If your content is all things to all people, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll know it deep in your soul because it will feel wrong. For the less woo-woo inclined, Google Analytics won’t sugarcoat anything when you’re doing content wrong. Just look at how your content is performing.
One of the most glorious things about B2B content marketing is that it’s never about casting a wide net and trying to have mass appeal. Tailored to a specific buyer at a specific point in their journey, B2B content is the polar opposite of “be all things to all people.”
So, why does so much content try to do too much? Because your organization is creating content, but you aren’t aligning what you create with what your buyer wants.
Are We Still Doing the Journey/Funnel Thing?
Yes, we are indeed still doing the journey/funnel thing.
In a business world overrun by jargon like “disruption” and “innovation,” there is something undeniably soothing about holding on to traditions. First invented by advertising advocate Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898, marketing funnels are still, in fact, being used today.
Marketing funnels and buying stages are used interchangeably as they describe the same foundational concepts of marketing. Since these marketing concepts have been around for over a century, you will see tons of name variations with the stages of the buyer’s journey. Stage names will vary widely, yet the foundational ideas will remain the same.
In 1898, Elias gave us the AIDA model, which includes these four buyer stages:
- Attention – Top of the funnel (Early Stage)
- Interest – Top of the funnel / Middle of the funnel (Early-Mid Stage)
- Desire – Middle of the funnel (Mid Stage)
- Action – Bottom of the funnel (Late Stage)
So, why are we still talking about this? How is an invention from over a century ago relevant to B2B organizations now?
As long as people are making decisions, there is still a decision-making process that must happen. That process may not be wrapped up in a neat and predictable package, like a linear left to right progression of steps of the buyer stages or flowing top to bottom in a funnel. The buyer may come in and out at different moments of that journey.
But the point is…they are on that journey and you need to guide your buyer along the way.
The 4 ½ Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
4 ½ buyer stages, Britt? I thought there were three or four stages in the buyer’s journey.
You’re spot on. Traditionally, there are three or four buyer’s journey stages. Three buyer stages are popular, but four stages are recommended.
The fourth stage is usually neglected as it relates to the point after the buyer becomes a customer. Arguably, this fourth stage is one of the most important stages to focus on as it means creating content to support and retain your customer.
At Superneat, we identify the four buyer’s journey stages as:
So, about that 4 ½…
“The half” of 4 ½ buyer stages is a blended content approach (Educate/Consider) where we explore the buyer’s problem and casually introduce a solution to that problem—usually at the end of the content leading into the call-to-action.
Britt, is this blended Educate/Consider stage some made-up shit? Technically, yes. But, we find it works really well for our clients here at Superneat and we go into more details below if you’re intrigued by this idea.
Anywho, let’s take a look at all 4 ½ stages of the buyer’s journey in an absurd amount of detail so you understand how each individual approach works within a greater content marketing strategy.
Educate: Increase Brand Awareness and Trust
- Stage: Early or Top of the Funnel
- Content: Highest Frequency
- Audience: Visitors, potential leads, and potential MQLs (marketing qualified leads)
- Goal: Help your potential buyer understand their problem.
- Avoid: Selling before someone’s remotely ready.
Your buyer has access to more information than ever before. And, big surprise, they’re overwhelmed. They don’t know where to find the information they need and they don’t know who to trust. This first Educational stage of the buyer’s journey is your opportunity to create content that increases brand awareness and trust.
During this early stage, your buyer asks: Will you help me understand what the hell is happening here?
Include informational content that helps your audience fully understand their problem so they start to understand how to solve it. Don’t jump to conclusions by serving up content that is too solution-focused as it will only further overwhelm them so early in the buying process.
Provide useful and engaging information without being self-serving or sales-y. That way when that person is finally ready to buy, you are the resource they have already been turning to. And, guess what? That person will be much more likely to consider your product or service when they have budget approval to purchase a solution.
