When leaders at fast-moving companies decide to invest in a content marketing program, the endorphin-driving expectation of hockey-stick growth can mask a potential pitfall. The new content team, probably consisting of only one or two people, will face a flurry of demands from across the company. This crunch can put the original goal of expanding the customer base and increasing revenue at risk.
For example, there’s the website to build out and maintain, sales deck(s) to rewrite and reformat, email campaigns to launch, collateral to update, recruitment swag to design, and social media posts touting the company’s culture to publish. And then there are the internal tools, workflows, and tech that content teams need to flourish independently, like brand guidelines and an editorial calendar. The team’s to-do list grows quickly.
Despite the prevalence of tasks facing the marketing team, usually only a few of the demands are critical to the business. Spending hours on a press release about a new hire may get several likes on LinkedIn, but it’s unlikely that content projects of that type will help the marketing department achieve what it actually set out to do.
To sift through the demands and develop the content that will help the most, the content marketing team can steal a tool from their colleagues on the product team — the roadmap.
First, Let’s Define Content Marketing
In a matter of only a few years, “content marketing” became one of the most popular phrases in business. As Google Trends shows, the term took off in 2011 and hasn’t declined much since.
And few phrases in business have produced so many different meanings. For some, content marketing is just a novel way of saying content development. For others, it connotes creating an e-book, promoting it a few times on LinkedIn and via email, and calling it a day. Although these activities are elements of content marketing, they don’t capture the breadth and depth of the discipline as a practice, let alone the amount of effort content marketing requires.
Hubspot offers a comprehensive definition, touching on nearly all the primary activities involved in content marketing:
Content marketing is the process of planning, creating, distributing, sharing, and publishing content to reach your target audience.... [T]his tactic can help you improve brand awareness, boost sales, connect with your target audience members, and engage prospects and customers.
One thing is missing here, however — measurement. Content marketing teams have access to more analytics regarding buyers’ engagement with content than ever before. And tilling that data for insights is no longer left to data analysts and market researchers. Monitoring, reporting, and analysis are parts of the content-marketing team’s job too.
With the data available now, assessing content’s performance is easier and more precise, but, perhaps more importantly, it can help guide what type of content the team should prioritize on the roadmap.
What Is a Content-Marketing Roadmap?
For new teams, a content-marketing roadmap can provide benefits similar to product roadmaps. Developed with marketing leaders and other teams like demand generation, product marketing, and sales, it defines the specific content that the team should prioritize developing to engage potential buyers during the buying process and generate more business. Though not as detailed as an editorial calendar (itself a handy tool once teams get into a rhythm and gain more resources or time for planning), the roadmap also outlines, at a high level, when to develop content.
The basic content roadmap should include five key elements:
- Content-Marketing Mission: A brief statement specifying how the content you will produce will benefit your visitors and your business.
- Marketing/Business Goals: The marketing and company KPIs or OKRs that the content on the roadmap will aim to impact.
- Timeline: The range of time (rather than specific deadlines) over which the content-marketing team will create the content and launch it.
- Stage of Awareness of the Content: The high-level problem and awareness level that the content will solve (e.g., build brand awareness among midsize B2B IT teams).
- Content Assets: The specific pieces of content that the team will prioritize and create.
A strategically developed, inclusive roadmap has one other subtle use: it acts as a force field. When leaders sign off on it, the roadmap can help content marketers deflect ad hoc requests over Slack and email that likely will not move the needles that matter, like requests for demos, customer acquisition, and customer retention.
Grasping the purpose of a content marketing roadmap is a meaningful first step. But a larger question still lurks — what content should a young team actually consider adding to it?
Five Assets for Your First Roadmap
1. The Authoritative, Keyword-Driven Blog Post
But blogging is dead, right? A lot of people ask this question frequently. According to Moz, an SEO tool that estimates search volume (among other metrics), “Is blogging dead?” gets searched around 500 times per month.
Time to drag out the headstone? Not quite. A comprehensive keyword-driven blog post that shows visitors how to do their job better or teaches them something novel about their industry is a strategic asset that can pay dividends over the long term. Provided it targets the right keyword effectively, the post can bring a steady stream of visitors searching for high-intent educational guidance (e.g., “how to increase website visitors”) or high-intent commercial information (e.g., “best email marketing platforms”). In other words, you can draw in people in need of someone with a solution.
