When entrepreneurs and marketers approach me for a content writing or copywriting project, typically (and fortunately) they know that they need effective content for their business.
But they’re almost always clueless on what content do they need. Or which topics do they want me to write about.
Being a little in the dark is fine when you’re going to hire someone like me, because I am glad to help in every step of the process, and I am very humble about it!
But if you’re going to write content yourself, or outsource writing to someone who is just concerned with writing what you tell them and not about your business needs (which is true for 90% of freelance writers or agencies out there), not knowing what you want is a recipe for disaster.
So here are the 4 fundamental questions I start with to identify content gaps which are to be filled in a client’s business.
#1 What’s the objective?
An effective content plan starts with the why. Why do you need the content? Determining the objective is important because it’ll tell us what type of content we need. Your objective can be to:
- Get featured in the media (newspapers, online publications etc.)
- Get sales from customers who abandoned the shopping cart
- Capture leads or sales from an advertising campaign
- Get backlinks from authority websites and bloggers
Each of these objectives can be split into a series of small objectives, making it easier to manage and achieve.
#2 Who are the target audience?
Who do you want your message to reach? Gamers who like action games? Venture Capitalists interested in cloud technologies? Employers looking for Python developers? Journalists who write about startups in education industry?
Even a single set of audience can sometimes get tricky and have various subsets. If you’re a business selling a product to other businesses, for example, then who is your audience?
• The users of the product?
• Their seniors or managers?
• The person who controls the budget?
If you’ve been interacting with customers, you will have some idea of who’s involved in the whole process.
So you should be creating separate content for each of these groups. When you have multiple audiences to deal with, each set will require a different content funnel.
If you understand your audience, then you’ll know what they need and can really improve your chances of crafting a killer message and getting what you want.
#3 Where are they in the funnel?
Any sales and marketing process is divided into stages of a funnel, which outlines the customer journey over time.
The funnel begins with a prospects first awareness or contact with your business, and goes on till he keeps buying/using your product or service. For each stage of the funnel, the content that makes sense is the content you need.
The first stage is when your audience may be interested in what you have to offer, but they are not actively looking to learn more, invest, buy or close the deal. So your main goal at this stage is just to offer value and not ask for too much. You can:
• make audience aware of your brand
• get on your audiences’ radar
• make them interested in learning more
• build trust/familiarity which can be leveraged later
• create demand for your product or service
You got to do this in a way that doesn’t seem like an interruption but an extension of what they are doing.
For instance, when someone is browsing their Facebook feed, they aren’t interested in promotions or offers. They are just connecting with their network in a fun way.
So your message should be something that blends in with this casual vibe. If you’re in a teeth whitening business, for example, the message can be:
Are Your Teeth Really White? Take This Free Quiz To Find Out!
Chances are high that they’ll click to take the quiz. And in the process they’ll arrive at your website, get familiar with your logo and feel. They may engage even further if they see something interesting after they’ve taken the quiz or read the article.
Stage 2 is where your audience are already aware of a need or problem, but they’re still not actively searching for a solution. They’re just exploring what options are out there, and which look more trustworthy than others.
Or maybe they just went through your stage 1 message, which was so good that they got curious about who you are and what you do. So they started exploring more. So the goal of your message at this stage is to:
• communicate your main value proposition
• introduce yourself, your team or business
Your stage 2 content tells the reader what to expect from you in a way that leaves a lasting and positive impression.
For example, the content that goes into your website homepage, about page, contact page and wherever you list your business for more exposure is part of stage 2.
As always, the purpose of stage 2 message is to move the prospect to the next stage.
Stage 3 prospects are interested in learning more about what you are proposing. They realize they have problems to be solved and needs to be met in a particular area.
And if you’ve earned their trust through stage 1 and stage 2 messages, they’ll be willing to give you their contact information in exchange for an incentive that can provide the essential, little push.
For instance, many businesses ask website visitors to fill an enquiry form or sign up in exchange for a free ebook, 30-day trial, consultation, coupon, entry into a contest or something else they’ll find useful and valuable.
So the main goal of your stage 3 content may be to:
• Generate leads from a marketing campaign offering an incentive
• Build a network or list of people you can reach out to later
• Addressing objections preventing prospects from sharing contact information
After you have contact information of your audience and the permission to contact them, you can now stay in touch with them and regularly share messages to move them further to the next stages, like stage 4.
Stage 4 is about messages that bridges that gap between their needs and your offer. The goal is to warm up your audience and build more trust towards you and your offer.
Let’s say they have opted in for your newsletter on teeth whitening or filled a form to get communications about cosmetic treatments available in their area. So content like the following will keep them subscribed and move them further down the funnel.
#a Whitening Strips Vs In-Office Treatment. What’s Best For You?
#b Top 10 Teeth Whitening Mistakes, & How To Avoid Them
Each of these pieces of content is solving a problem, preparing them with information they need to decide on a purchase, and would portray your product as a solution towards the end.
If you’ve thoroughly put in the work from stage 1 to stage 4, you’re ready to close the deal in stage 5. The big question now in their mind is that with so many competing offers in the market, why would they choose you?
So stage 5 is about hard-selling. This is not the time to be shy or hold back. Sell them on you and your business in detail to make them take the plunge. Stage 5 goals can be one of these:
- Get an influencer/reporter to cover your story
- Get a lead to purchase from you
- Get a project contract from your dream client
For example, the content you see on a sales page or email mostly includes stage 5 messages, such as:
• Social Proof: Media Coverage. Reviews, Ratings & Testimonials By Other Customers.
• Demo & Case Studies Showing The Product Or Service In Action & Outcomes
• Shipping Policy, Return Policy, Refund Policy, Terms & Conditions.
While stage 5 content is sufficient to reach your end goal, keep in mind that the content doesn’t have to end here.
Who are the people most likely to agree with your proposal, buy a product from you, or give you a backlink? Those who done that before and are glad about it.
For example, your new product or service can be sold to an existing customer as an up-sell or cross-sell at less at half the cost and effort of selling to a new one. Yet I see businesses throwing plenty of money time after time in reaching and attracting new customers.
I don’t have a problem with that if they’re paying equal attention to exceeding expectations of their current customers and milking the most out of them.
Once you’ve closed a deal, you should still keep working on retaining and maintaining the relationship you’ve built with your audience and steering them towards new proposals, offers or products.
This means rinsing and repeating stages 3 to 5 all over again, and so on. Share further content which solves any problems they may be encountering, and help them uncover new ways or leverage the full potential of the product or service they bought from you.
Not only this will help you when you have something new to sell, but also spread positive word of mouth.
#4 Are 1, 2 & 3 in sync?
Finally, you need to make sure that the decisions you have made while pondering over the above 3 questions agree with each other.
It’s foolish, for example, to bombard a target audience with stage 5, hard selling content when the objective is to raise brand awareness.
You want to make sure that you’ve chosen the right objective to achieve from the right target audience, and considering where they are right now in the funnel.