Every seasoned B2B marketer knows the role content plays in your overall marketing mix. Given that B2B digital advertising has moved from more of an in-your-face, sales-focused approach to one that involves organic presentation of helpful information, high quality content has become more important than ever.

From first introducing a user to your brand, to ultimately convincing them that your solution is the right one for them, content plays the vital role of guiding the user through the customer journey experience, from awareness to consideration to conversion.

So how can you craft a killer content marketing strategy that ultimately gets users to convert?

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through everything from what makes good content to promote in ads, to matching content choices to a given audience, to tips on how to create content draws people further into your customer journey. So without further ado, let’s dive right in!

Start with the customer journey

This is content for ad campaigns. Whether it be a web article, a downloadable white paper, or a webinar, it should serve the purpose of guiding the user to the next stage of their journey with your brand.

Plan content based on stages of the digital marketing funnel.

This is valuable to understand what sort of content, messaging, and imagery might appeal to the user at each stage of their journey. In turn, this ultimately helps you introduce users to your brand, get them to consider the product or service, and convince them to take some sort of action.

Metric Theory’s digital marketing funnel has 5 stages: prospecting, consideration, conversion, nurturing, and expansion (we’ll focus on the first three for now).

Digital Marketing Funnel

Users at the awareness stage are unfamiliar with your brand and are likely hearing about you or hearing from you for the first time. They may not even know your solution exists. Users at the consideration phase are likely familiar with your brand, but they haven’t yet raised their hands and said “hey, I’m interested in trying your product.” Users at the conversion phase have expressed interest in your product or service and might be ready to take the next step.

Help your audience at every stage of their journey.

Considering the mindset of your audience at every stage of the funnel, you can start to get a bit more sophisticated and strategic with your ad content strategy, and serve people content that is tailored to their funnel stage and pushes them to the next phase of their journey.

Awareness: People in this stage typically are doing preliminary research and are typically interested in information that is generalized and related to common pain points. Serve them ads for content that adds value for them and focuses on the user, rather than your product or brand. For example, an HR software company might serve people in the awareness stage with an industry report on key trends in the HR space (e.g. How HR Regulations are Changing in 2020).

Consideration: People in this stage should be signaling solution research in some way, so it’s your chance to help them with needs analysis. Serve them content that helps them evaluate whether they might need a new product or solution like yours. One very common content piece used at this stage are product landscape reports like Gartner or Forrester offer, if in fact your brand is positively featured. If that’s not you, there are other options. The same HR software company in the previous example might serve people in the consideration phase a white paper titled 12 Signs You Need a New Payroll Provider or Choosing the Right HR Software for Your Business.

Conversion: If you know an audience has interacted with your brand a few times, or maybe they’ve even downloaded one of your more high-intent content pieces, they’ll probably move into conversion stage. They’re signaling a sales conversation might be useful. At this point, you need to consider whether it’s best to make your conversion event informational or action-oriented, like a trial or sales meeting. The best approach will differ for every company and industry, but many sales organizations find that some pieces of content generate more motivated or qualified sales conversations than others – the most obvious example of this would be an on-demand video demo, but others might be competitor comparisons or case study collections.

Putting it all together, here’s an example of a fully fleshed-out digital advertising content strategy that considers the customer journey experience, and tailors content to each funnel stage.

Content by Funnel Stage
Set performance goals at each stage of the funnel.

Let’s face it—a user is unlikely to sign up for a free trial or request a demo immediately after being introduced to your brand for the very first time. That would be like expecting someone to move in after the first date. Given what you know about buyer behavior and the customer journey, you should set realistic goals at each stage of the funnel based on what that content was designed to accomplish.

For top-of-funnel content, the performance goal could be a form fill or email collection, but it might also be ad interaction-based, like click-through rate and/or cost per click if you’re providing the content without gating. For mid-funnel content, the main KPIs should be mid-funnel content downloads and other medium-intent form fills. For bottom-funnel content, the main KPIs should be high-intent form fills, such as free trial downloads, contact sales form fills, and demo request submissions.

