Creating content in support of your products and services is hard. Finding something to say which is both unique and valuable to the audience is a non-trivial endeavor, however it remains critical for persuading your audience that your product or service is right for them … and persuading search engines that your website is important.
That said, it’s incredible how many brands overlook this one simple, effective, easy-to-create content tool: the FAQ.
You don’t even have to do the thinking for an FAQ. Your customers do it for you. In your day-to-day sales and support operations, customers are asking questions all the time. All you need to do is document them and their answers, put it on your website, and bingo! – You now have an FAQ.
FAQ Best Practices
It’s absolutely possible to make a terrible FAQ, but really easy not to. If you follow these guidelines when creating your FAQ, you’ll be set:
- Talk to your sales and / or support teams about the questions that they are getting from customers. If you’re creating an FAQ, you want to be sure it’s answering questions that your customers actually have.
- The best FAQ questions are broadly relevant and / or address an important question. If you have a question from a person with a niche application which would only be relevant to a small subset of the audience who is also using your product for that application, it’s probably not worthy of adding to the FAQ. If you have too much clutter, people won’t use it.
- It’s really easy to end up with oceans of FAQ content. Your don’t want your FAQ content to fluster your audience because there is too much of it. In addition to being selective with what content makes the grade for your FAQ section, use design tools such as accordions to help minimize the content overload and help ensure that customers are only presented with the FAQ content which is most relevant to them.
- Keep FAQ content on the page of the product / service it pertains to whenever possible. Forcing people to navigate away to FAQ content is usually neither a good navigational experience nor the best for SEO.
- If you have a long FAQ section, try to keep the most important and / or broadly relevant information towards the top, where it will be more likely to be seen.
To give you a better idea of how you may be able to leverage FAQ content, let’s take a look at a few examples.
Agilent’s website makes ample use of FAQ content, which is great. To give an example, I’ll look at the page for their 280FS AA Atomic Absorption Spectrometer. They have a lot of stuff on this page, but they use a left-hand navigation menu with anchor links to help users find the information they need. In the “Support” section there is an FAQ, along with other categories of content, each of which has an accordion feature.
Agilent’s FAQ has a good amount of content in it, and they make it more manageable by only showing the questions. You have to click the question to see the answer. Unfortunately, when you click the question, you are directed to a page that has only that one question and answer on it, meaning the page is of relatively low value and has taken the user away from the bulk of the information they are seeking, leading to a sub-optimal user experience (you need to wait for the page to load, then click back to get back to where you were). Additionally, having many pages with “thin” content is far less beneficial from an SEO standpoint than having one page with lots of content. If, for instance, they instead had a nested accordion in which the answer dropped down when it was clicked, this would circumvent the need for individual pages for each answer while still showing a relatively manageable amount of information to each user.
Laboratory Supply Network also makes frequent use of FAQs. FAQs are perhaps of even greater value for distributors and resellers since these companies are often starved of unique content. FAQs, product reviews, and other mechanisms for generating unique content can both improve their SEO and differentiate them from competition who may be selling similar (or the same) products. As an example, we’ll use their Q500 FAQ on Homogenizers.net. Laboratory Supply Network puts their FAQs in a separate tab from other information on the product page, helping to prevent clutter. They also have all the FAQ information directly on the product page, which maximizes the SEO benefit. However, within the FAQ tab, there are no aids to help users find the information which may be of value to them. The only way to see which questions are answered is to scroll through them all – and through their answers. This is non-ideal, especially if there are a lot of questions and / or the questions have long answers. While users will scroll, too much scrolling decreases the likelihood that content near the bottom will be seen.
FAQs add value for your customer and improve the SEO of your website. As with just about any content generation effort, your primary question should be: “can we do this in a manner which is valuable for our audience?” If you have a complex product or service or there is any common uncertainties that customers have about your business, it’s likely that you can both deliver and receive value through an FAQ. Ensure that you’re following best practices, and you’ll maximize its value.
Marketers are used to seeing a lot of data showing that improving personalization leads to improved demand generation. The more you tailor your message to the customer, the more relevant that message will be and the more likely the customer will choose your solution. Sounds reasonable, right?
