A common strategic issue involves trying to be all things to all people. In general, it doesn’t work. You need some degree of specialization in order to effectively create comparative value to your audience. Even if you have a very broad product or service offering, you need to be able to segment your audiences in order to effectively differentiate and avoid commoditization. You need to cut your market into segments.
The same is true for your content (which, after all, behaves like a product). Put simply: if your content is for everybody, it’s for nobody.
Is My Content Insufficiently Segmented?
Broad, unsegmented content has many weaknesses. It tends to be repeat already familiar themes. It is easily replaced. It is undifferentiated. It is low-value. Because of these problems, it simply won’t perform.
How can you tell if poor performance is due to poor segmentation or some other problem? Here are some key warning signs:
- You have multiple distinct audiences or markets, but you send all your content to all of them.
- You have a link on your website that says “blog” or “news” and most of your content is hosted there, regardless of topic.
- When creating content, you rarely think about who will be consuming it
- Most of the information within the content that you’re publishing can be readily found elsewhere
- Your content could be described as superficial or lacking depth
- Your audience wouldn’t care or notice if your content didn’t exist.
Any of the first three are very clear signs of poor content segmentation. The last three can also indicate segmentation problems, but could signal other content-related problems as well.
How to Properly Segment Content
Step 1: Determine your target markets, if you haven’t already done so. If you have a positioning statement, great! If not, you at least need to define and document your target customer and statement of need. Note that unless your company is laser-focused, these will likely change for each product line or service offering that you have, and you’ll want to have different content for each.
Step 2: Create audience / customer personas. If you’ve already done this for your product offerings, then you can use those as a solid starting point. They should include demographic information as well as behavioral information. Demographic information includes industry, job title, function, location, etc. Behavioral information may include what their goals and needs are, what their expectations may be, what concerns or problems might they have, what role they play in the purchasing process, how influential they are, etc.
Step 3: Determine what the purpose of your content is and, relatedly, what stage of the buying journey your content is targeting. Are you trying to stoke interest among people with a nascent need? Are you trying to persuade people who are actively considering options? These determinations will inform you what kind of content (educational, persuasive, etc.) that you should create. Dont try to do everything at once! Just as you shouldn’t try to speak to all of your audiences at once, you also shouldn’t try to say everything to a particular audience in a single piece of content or expect them to go from naive to purchasing in one shot.
Step 4: Determine what benefit you are offering the reader that holds special value for the audience you’ve just defined. This is key! It’s entirely possible to define a very specific audience but then go on to create non-specific, poorly targeted content. If you fail to create well-targeted and value-creating content, your efforts in directing it at a well-defined audience will be wasted.
Most life science companies need to speak to multiple audiences. That’s completely normal. It can become a problem, however, if you try to speak to them all at once. If your content isn’t properly segmented, it becomes watered down and less effective at influencing the audiences and affecting their behavior. By properly segmenting your content to specific audiences and needs, you’ll be a much more effective influencer.
All of us life science marketers know that we need to differentiate our products and services. Nothing new there. It’s critical to demonstrate a unique value and avoid commoditization. But how often do you think about how well differentiated your content is? My experience has shown me that for most of you the answer will be: never.
Marketers often think of their content as something which is a carrot for the customer; something that is of benefit to them and for their own good. You’re providing them with knowledge so they should just eat it up and be grateful for it. Unfortunately that viewpoint is completely misaligned with reality.
Your Content is a Product
Your audiences are customers of your content. They are paying for your content with their time and, if you require them to fill out a form, paying for it with their contact information as well. All the same rules apply to your content as apply to your products. Your content has to be worth the “price”. You need to effectively “sell” it.
Your content also needs to be differentiated. Without differentiation, your content will be just one in a never-ending stream of content pieces being continuously created. And unlike with products, your content can’t compete on price. Your content either provides unique value or it won’t be consumed by your audience. Even worse, they might consume then resent you for wasting their time.
Ways to Differentiate Content
The best and most obvious way to differentiate your content is to say something different from what everyone else is saying. Take a stance on a topic and deliver content that has particular value for your target market segment. Demonstrate your existing position(s) through content. Not only will you be reinforcing your positioning, but so long as your position is unique your content will be inherently unique as well. Content which is differentiated in this manner will help drive your target market segment towards you while driving away the off-target audiences which would eat up time and resources but ultimately not become customers.
Some other ways to differentiate content include:
- Find an area where you have knowledge that can’t readily be found elsewhere and share it. This can also help reinforce your positioning.
- Forego traditional content and instead develop resources that help solve customer problems. There’s huge brand and customer experience advantages to be claimed in doing so.
- Create content in different formats. If your competition are flooding the space with white papers, do a video or a webinar. Different people have different preferences for content.
