A Brick and Mortar Approach to Using Content to Get Visitors to Take Off Their Coats and Stay a While
Whether you're a B2B business, a retailer, or a service provider, your physical marketplace is limited by geography and, well, physics. In contrast, your online marketplace encompasses the vast sprawl of the Web. That means endless opportunity.
But it also means that a single, centralized location point becomes more important than ever before—which might seem counterintuitive. Surely, if you've broken out of the limitations of a localized brick-and-mortar entity, you don't need to limit yourself online, right?
Hardly. In fact, the diffuse nature of the Web makes having a center vital.
Establish Your Base
Think of that center as a nucleus of sorts. You need a single place that can...
- Cater to inbound traffic (from social media networks, PR coverage, networking efforts, affiliate links, disparate online mentions, word-of-mouth, employee networking profiles, product write-ups, etc.)
- Shape perception independent of the messaging of those external sources
- Offer a meaningful, rich customer experience to site visitors
Though businesses and marketers often invest significant energy and resources into driving customers to their sites, they often forget to provide their audience with satisfying experiences once they get visitors to the site.
Only by creating rich experiences—in the form of content, features, interactivity, and the like—can businesses convert visitors into more than just passing window shoppers.
Setting the Stage
The notion that brands/businesses need to entertain, engage, or educate their audiences to elicit certain actions or behaviors is not new. In fact, it's the foundation of the "content marketing revolution." It's also what savvy shop and business owners have been doing offline for years.
By creating feel-good or trust-invoking environments—through any combination of carefully-curated background music, friendly personnel, relevant reading material, insightful expertise, good service, ease-of-transaction, and so on—successful brick-and-mortar businesses know the importance of ushering in a buying mood to convert visitors into buyers, into return shoppers, and, finally, into loyalists.
Whatever your ultimate objective—to drive sales, communicate your brand's promise, get the word out about your services, or some combination of those—you will need to do more than simply provide an aesthetically pleasing site with a shopping cart, basic product descriptions, or encyclopedic bios about your executive team or founders. Rather, you'll need to create an atmosphere that inspires and persuades, and maximizes the amount of time your audience is likely to spend with you, thereby increasing the time they spend thinking about you (or whatever else it is that you want them to think about).
Creating a website that both lures visitors and gets them to stick around for a while requires applying the basic tenets of a well-run physical operation to your website strategy. And that means great content.
After all, content is to a website what a great experience is to a boutique or office (think customer service, good reading material, an understanding of customer sensibilities, well-arranged products, music, fitting decor, and—hey, it happens!— free drinks). But let's not get too literal here: no need to put music on your site. (Why people still do this is beyond me.)
Customize Your Content
So, what different types of content should B2B and B2C companies consider when developing their sites with the customer experience in mind? To answer that question, you'll need to determine the following:
- Your end objectives
- The type of user experience your audiences demand or will respond to
- Your company/product's value proposition
Determine your end objectives up front
Use the following three rules of thumb as a starting point:
- Most B2B companies' primary objectives for offering free content are (1) attracting prospects and (2) nurturing relationships with clients.
- B2C brands are generally trying to sell directly to consumers or raise brand awareness to increase retail demand and market share.
- Generally, both B2B and B2C companies are interested in increasing their customer databases for future marketing opportunities.
Determine what type of user experience will allow you to best communicate with your key buyer types (personas)
Ask the following three questions:
- What's the nature of your business or brand?
- What value does your service or product offer the end consumer? (In other words, is your expertise in a certain area your biggest strength, or is it your product's ability to make the consumer's life easier in some way?)
- Whether you have one or multiple buyer personas, what type of experiences would best speak to each?
Determine which type of content will allow you to translate your value/promise into up-front value
Broadly speaking, there are three types of content. Remember, though, that they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, nor do they need to be:
Also worth mentioning is that, depending on the number of different buyer types you cater to, sometimes it will make sense to say the exact same thing in different ways, which might mean using a variety of content pieces or types to achieve a common objective. Knowing that different people consume information differently, you'll need to figure out how to achieve your business goals while giving your audience the best experience possible.
An Example of How It's Done
A good example of a B2B business that is successful at using a variety of content to stay top-of-mind, attract return customers, and get people to engage with the business on a meaningful level is HubSpot. The inbound-marketing software company's objectives are simple: demonstrate its value up front and create qualified leads as a result. In the process, the company also builds its database of contacts for ongoing communications.
HubSpot's content can be split into two distinct categories: destination content and traffic-driving content.
What I've termed the "destination content" is that which lives on the company's site and acts as a value-forward proposition for visitors—things like its Marketing Resource Center (free e-books, videos, podcasts, webinars, and more); an active inbound marketing community; an impressive collection of grading tools (for grading the marketing effectiveness of just about everything: your website, press release, Facebook page, or Foursquare efforts); HubSpot TV; a regularly-updated blog; free trials; and problem-solving landing pages.
The traffic-driving content, on the other hand, is the content the company sends out to its growing database of prospects and clients to drive them back to the site and stay top-of-mind—namely, a regular newsletter, active social media accounts, and other email communications about new, free offerings.
HubSpot's ongoing content program has yielded incredible success across all of the right metrics: significantly increased traffic, a fast-growing database of contacts, thousands of content downloads, speaking engagements, growing visibility—and, most important, a wealth of new business leads.
The content marketing experts over at Junta42 have a plethora of B2B and B2C examples that illustrate strategic ways to use content; a great content-marketing resource is its Content Marketing Institute.
And an entire book—Content Rules—devoted to the subject was recently published (Wiley, Dec. 2010), co-authored by MarketingProfs Chief Content Officer Ann Handley and Digital Dads founder C.C. Chapman.
Your Online Content Arsenal
Although there are, no doubt, a million types of content you can use to lure in your customers and "decorate" what is ultimately your online showroom, the following are popular formats that have proven time and again to work (when done properly) as part of a larger, integrated marketing strategy:
- Newsletter/newsletter archives
- Tutorials (multiple formats)
- Mobile apps/Web apps
- Online assessments/diagnostics
- Great website copy
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Just knowing the importance of thinking about your website as a business, physical store, or well-trafficked office (rather than as an informative online placeholder), will put you in the right mindset to launch your content strategy.
And remember: A good strategy for social media, PR, or online audience generation will get people to come to your site; but good content—whether thought leadership, educational, or entertaining—will make them stay.