To set the right cost goals for those metrics, you can work backward from the cost you’re looking to pay for a sales opportunity, using the metrics that you have at each stage to guide your expectation of drop-off from one stage to the next. Just keep in mind that you’ll need time to optimize campaigns at each stage in order to reach your desired business result.

Here’s that funnel again, this time with KPIs added at each stage:

Content & KPI by Funnel Stage

Consider current content and check out the data

By now you have a pretty solid understanding of how to create quality content for your digital ads, but as we alluded to before, you’ll also need to know how to analyze content performance, and draw actionable, data-driven insights from your content.

Use data to draw actionable insights.

Try organizing your content pieces by funnel stage. Remember that since you’ll be evaluating content with a different set of KPIs at each stage of the funnel, it might not make sense to compare an prospecting-focused content piece with a conversion-focused one.

Next, you should categorize your content in as many different ways as possible. Here are some to get you started:

  • Content medium (ungated article, downloadable white paper, webinar, etc.)
  • Topic category
  • Length of content
  • Tone of voice
  • Target persona

Once you’ve got your content categorized and pivoted in a variety of different ways, you can look for performance trends in the data. Here are some questions this sort of data analysis will help answer:

  • What types of awareness content are driving the highest click-through rate?
  • Which white paper topics are driving the highest conversion rate?
  • Which webinar topics topics are driving the lowest cost per demo request?
  • What webinar topics are most resonating with your CEO persona?

This exercise should give you an idea of what would make for good initial content tests for different audiences, products, and positions in the funnel.

Update content based on what has worked previously.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Take content that has performed well historically and find ways to extend it, either by creating content on new topics with similar structure, or trying a new format for the content – like video or webinar, even podcast!

If you plan to use existing content, consider also what small modifications you should make to the title, format, or content itself that will be more appealing to an ad-focused audience. What are the common pain points people are searching for? The content title can almost become an extension of your ad copy. Does it speak directly to what you know your audience needs for a given campaign?

That said, you should always continue to test new types of content—there are infinitely more content formats and topics to test, and you never know what will perform well for you until you test it!

How to craft good content for advertising

The first step to understanding how to craft an effective content strategy for ads is creating useful, engaging content that your target audience will want to consume. This might sound simple enough, but content assets can very easily fall flat when promoted, which is a big waste of time and resources.

So… what makes good content good for advertising?

Good content adds value for the user.

Assuming you are someone working in digital marketing, are you more likely to read an article about the many awards “XYZ agency” received in the past year or a guide that teaches you a new skill you can leverage in your current role (like this blog post you are reading right now)?

I’m guessing you picked the latter. Why? Because the former likely does not provide the same value to you. When brainstorming topics for blog posts, white papers, or webinars, start by considering the target audience, what common challenges and problems they face, and what they might be Googling during their workday.

Here are some examples of high-quality content topics that add value:

  • Guides that help users solve common, timeless problems (e.g. How to Improve Your Landing Page’s Conversion Rate)
  • Industry reports that inform the user of key trends (e.g. 5 Key Digital Marketing Trends to Watch Out for in 2020)
  • Highly relevant and timely articles (e.g. How GDPR Impacts Your Marketing Strategy and What To Do About It)
Be Relatable.

When creating content, especially e-books, try to make it bite-sized, relatable, and relevant. Remember that the reader clicked on your ad looking for useful information. They’re not expecting to read Aristotle, so keep your paragraphs and sentences short, and avoid jargon. This is especially important for upper-funnel audiences you’re educating, but also is a good rule of thumb for those further along. Putting things in more approachable terms than competing businesses will create more connection to your brand. At the end of the day, your content should sound human.

Drive your audience to action.

Of course, this applies to the content itself – the reader needs to walk away from reading your content and immediately be able to do something differently to grow their site traffic, improve their sales team’s effectiveness, or impress their boss with advanced knowledge. But you should also give the audience a next step through your brand. What’s the next piece of content to consume? What options can you offer them? Most people won’t take the next step immediately, so be sure you have a nurturing strategy in place to remind them to continue.

By now you should have a solid understanding of how to create high-quality content for your digital ads, how to tailor content to the customer journey, and how to analyze content performance to inform future strategy. Armed with the tools you need, it’s time to go out there and start generating leads with a killer B2B digital content strategy!