- Drill down or add a twist. If something has already been said, get even more specific or put a spin on it in order to tailor it to a particular market segment.
Never forget that your content is a product, and like any product it risks commoditization if it is not differentiated. By differentiating your content, not only will you increase its effective audience and create more engagement with it, but you can reinforce your positioning and branding as well. Differentiated content is better for both you and your audience.
If the forecast calls for rain, followed by ever-increasing amounts of rain thereafter, what is the end result? Assuming the forecasts are correct, you would have one heck of a flood.
That’s what the state of content marketing currently is. It’s a constantly-increasing deluge. We’re flooding our audiences with it, and they don’t have the attention spans to pay attention to even a small fraction anymore. As a result, content is becoming less effective, and marketers need ways to ensure their content stands out and successfully captures that scarce customer resource: attention.
Oddly enough, one of the most valuable ways to do so is to use a rapidly-forgotten tool.
Put Your Content in Print
Which of the following are you more likely to read: A) An email newsletter with links to a bunch of different articles, or B) A magazine that you’ve subscribed to which contains those same articles? Which of those is easier to ignore? Which is easier to unsubscribe to?
The fact of the matter is that if you put something in print it is more likely to get attention. There are other benefits as well. Long-form printed materials (for example magazines or books) convey more authority than do digital content. They also have more perceived value. This means that customers will give more up to obtain it, and you can use that to collect more information from them. At minimum, they expect to have to give up their address since the content will be physically mailed to them.
Some tips for life science marketers considering printed content:
- Not all content is suitable for print. You need to ensure that the bulk of the content is of high value to the audience, or else your mailing will simply end up in the trash. Product- or service-specific content should be avoided as it will come off as pitchy.
- If you want to use your printed content to more directly generate demand, place “advertisements” for your products and services within your printed materials.
- To convey authority, try to adopt a magazine-style format. This requires a significant amount of content. If necessary, publish less often to ensure both the perceived and actual value is high
- Get creative. Simply reprinting your blog posts is boring. Do something different. If the creative juices aren’t flowing, you can always do an interview or highlight some recent industry news just to mix things up.
There have been a lot of people who have given the advice: “look at what everyone else is doing, then do the exact opposite.” While that’s not exactly a principle to live by, it can help find opportunities. Content is overwhelming the digital realm, but if anything it is retreating from print. As print becomes less and less common, it may become easier and easier to use that medium to get your audience’s attention.
One of the biggest pitfalls of content creation – and by far the biggest content mistake by amateur life science marketers – is forgetting that your content isn’t just directed AT your target audience, but is FOR your target audience. Many content creators focus too heavily on what they want their customers to hear rather than sincerely addressing customers’ needs through content and, in doing so, providing customer value.
To illustrate the point, here are some types of content which I frequently see and which have the wrong focus:
- Generic event-promoting blog posts (“We’ll be at the XYZ meeting in booth 2000!”)
- “White papers” which don’t do anything but restate the value claims for a product or service.
- Frequent social media posts about ongoing promotions.
- Blog posts which are little more than product overviews.
- Posting just about any overt promotional message to a LinkedIn group.
All of the above are company-centric or product-centric promotions. They do not properly address the customers’ needs. Even if a prospect has a potential but unrealized need for the product, these kinds of “content spam” will simply drive them away by trying to create an opportunity to purchase when most of your audience is likely not actively in a relevant buying journey. It’s the wrong message at the wrong time, and they’ll filter it out along with the mountains of other promotional content which they get bombarded with.
Instead of company-centric and product-centric messages, use your content channels to provide value-added, customer-centric content. Creating valuable customer-centric content, as well as matching each piece of content to the appropriate channels, requires three things:
- Understanding what information your customers are looking for.
- Understanding your customers’ preferences for consuming content.
- Ensuring that your content distribution is properly targeted such that any given piece of content is provided to the most relevant audiences
To do these things effectively, you need to remove your own mindset from the equation. You need to stop thinking about your customers and start thinking like your customers. If you can effectively do that when you’re planning content, you’ll end up with content which is more valuable to your customers.
By now, any decent SEO-er knows that the old way of performing SEO – basically, manipulating ranks through inorganic backlinks – is worthless. Google caught on and killed it. As of Panda 4.0, there are extremely limited ways in which someone can fool the rankings system, and doing so will only hurt you in the long run. That being the case, more SEO experts are turning to content development to improve SEO. In a sense, this is good – content development is a legitimate way of trying to improve rankings. However, as SEO-ers start to think about content, we need to remember that the content itself needs to be prioritized above SEO at all times. In other words, life science marketers cannot let the quality of their content slip due to the desire to focus on SEO.