Research supports blogs as roadmap worthy. In a 2019 survey of 1,001 bloggers, Orbit Media Studios, a Chicago-based web-design agency (with a keyword-driven blog worth bookmarking), found more than 80 percent of bloggers see positive results from blogging — and that’s with only 50 percent of them targeting keywords at least most of the time. DemandMetric also found positive results for companies that blog: they gain 67 percent more leads per month than those who don’t. And, finally, Hubspot research revealed that websites with a blog earn 55 percent more visitors and businesses with a blog see an ROI 13 times greater than those without.
Reaping these kinds of benefits takes discipline, like committing to not using a blog as a corporate diary or catch-all for press releases and product release notes. To avoid that habit, use the roadmap to plan for at least one to three high-volume keywords that align with your business, and create the most comprehensive post on the topic(s). These posts will gain traffic and trust, but they can serve another, more-valuable purpose — to promote the premium content that generates leads.
2. The Cornerstone Lead-Generation Asset With an Eternal Shelf Life
Venture over to Marketo’s resource library, and you’ll discover a digital shelf that would make your local library jealous. There’s The Definitive Guide to Marketing Automation, The Definitive Guide to Email Marketing, The Definitive Guide to Engaging Content Marketing, and dozens more. Each provides detailed, practical guidance that’s arguably more useful to marketers than any printed book available for sale. And incredibly, some of these are years old, yet they still build a steady pipeline of leads for Marketo’s sales team.
Assets like Marketo’s guides are lead-generation pieces. Brands offer them to website visitors (hence the importance of blogs) or promote them in other channels, like social media, in exchange for visitors’ or followers’ contact information to more regularly market to them. In the aughts, e-books and white papers were standard fare.
As long-form pieces became the norm, smart teams diversified their strategy for lead-generation material, building a varied shelf of premium content. Webinars. Digital events. Certification courses. Email series. Free limited versions of tools. Calculators. Insider groups. So long as buyers view the content as premium and centered around their needs, content teams can use any format to generate leads.
But even with the most-disciplined content marketing practice, new content teams will face a shortage of time. They don’t have the resources that companies like Marketo do to develop dozens of lead-generation assets, and prioritizing content based on temporary trends will produce only short-term gains. As a result, deft content teams often aim to build one large, authoritative asset with three attributes:
- It aligns with the business’ primary value proposition.
- Its topic is “evergreen,” or has extended relevance.
- It can be “atomized,” or broken up into different brand-awareness pieces (e.g., a section of an e-book becomes a blog post) or converted into other lead-generation assets (e.g., a webinar series can be converted into an e-book).
For growing content teams, less really can mean more, including more leads. But they will need more than just blog articles and webinars to choose a product.
3. Product Pages That Get Visitors to Scroll—and Raise Their Hands
Your flywheel is working. Visitors are reading your blog posts. They’re reaching constantly for your lead-generation assets and sharing them. They’re filling up your email lists and opening everything you send. What’s the next step to propel them toward a purchase? Product pages.
Of the five priorities for a roadmap, the product page is the most straightforward: it describes the product and illustrates the value that it delivers. But the days of brief, bland, and bullet-ridden product pages are long gone. At least, they should be. No longer can a website’s product or service pages merely be copies of the product sales sheets distributed at conferences. Too much is at stake. Namely, requests for demos, trials, or calls, and, ultimately, sales are all on the line.
Following some guidelines, though, can enhance the performance of the page. For example, successful product pages tend to follow a similar structure, answering these questions.
- What is the product, what value does it deliver and for whom?
- What proof or data supports the value proposition?
- What benefits (not features) do buyers get from it?
- How does it work?
- Who are some current customers, and what have they said about it?
- What should the visitor do to learn more?
A page that answers these questions eases the bulk of the concerns a potential buyer may have and likely gets them to keep reading. But a page that uses different forms of media to provide answers can increase the odds that visitors raise their hand for a demo or sales call. For example, Intercom, which enables companies to have conversations with website visitors via automated chatbots or sales team members, uses four different kinds of content on their product pages: copy, images, GIFs, and video.
That variation doesn’t only make for a stunning page — it also can entice visitors to seek validation from peers with similar business needs. And that’s where case studies come in.