In most cases personalization is great, but what those aforementioned studies and all the “10,000-foot view” data misses is that there are a subset of customers for whom personalization doesn’t help. There are times when personalization can actually hurt you.
When Personalization Backfires
Stressing the points which are most important to an individual works great … when that individual has sole responsibility for the purchasing decision. For large or complex purchases, however, that is often not the case. When different individuals involved in a purchasing decision have different priorities and are receiving different messages tailored to their individual needs, personalization can act as a catalyst for divergence within the group, leading different members to reinforce their own needs and prevent consensus-building.
Marketers are poor at addressing the problems in group purchasing. A CEB study of 5000 B2B purchasers found that the likelihood of any purchase being made decreases dramatically as the size of the group making the decision increases; from an 81% likelihood of purchase for an individual, to just 31% for a group of six.
For group purchases, marketers need to focus less on personalization and more on creating consensus.
Building Consensus for Group Purchases
Personalization reinforces each individual’s perspective. In order to more effectively sell to groups, marketers need to reinforce shared perspectives of the problem and the solution. Highlight areas of common agreement. Use common language. Develop learning experiences which are relevant to the entire group and can be shared among them.
Personalization focuses on convincing individuals that your solution is the best. In order to better build consensus, equip individuals with the tools and information they need to provide perspective about the problem to their group. While most marketers spend their time pushing their solution, the CEB found that the sticking point in most groups is agreeing upon the nature of the solution that should be sought. By providing individuals within the groups who may favor your solution with the ability to frame the nature of the problem to others in their group, you’ll help those who have a nascent desire to advocate for you advocates get past this sticking point and guide the group to be receptive of your type of solution. Having helped them clear that critical barrier, you’ll be better positioned for the fight against solely your direct competitors.
Winning a sale requires more than just understanding the individual. We’ve been trained to believe that personalization is universally good, but that doesn’t align with reality. For group decisions, ensure your marketing isn’t reinforcing the individual, but rather building consensus within the group. Only then can you be reliably successful at not only overcoming competing companies, but overcoming the greatest alternative of all: a decision not to purchase anything.
There’s a lot of noise coming from some fairly reputable sources extolling the virtues of publishing as the next generation of content marketing (I’m sure you’ll be very familiar with this if you follow the Content Marketing Institute at all). For instance, let’s take a look at a recent article from the Harvard Business Review website – “Content Is Crap, and Other Rules for Marketers” – which makes some great points, but misses some equally if not more important points.
To begin, let’s summarize his 4 rules, which are all extremely valid points…
Rule 1 – Recognize that content is crap. This is best highlighted by the author: “We never call anything that’s good ‘content.’ Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, ‘Wow! What great content!’ Nobody listens to ‘content’ on their way to work in the morning. Do you think anybody ever called Ernest Hemingway a ‘content creator’? If they did, I bet he would punch ‘em in the nose.” He goes on to state that marketers need to be more like publishers.
A bit of a side note before we move on. The author is appealing to emotion a bit and is forgetting that content is a somewhat technical term – no one says they drink “dihydrogen monoxide” either. What this is more illustrative of is the mentality of many content marketers. What’s important isn’t, for example, that the people who watch great movies don’t refer to it as “content” but that the producers, writers, directors, and actors who set out to make a great movie don’t refer to it as content. It’s the mentality of content – making “stuff” that begs for attention – which gets people stuck in a losing paradigm and it’s a paradigm that needs to be dropped.
Rule 2 – Hold attention, don’t just grab it. “Marketers need to build an ongoing relationship with consumers and that means holding attention, not just grabbing it. To get people to subscribe to a blog, YouTube channel, or social media feed, you need to offer more than a catchy slogan or a clever stunt. You need to offer real value, and offer it consistently.” The author argues that publishing solves this problem.
Rule 3 – Don’t over-optimize metrics. It’s too easy to confuse measurement with meaning. He uses the example of Buzzfeed, who no longer uses clickbait titles as they’ve realized that they optimize for pageviews, which are just clicks, but betray the reader’s trust. By under-promising and over-delivering, you create more engagement with the content and make it more likely that the reader will return to read another article later. It’s the long game vs. short game conundrum. You can make the numbers look good if you pretend not to care about your numbers a year from now.
