Today's revenue-focused marketing professionals need to be experts in what has come to be called "inbound marketing" or "seed nurturing."

Inbound marketing is the process of helping prospective customers find your company, often before they are actively looking to make a purchase, and then progressively turning that early awareness into brand preference, knowledge of your products and services, and a buyer's journey that ultimately leads to booked revenue for your business.

The Power of Inbound Marketing

The central tenets of inbound marketing are to create great and compelling content, and to use that content as bait to attract, educate, and win potential buyers' interest—or, build "awareness." By mastering techniques such as SEO and viral marketing, you'll be able to use social networks and other online promotions to get that bait in front of the buyer in a pervasive way. 

To do that well, marketers must think differently. Inbound marketing success isn't about having the best tagline or the most exciting creative materials (although good branding has its place). Marketers have to think like a publisher who is tasked with creating consistent, relevant content for every stage of the revenue cycle. When done right, this approach produces dramatically better results than traditional marketing techniques that rely on interrupting the customer.

Speaker and author David Meerman Scott puts it this way: "Prior to the Web, organizations had only two significant choices to attract attention: buy expensive advertising or get third-party ink from the media. But the Web has changed the rules."

Instead of renting buyer attention from third parties, which is exactly what interruption-based advertising does, seed nurturing allows you to create your own audience and attract your own attention. Brains are important here—not budget.

Publishing great content is critical to finding new buyers in today's economy. Content can be anything your organization creates and shares to tell its story—your website, blog, podcasts, videos, tweets, whitepapers, e-books, photos, presentations, LinkedIn advertisements, webinars, press releases, return on investment (ROI) calculators, brochures, workbooks, and so on.

Different Content for Different Stages of the Revenue Cycle

Regardless of the form that your content takes, it will need to account for the fact that potential customers are in different stages of the revenue cycle.

Some buyers already know what solution they're seeking, whereas others don't even know they have a problem. You can attract the former by providing information that helps them evaluate possibilities and recognize issues they wouldn't see on their own. That kind of content often includes buying guides, checklists, analyst reports, webinars, and even in-person events. Providing helpful content to those buyers will show them that your company understands how to solve their problems.

However, the buyers who don't yet know they have a need aren't actively searching for solutions. Fortunately, they still consume information online; they're just attracted to different types of content. Some of the content types that work best for such prospects include research data, engaging videos, curated lists, infographics, and highly relevant and useful thought leadership and expertise.

Content for an early-stage audience will usually be short-form and consumable in just a minute or two, often via a mobile device. Just remember, a buyer who looks at that content is not likely to make an immediate purchase. But by connecting with her before she is even looking for a solution—while her anti-marketing shields are down—you make it more likely that she'll think of your company as a trusted adviser and thought leader when she is eventually ready to buy.

The boss in Glengarry Glen Ross got it wrong: Success with content marketing is not about "always be closing," it's about "always be helping."

* * *

Ultimately, Marketing must invest a significant level of resources in creating and disseminating content. That content-creation process goes well beyond the traditional task of building product collateral—data sheets or tear sheets—and even beyond the newer tradition of maintaining an extensive website. You must also deliver content via social channels, video, SMS text, audio presentations, and more.

Reusing content is also critical. A set of key ideas or meaty information can often be transformed into a series of tweets, webinar slides, a Web microsite, or grist for various other media.

Companies that have fully embraced revenue performance management have content marketing functions that act as a key locus of attention and investment within their overall revenue organization.

Adapted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from REVENUE DISRUPTION: Game-Changing Sales and Marketing Strategies to Accelerate Growth by Phil Fernandez (c) 2012 by Marketo, Inc.

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Why Content Marketing Across the Revenue Cycle Is Crucial

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Phil Fernandez is president and chief executive officer of Marketo, a global leader in revenue performance management solutions, recently named one of "America's Most Promising Companies" by Forbes. He is also the author of REVENUE DISRUPTION: Game-Changing Sales and Marketing Strategies to Accelerate Growth.