4. A Compelling, Evidence-Fortified Case Study
Sometimes, boring works. Case studies do, at least. A case study, or a success story, shares how a specific customer overcame a specific business challenge, like dwindling revenue or low user adoption, after using a specific product or feature. Of the five priorities on the list, case study development may be the most dull and most difficult, but research shows they’re critical for businesses at any stage.
Demand Generation’s 2017 Content Preferences Survey Report found that buyers sought these hard-to-come-by pieces more than any other: 48 percent of respondents cited case studies as the most valuable format available, and 78 percent of buyers accessed one as they researched purchases in the past 12 months.
When created strategically, case studies build momentum for businesses and their content teams. For the business, case studies can propel your product to the front of a lead’s consideration set, prompt a request for a demo or sales call, or, even better, persuade the lead to commit to your brand. For content teams, part of the benefit of prioritizing the case study is its adaptability. Like the lead-generation asset atomized into smaller pieces, teams can pull a case study apart to create numerous assets like testimonials for product pages, social posts promoting a demo or other bottom-funnel activities, and slides for sales decks.
To reap these benefits, content teams should strive to do three things with their first case studies.
- Focus on the single most valuable theme or benefit. It’s tempting to use the case study to itemize every way the customer’s business improved, but that dilutes the message you want the reader to leave with.
- Back up every advantage the product provided with data. Gathering the data and getting the client to sign off on using it can be tedious — clients may hesitate to share it — but including it is vital to build credibility and enable the reader to envision their own success.
- Write from the customer’s point of view. A case study is a narrative. It shows the rise of a hero amid a challenge, with the help of a single tool — yours. Though the case study focuses on your product, your readers see themselves in the hero, not you.
Developing a case study is laborious. It takes data wrangling, negotiating with clients, and frequent editing. But the time spent on them is worth it: The case study may be the last touch a buyer has before a purchase decision.
5. An Onboarding Experience That Empowers and Validates Buyers
First, the bad news: Using content to acquire an audience and convert them into customers is only half the battle. In some industries, it may even be less, especially for businesses with short sales cycles or with digital products that customers can easily swap out for alternatives . In Amplitude’s exhaustive playbook Mastering Retention, authors Alicia Shiu and Archana Madhavan bluntly explain why:
80 percent of new users stop using the average app three days after downloading it. ... This doesn’t just apply to mobile. If you don’t demonstrate value to your users early and often and turn them into habitual users, your product — be it a mobile app or otherwise — will die. Filling the top of your funnel doesn’t matter if your product is effectively a leaky bucket.
But now, the good news: Prioritizing onboarding content on the roadmap can help with this battle. When users (and/or project sponsors, such as for larger, more complex purchases, like enterprise solutions) routinely hear of the value of the product and make the product a part of their daily workflow, retention becomes easier and other metrics trend positively. In Mastering Retention, Brian Balfour, the former vice president of growth at Hubspot and the cofounder of Reforge, breaks down how:
[E]very improvement that you make to retention also improves other things — vitality, lifetime value, and payback period. [Retention] is literally the foundation to all of growth, and what’s why retention is the king.
So, what, exactly, is “onboarding content”? It depends on the business and the product. Onboarding content can range from users’ first in-app experience and a welcome package to an implementation plan and weekly product performance reports. The content in each will vary sharply. In-app experiences may call for an instructive walk-through and a tool that enables virality. Weekly performance reports for project sponsors likely require reliable data visualized in an appealing, digestible way with insights teams can work from. Regardless of the format, the ultimate goal of each is the same: retain the buyer by validating the purchase decision and easing their experience with the product.
The marketing and sales teams have already committed countless hours and dollars to acquiring a customer. As easy (and probably appealing) as it is to dust off your hands and wish customers the best of luck, neglecting buyers after their purchase poses numerous risks to the business, like churn rates and lifetime value. A memorable onboarding experience can bend those metrics in the direction that the business both wants and needs.
Start Building With One Question
Some of these assets may not make your content-marketing roadmap for the year. Maybe your business has them in place already or they don’t align with your strategy for the coming months. But the roadmap concept forces content teams, as well as marketing and business leaders, to ask a critical question: If we could create only five pieces of content this year, what would they be — and, more importantly, why?