Rule 4 – Understand that publishing is a product, not a campaign. In brief, the author makes the point that one of the keys to being successful in being more like a publisher is to treat it with more permanence and seriousness.
There are some great points here… Content is not enough. You can’t simply interrupt your way to success; you need a way to build an audience. Ensure your metrics are effectively measuring value creation. And publishing has serious merits, but the answer is bigger than publishing.
The Inherent Problems With Publishing
Yes, publishing is often superior to more basic forms of content marketing, but it’s not for everyone. Not every company has some amazing, inherently compelling story to tell, and not every company has the resources to continually deliver pieces of that story through carefully crafted content consistently over a long period of time. That’s a massive effort. Assuming publishing is a magic bullet ignores reality and ultimately falls victim to the same problems plaguing other iterations of content marketing: if it becomes well adopted, it’s very quickly going to become much more difficult to do effectively.
The audience’s attention is inherently limited, and while publishing tries to occupy more of that attention, it doesn’t solve the attention problem and it falls into the same trap as more “generic” forms of content marketing. It’s actually a natural response to the lack of supply of customer attention which follows basic economic principles: If the supply of something is limited and demand increases the result is an increasing cost. As more and more content competes for limited attention the “cost” of the customers’ attention increases, meaning you need higher quality content to obtain it. Treating content marketing more like publishing doesn’t change that fact, it simply throws more resources at the problem so higher quality content can be produced – a necessity to continue to compete for customers’ attention in an environment where it is in ever-increasing demand. It’s not like audiences couldn’t do things such as subscribe to blogs almost two decades ago, it’s simply that it takes a better content effort to grab and hold attention than it used to.
Should You Be a Publisher?
Publishing cannot be the answer for everyone. It is literally impossible for 100% of brands to be successful publishers because the audience does not have enough attention to go around. How can you tell if you should be a publisher? Answer these two questions:
- How interesting are you? Take a good honest look at your brand and figure out how interesting you are. Some have great stories to tell. Some do amazing things. Some would make highly impactful thought leaders. Others simply aren’t so captivating. If your brand simply isn’t all that interesting compared to others in your space, you might want to consider something else.
- Can you – and will you – sufficiently resource the effort? Putting out top-quality content on a regular basis is no easy job by itself, and publishing requires more than that. The amount of time and resources that will need to go into planning, editing, graphic design, etc., will be significantly greater. At the same time, publishing still won’t provide a short-term payoff. Do you have the resources and the necessary leadership buy-in to be a publisher?
The Real Focus
If you’re not in the upper echelon of brands with regards to your ability and willingness to be a publisher, all is not lost. After all, being a publisher is not the goal. The reason that taking on the role of publisher is being touted as superior to content marketing is because it’s more effective at delivering meaningful value to customers. That’s also the underlying reason why it better holds the audience’s attention. At the end of the day customers gravitate to value, and there’s a lot more ways to provide value than just being a publisher.
Shift your paradigm from thinking about content to developing actual resources that solve genuine customer problems. Ask yourself what problems customers are having that they might not pay for a solution to, but are readily solvable with a bit of time and effort. Analyze them, prioritize them, and solve the most critical ones that provide the best opportunity for long-term value creation and evolving the customer relationship beyond a transactional one.
Double down on customer experience. Make it easier, faster, and simpler for customers to obtain value from you. Look at some of the juggernauts of tech – Google, Facebook, Uber, Amazon – they didn’t get to where they are because of content marketing. Most of their content marketing efforts aren’t even on people’s radar. What they do is solve problems quickly and simply. You know what’s a great experience? When you can type a question and an answer appears, when you press a button and a cab simply shows up, or when you can instantly be connected to any of your friends. There’s are myriad examples out there, and while it may be easier to do in tech than in the life sciences, it’s certainly not impossible in any industry.
If you’re existing content marketing efforts are becoming less effective, one option is certainly to hunker down, take it more seriously, and spend the resources to become a highly effective publisher. But that’s expensive, difficult, and only delays the onset of many of the underlying problems plaguing content marketing. Publishing treats the symptoms, not the disease. Rid yourself of all paradigms but the one which relies on this one fundamental truth: customers will favor those brands which contribute the most value to their lives. Let that reality guide your actions and you’ll soon find your audiences flocking to you.