Educational Content Ideas
Social media post
101 courses (shorter length)
Interactive tools (i.e. generators, analyzers)
Educational Content Example
Chances are pretty darn high that if you have “how to” in the blog title, this content is meant for someone in the earliest part of the funnel still trying to find their way. How can you help them? By sharing best practices that show them the way.
For Educate content, I recommend one of Collectiv’s all-time most popular blogs, How to Build a Self-Service Power BI Data Governance Strategy.
Collectiv’s blog details everything someone needs to know about building a data governance strategy to achieve long-term self-service Power BI success. It breaks down the definitions and importance of both data governance and self-service Power BI, walks through steps that show how to build a data governance model, then wraps up with some final best practices to follow.
Consider: Support Buyer Research and Evaluation
- Stage: Middle or Middle of the Funnel
- Content: Medium Frequency
- Audience: MQLs and SQLs (sales qualified leads)
- Goal: Help your potential buyer solve their problem.
- Avoid: Being vague or missing key information.
Your competitors are never far behind. Depending on the competitiveness of your industry, they may be right on your heels. If you don’t engage with your buyer in a way that serves them at this stage, your competitors will be standing there with open arms. This next Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey is your chance to support buyer research and evaluation.
During this middle stage, your buyer asks: Will you show me why your solution is better than someone else’s?
Consideration content must make the buying experience easy and straightforward. This person knows their problem intimately and they are window-shopping for a solution that will make their life easier.
You don’t want to miss the mark here by rehashing all of their problems without discussing viable solutions. You also don’t want to push people too hard and push them away. One of your best bets at this stage is focusing on use cases and customer success stories, so the buyer is able to easily relate to their peers and know that your solution is the right fit for them.
Consideration Content Ideas
In-depth courses (longer length)
Consideration Content Example
If I could only pick one Consideration content idea from the list above, a case study would be it.
Case studies are a fantastic way to communicate the value of your solution through the voice of your customer. A case study traditionally covers challenges, solutions, and results. And honestly, this traditional template is tough to beat when it comes to content flow and audience engagement.
Looking for Consideration inspiration? Take a look at this long-form case study from CSG Pro, How Professional Service Firms Leverage Data Analytics To Support Growth.
Educate/Consider: Explore Buyer Challenges and Solutions
- Stage: Early to Middle or Top-Funnel to Mid-Funnel
- Content: High Frequency
- Audience: Visitors, potential leads, and potential MQLs—or, MQLs and SQLs
- Goal: Help your potential buyer understand their problem and a solution.
- Avoid: Going on and on about how amazing your solution is.
Okay, here is where “the half” of our 4 ½ buyer stages comes into play, the specially blended stage we lovingly call Educate/Consider here at Superneat (the name is a revelation, I know). I’ll attempt to explain why we use and prefer this blended approach. Here it goes…
Marketing funnels in our modern world take into account the fact that all leads don’t necessarily progress in a predictable and linear fashion (Stage 1, 2, 3). Since a lead might enter and exit any stage at any point in time, creating content that blends approaches from two stages isn’t a bad idea, right?
During this early-mid stage, your buyer asks: Will you discuss common challenges and recommend a way to overcome them?
A blend of Educate and Consider, this content is educational/how-to with some direct solution-focused content sprinkled in. This content leans more on the Educational side with informational content, but it doesn’t hold back with solution recommendations.
For Superneat clients, this Educate/Consider stage is where we focus the majority of our content efforts. It’s a great way to plant the seed for early-stage buyers and be ready with an answer to their problems in case they’re starting to consider solutions.
Educational/Consideration Content Ideas
Use the same Educational content types as your foundation, then sprinkle in a little Consideration content. For example, reference a case study in a relevant blog that discusses similar customer challenges. In that same blog, embed the accompanying customer video to reinforce and validate your solution.
Social media post
101 courses (shorter length)
Interactive tools (e.g., generators, analyzers)
Educational/Consideration Content Example
To understand how this hybrid stage might look in real life, check out this high-performing blog What is a Customer Data Platform (CDP)? by SkyPoint Cloud.
