pages, and sales collateral in order to foster deep engagement and habitual visitation from your target audience.
Metrics that matter
Not only should you create different types of content for your target audience at different parts of their journey, but you should also track different metrics in order to understand how they’re receiving your content at each stage.
Sachin and Jenn asked the webinar audience what their primary metrics for measuring content performance were and the results were split fairly evenly. This means that most of us are looking at all of the metrics listed (volume of traffic, engaged time, page views, and conversions), as Sachin noted, can be troublesome if you’re only looking for one single answer. That’s why we need to understand what each metric is actually telling us and at which stage of the audience journey each is most important.
At the awareness stage, when you’re attracting new audiences and introducing them to your products/services, Sachin and Jenn recommend that you look at high-level metrics like total views and shares in order to measure success. This is also where you should be looking at things like event attendance and sponsorships, as well as optimizing your content for organic search.
At the engagement stage, when your audience is looking to you for education and thought leadership, you should be looking at metrics that represent deeper, more meaningful interaction with your company and your content. What leads to content downloads, email/newsletter signups, or demos set? This is where the engaged-time metric becomes really valuable. Unlike traditional time-stamp/time-on-page metrics that most web analytics provide, engaged-time gives a true sense of how long people spend with your content and how valuable your content is to your target audience.
Finally, at the purchase stage, when you get someone to say ‘yes’, the most important metric (the one executives care about and the one that ultimately keeps your content marketing program running) is closed won revenue. This is where you need to tie your content to metrics like total purchases, add-to-carts, or any other valuable action that you want your audience to take. Looking at content conversions, or the piece or series of pieces of content that people engage with before taking those intended actions is key here.
In order to track all of these metrics effectively at each stage of the audience journey, you’ll need more than basic web analytics. Can you get the data yourself and act on it? Can you justify what you’re doing at every step of the way? That’s where modern content analytics like Parse.ly really come into play.
Applying the data
Once you start collecting data at each stage of the audience journey you can begin to put it to use. Even before you produce a single piece of content, you can collect data on internet wide engagement trends with different topics to get an idea of what’s relevant to your target audience. While you distribute your content, make sure you’re optimizing it in real-time by amplifying it on social media, sharing it with influencers, and including it in your newsletters.
Then, at the end of the audience journey, make sure you can tie each piece of content back to your company’s goals. Justify the results with data, bring that knowledge to your execs, and integrate the learnings back into your content strategy. In order to continue to prove your content’s worth and iterate on this process, it’s important to have excellent monthly reporting that clearly and simply supports what you’re doing. When you’re presenting results to your executive teams, tell a story with a single image or the most important statistic. Make it one page and make sure they focus on the point you’re trying to make.
Once you figure out what’s working at each step of the audience journey, do more of that. Jenn gave the example of a very successful annual report one of her past teams published. She and her team closely monitored audience engagement and ended up planning the next 6 months of content to be spun off and born out of that report.
By the same token, figure out what’s not working and ask ‘why not?’. Is it the topic? The tone? The audience? The timing? Content analytics allow you to answer these questions. Run experiments grouping lots of smaller pieces together so that you can run reports on which groups work well and which you should rethink. This way you can confidently back up your requests and decisions with data.
“You can’t afford to have a field of dreams approach to content anymore”, Sachin warned. Your competitors are already looking at their content strategy in a prescriptive way.
With Q4 in full swing, you want to make a big impact. Start creating content that is geared towards your company’s most important goals for next year and figure out how your content strategy can support that. Chat with one of Parse.ly’s product specialists today about how we can help you along the way.