While we strongly advocate that many content marketers in the life sciences shift from a content paradigm to a resource paradigm, there are still ample roles for more traditional content to play. This is especially true in demand generation endeavors when content is being leveraged to fulfill a specific role in a buying journey. When using content to move prospects closer to making a sale, the most effective content removes steps from the customers’ buying journeys. It actually makes the journey shorter while influencing the customer in a way that favors your brand.
If you want to create content that moves your scientist-customers forward in their buying journeys, you need to know where you’re starting, where they’ll finish, and not try to take a larger step than your content is able. To create great content that can help shorten a buying journey and direct customers in your favor, follow these 4 planning steps before actually putting pen to paper.
1) Map the buying journey.
You can’t effectively influence customers to progress in their buying journeys unless you understand the nature and the steps within those buying journeys. There is no shortcut to this – you need to talk to the customers. When doing so, it’s important to get feedback from a broad range of customers. In addition to simply speaking with different demographics (for instance, customers in different market sectors or those with varying seniority), it’s important to speak with those whose buying journeys have ended differently. Talk to your own customers, those who have made purchases of alternate or similar solutions, those currently involved in a purchasing decision, and some who have exited a buying journey without making a purchase. It’s important to understand all of the paths these journeys took and the factors that led to their ultimate decision.
Remember: a buying journey is not a line. It is a roadmap, where there are multiple routes from the start to the destination, and you want to understand those various routes as much as possible. Mapping the buying journey is something that will be useful well beyond content planning, so it’s a good thing to do regardless. For instance, a map of the customers’ buying journey is invaluable when designing campaigns. It’s not a simple or fast process, but it’s well worth the effort.
2) Pick a step to remove.
Once you understand the “routes” the buying journey may take, you can decide which step you want to remove. To be broadly effective and achieve the best ROI, this should be a step that is on many of the routes and is not presently being addressed well. It should also not be too large of a step, as there is a practical limitation to how much of the buying journey you can bypass with content.
3) Determine why that step exists.
The step you’re trying to remove is there for a reason. The scientist-customer may be trying to understand something, or seeking a particular experience, or looking to verify a specific belief. Unless you know exactly what they’re trying to do, you can’t design content to bypass that step.
In many cases you may be able to use your own best judgment to understand why a step in the buying journey exists, and in others you may want to speak to the target market. The more effort you put into this process the more likely you’ll end up with a correct answer, but the effort needs to be proportional to the effort required to actually create the content. Otherwise, you’d be just as well off taking the “shotgun” approach, designing a few different pieces of content, and A/B testing.
However, to know how much effort you would need to design the content, step 3 needs to overlap with step 4…
4) Determine the best way to bypass the step.
Churning out white papers is only going to get you so far, and there are a lot of steps in the buying journey that can only be effectively skipped by richer content. If your audience seeks only information, there may be a wide variety of content formats you can choose from. If your audience requires an experience, you may be required to use rich media.
The only way to use content to skip a step in the buying journey is to provide the audience with exactly what they are looking for. You can’t take a shortcut and expect to be effective.
There are far too many companies who use their content marketing programs haphazardly, as blog post and white paper factories. Those are wasted efforts. When creating content to generate demand, understand the buying journey, focus on a particular step, then design content to fulfill the needs of that step and get scientists past it. Only then will your content program achieve its potential.