Since SkyPoint is a customer data platform, we created a foundational long-form pillar piece that walks people through the usual how-to Educate blog format and discussed:
- What a CDP is
- What a CDP is Not
- Benefits of a CDP
However, the last section “Do You Need a CDP?” takes a different Consideration approach by explaining how SkyPoint’s customer data platform benefits different types of teams. This is a great example of a blended Educate/Consider piece of content that unites concepts to address buyers who might be in-between stages.
Decide: Validate Buyer Decision and Purchase
- Stage: Late or End of the Funnel
- Content: Low Frequency
- Audience: MQLs and SQLs
- Goal: Help your buyer validate their purchase decision.
- Avoid: Friction.
By this point, your buyer has officially reached “buyer status.” This late in the buying process, once the choice is made, your lead will become your long-term customer…or someone else’s. This last Decision stage of the buyer’s journey is your opportunity to validate their decision and purchase.
During this late stage, your buyer asks: Will you help me feel good about this purchase and avoid buyer’s remorse?
Content at this obviously critical point should be persuasive and product-focused. To fully support this buyer, interactions must be friction-free so they feel confident and don’t hesitate to buy.
Think of the Decision stage as a match point—whoever wins this point, wins the match. This person has explored all the pros and cons of various solutions and narrowed it down to a small selection. Decision content eases any lingering hesitations and positions your organization as the clear partnership choice.
Decision Content Ideas
Decision Content Example
Another example from SkyPoint Cloud is this Healthcare Data Platform page on their website. Rather than having separate FAQs, we added a section on each of their main platform pages to answer any final questions the buyer may have…right then and there. This Decision content makes the buyer’s choice a hell of a lot easier.
We did something similar with FAQs here on the Superneat website if you want to snoop around our service pages.
Support: Improve Customer Success and Retention
- Stage: Beyond the Funnel
- Content: Lowest Frequency
- Audience: Existing Customers
- Goal: Help your customer feel supported and successful.
- Avoid: Neglecting your customers and missing this important opportunity.
After your organization closes the sale, nothing closes for your customer. They are opening a new door, moving into another phase of their journey where their success depends on the value of your solution. This final Supportive stage of the buyer’s journey is your chance to improve customer success and retention.
During this final stage, your buyer asks: Will you continue to support me and never stop proving your value?
Support content focuses on customer empowerment, helping them get the most out of your solution. This content shows the high level of commitment your customer expected to see when they chose your organization over another. With Supportive content, you deepen the relationship, develop brand loyalty, and endlessly validate their purchase decision.
Sadly, the final stage is often omitted from the buyer’s journey, or if it is included, it is often overlooked in content strategies. This is a major misstep as you risk losing your customer when you don’t demonstrate that you value their happiness and success above everything else.
Supportive Content Ideas
Customer thought leadership
Webinars on new features
Supportive Content Example
Last, but certainly not least, is a Support content example by Collectiv, Data Governance Tools: The Missing Link in Your Process.
When it was time to talk about data governance tools for our client, we were in desperate need of a subject matter expert (SME). Rather than interviewing Collectiv’s team of Power BI experts, we turned to one of their customers who had a wealth of real-world experience he was excited to share.
Your customers are thought leaders too. Don’t just reserve them for case studies. Inviting customers to be guest contributors on your blog shows that you respect their opinion and knowledge enough to share them with your entire audience. This nod of respect goes a long way with your customers.
Sometimes we get caught up in who we are as a brand and where we’re heading as an organization. But, what about them? We need to understand who our buyer is, where they’re coming from and where they want to go.
Content that is “all things to all people” isn’t valuable, it’s vague. And, if your content doesn’t answer your buyer’s questions, they will move on to someone who has the answers.
To get the most out of your content investment, create content that best serves future customers AND existing customers. If you’re in step with their specific needs at specific moments, they will take notice and appreciate the added value you’ve already provided.