Four Tips for Better Content Marketing

Over the past 10 years or so, content marketing has taken the business world by storm with nearly every industry jumping on board and producing content in the hopes of attracting prospective clients at each successive step of their purchasing journey.

The allure is easy to understand, especially given the multiplier effect of social media reach. In their digital article for Harvard Business Review, Frank V. Cespedes and Russ Heddleston point out that content marketing—when well done—has the opportunity to “[accelerate] customer conversion through the sales funnel, and equally important [optimize] ‘data-driven marketing’ by tying each piece of content to metrics like opens, reads, downloads, and so on.”

They caution, however, that the explosive growth of content marketing has resulted in a number of unexamined assumptions that have misinformed content marketing strategies over the years. The authors—Cespedes is a Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School and Heddleston is CEO of DocSend, a San Francisco-based content management solution—have examined 34 million interactions between customers and content via DocSend’s platform and come up with four data-informed tips related to: how much time prospects actually spend on content, on which devices, when, and the type of content they prefer.

Get your point across in less than 3 minutes

In their review of customer interactions on DocSend, a platform which allows sales organizations to upload and share documents with prospects, the authors found that the average viewing time for content is 2 minutes and 27 seconds.

During this brief window, that content needs to cover a lot of bases: it must encourage readers to click and open (rather than click and delete) and it must convey all the right details and information necessary to engage the prospect to take the next step in the buying journey.

Another interesting trend emerged from the data, indicating that prospects are often reading marketing and sales collateral outside of the normal work week. “If initially engaged, a prospect reading a piece on Wednesday often returns for a longer visit on the weekend,” the authors say.

This reflects an increasing number of buyers who are not moving sequentially through the sales funnel; “rather, they adopt parallel streams to explore, evaluate, and engage with content and sales people,” Cespedes and Heddleston explain. Content formats and sales sequencing will need to adapt to a more continuous and dynamic buying process.

Don’t put all your eggs in mobile

While there is no question that mobile marketing is still important, content should be optimized for viewing on multiple formats and devices. Interestingly, the authors’ data suggested that, once a lead becomes an opportunity and is handed off to sales, “an overwhelming majority of prospects view sales content on desktop devices, not mobile.”

In addition to creating content that features succinct copy and visuals that quickly convey key messages, “consider creating a content-sequencing process for coupling an initial view with additional engagement to help your sellers prioritize their follow-up actions,” the authors suggest. This will help you distinguish between marketing-relevant content, which aims to establish awareness and interest, and sales-relevant content, which aims to get the customer to sign a contract.

Don’t focus on sending content on specific days of the week

The common assumption that Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings are the best days of the week to send content doesn’t hold up under empirical examination. The authors’ data indicates that prospects are engaging with the content on sellers’ sites almost evenly across each day of the work week—perhaps a bit more from Tuesday through Thursday and, understandably, a bit less on Monday morning and Friday afternoon.

Focusing on specific days for sharing content is potentially disruptive to a more natural flow in your marketing and sales process. Instead, Cespedes and Heddleston suggest optimizing content for each level and type of prospect engagement and “linking your content marketing efforts to what you know about the vertical your prospect is in.”

Good case-study content consistently outperforms all other content

According to the authors’ data analysis, case studies have an 83% completion rate. This suggests that, above all, buyers are interested in learning about what others are doing with your product, “not what they might do to improve productivity and other outcomes.”

Good case study content is especially beneficial in B2B contexts where buyers will need a more compelling reason to justify a decision, particularly when there are competing priorities for limited funds. “Knowing how other organizations have successfully integrated and used a new product, service or process is more important than grand assertions about ‘thought leadership’ or ‘disruption,’” the authors contend.

As our interactions with content marketing continue to evolve, best practices and content strategies will need to keep in step. For content marketing to continue to be worthwhile, you will need to dismiss any outdated practices that no longer reflect your content marketing reality, and instead focus on what your prospects are actually doing with your content.

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