Remember that the purpose of using content for SEO is to have your content seen by your target audience. Your audience, when consuming that content, is going to judge you by its quality. If you’re churning out low-quality content for SEO purposes you may get a lot of eyeballs, but you’re going to be turning off your audience due to the low value of the content which they’re landing on. This can be especially damaging if the audience doesn’t have prior experience with your company. Instead of trying to develop content strictly for SEO, take the high-quality content that’s being developed as part of your content marketing strategy and optimize it!
There are a number of things that you can do to improve the SEO of your high-quality content. For example:
- Think about how your audience would ask questions related to the topic at hand. Is there any particular phrasing that they would use? If so, try to incorporate that phrasing into your content to improve the match for relevant “long-tail” search terms.
- Make appropriate use of heading tags.
- Ensure your page titles and URLs are optimized and relevant. Some content management systems default to generic nomenclature for URLs and titles, using things like an arbitrary numbering system or the date instead of a rich description. Ensure your settings use the title of your content (or at least part of it) in the page title and URL.
- Improve the clickthrough rate of digital content by using a descriptive meta description tag
- Improve the CTR of your digital content even more by using Google Authorship and ensuring you have a good headshot in your linked Google+ account. This can have a huge impact – I’ve seen various case studies claiming that pages with authorship attribution and a headshot displayed in the search results see between 20% and 150% increases in clickthrough. Eye-tracking data is just as compelling: searchers will pay more attention to author-attributed pages than higher-ranking videos with larger images.
If necessity dictates that you need to create content strictly for SEO purposes, especially if it would fall outside the bounds of your content strategy, ask yourself the following questions to ensure that you don’t churn out junk content:
- Does our target audience have a need to know about this topic?
- Can we create content which would genuinely fill that knowledge gap?
- Would our target audience expect us to provide this type of content? If not, would they find it odd that we are? … I think of this as the realtor / lawnmower conundrum. Your realtor, knowing that you just bought a house, would be in a great position to sell you a lawnmower. They even know what kind of lawn you have. However, you would likely be put off if your realtor tried to sell you a lawnmower.
While the tools at one’s disposal to positively affect search engine ranks are more limited than they used to be, SEO is still important. As SEO tactics take a more content-centric approach, it’s important you don’t churn out low-value content. Your content strategy should be focused on the content. Working SEO into your content strategy will have a far more positive long-term effect than trying to take to shape content around an SEO strategy.
Creating quality content takes a good deal of effort. When marketers endeavor to create marketing content, it is generally created for a particular purpose. That’s usually out of necessity – marketers identify a need for content then design the content to fill that specific need. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, to increase the returns on your hard work creating it, marketers should try to maximize the value derived from any piece of quality content. There are a number of ways to extract more value from your content, and here are a few ideas:
Think about different ways your audience might want to consume content. Just because you packaged a great idea into a compelling article or paper, for instance, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to read it. Perhaps you could package it into a short, instructional video. (Videos are more frequently engaged with than documents anyway.) Perhaps you could host a webinar when you’ll discuss the idea but also allow for Q&A with the audience. Or, if your paper is fairly long, perhaps you could cover some of the same content across a number of blog posts. By repackaging content, not only are you creating more opportunities for your audience to be presented with the underlying idea, but you’re accommodating more of your target audience’s preferred content consumption methods as well.
Don’t publicize it only once. Pushing your content more than once is perfectly okay, especially if you can safely assume that a large portion of the audience is not seeing any particular post and / or the method of promotion is non-intrusive. With social media, for instance, and especially with Twitter, most people only see a small percentage of what gets posted. If you post the same content a few times, chances are that few people will actually see the post more than once. In interruptive formats such as email, you can get more mileage from your content by using it in different ways. For instance, you might promote a piece of content in a newsletter, but also send it out as a follow-up in a drip campaign to leads who have shown interest in the topic. Or perhaps a topic that was a headline in one newsletter would be a footnote in a later newsletter on a similar topic.
Consider using media publishers to reach a larger audience. Publishers understand the value of content, and many welcome contributions to their publications. If you have content that would be relevant to certain publications, and those publishers have an audience which would be relevant for your company, then reach out to those publishers. Contact the editor and see if they would print your content. Many times they will, since this is a win-win scenario. They get free content and you get free publicity. Just note one thing: if you have already published your content elsewhere (for instance, in a white paper or your blog) then be sure to tell the editor that. Some publishers won’t accept content which has been published elsewhere, and failing to disclose that can ruin your relationship (or worse).
If you’re generating quality marketing content, you’re almost guaranteed to be putting lot of effort into it. See that your efforts are better-rewarded by getting more value from the every piece of quality content that you create.