Content marketers in the life sciences have reached a critical point. The traditional paradigm of content marketing is becoming ineffective. Content marketers have endeavored to create, publish, share, and then repeat this cycle to the point where there is far too much noise. It is becoming ever more difficult to win the battle for attention. Quite simply, content marketing is no longer enough.
We need to shift from a simple content marketing paradigm to a resource marketing paradigm. We need to stop thinking about creating more stuff and start thinking about how to build things of utility that meaningfully help solve our audiences’ problems.
It’s not just the life sciences that are experiencing this, either. It’s everywhere. This is a pandemic problem across almost all industries. We have recently been honored to have our solution, as elaborated by BioBM’s Carlton Hoyt, recognized by the Content Marketing Institute. You can read about how to take your content marketing program beyond the traditional paradigm and start creating transformational value for your audience which will both captivate them and build genuine value for your brand in the CMI article “Stop Thinking Content, Start Thinking Resources”
Being a “thought leader” has become cliché.
That’s what most brands and most content marketers aspire to be, however. They want to be visionaries; oracles of their respective fields. It seems like an attractive position to occupy, but is visionary, forward-looking content really what all content marketers should aspire for?
No. Quite frankly, not all companies’ positions justify thought leadership. So how can you tell if your company should be a thought leader?
Assess Your Brand on 3 Dimensions:
1) Nature of the Customer Relationship (Transactional vs. Collaborative) – This is the most important factor. Being an effective thought leader means that you need the market’s attention. If the attention that you have is fleeting, you likely don’t have time to position yourself as a thought leader. Transactional customer interactions are often brief, while collaborative interactions (where you act more as a partner to your customers) are far longer lasting and provide more attention. The same can often be said for the sales cycles for transactional vs. collaborative products and services. Note that transactional relationships may act more like collaborative ones if you have a high rate of repeat business and your products / services are of a high perceived value to the customer; it’s not just about how a single buying journey behaves.
Example: Contract research organizations have highly collaborative customer relationships and are well served by acting as thought leaders. It’s important that these companies demonstrate their knowledge. Companies selling general lab equipment are far more transactional and have less to gain from a thought leadership position.
2) Complexity of Your Products or Services – If your products / services are complex or technologically advanced, this provides a greater opportunity for thought leadership. Customers are more likely to want to take the time to understand the market, and you have more room to play the role of a visionary. To use an example we can all relate to: lots of people want to know about tomorrow’s smartphones. Few people are interested in tomorrow’s socks. You could make the same comparison between sequencers and old-school thermal cyclers.
3) Ambiguity Within Your Market – If the average customer knows very little about your market and / or the products / services within it, there is a greater opportunity to be a thought leader. Ambiguity generally leads to difficult purchasing decisions. Through thought leadership you can create clarity and understanding for your audience, and your audience will in turn reward you with its business.
What to Do If You’re Not a Thought Leader
If you’re not a thought leader, that doesn’t mean you should give up on content marketing. Thought leadership is only one approach to content marketing. Being one of the most popular approaches, there’s a lot of competition for the position of thought leader. Doing something else can actually be an easier way to achieve customer engagement (remember, your content is a product which must be differentiated as well). Some ideas include:
- Be better at formatting information. You don’t have to be the first to say something if you can say it better than others. Take some of the best ideas you can find and package them into more appealing formats, such as videos, infographics, or interactive content.
- Provide something other than knowledge. Not all content has to be about information. Share something else. Entertaining content is the default alternative, but get creative.
- Go past content and develop resources for your scientist-customers that deliver greater value and go further in helping them solve their problems. Get outside the box of “content” as we know it and think more about what problems they have and how your brand can help solve them.
- Be practical. Scientists may not want or expect you to be a thought leader, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need information. Offer simple, to-the-point content that helps them streamline their buying journey and reach a better outcome.
Don’t get caught into thinking you need to win some kind of information war to succeed at content marketing. While some brands may be best served by a thought leadership position, for many it’s easier and more productive to shoot for something else. There are certainly plenty of options.