Brands and organizations are boosting investment in content marketing to generate leads and engage audiences. PR, of course, plays a critical role in developing content marketing. The relevant copy and information it creates is distributed to multiple channels and generates inbound awareness (versus outbound). Online research spurred by such content allows buyers to self-educate about vendor products and services early in the purchasing process. Indeed, buyers typically are 70 percent through the buying cycle before making contact with the brand or organization. What does this mean for PR pros?
As a baseline, PR executives must understand the buyer persona: What kind of content does your prospect require at each stage of the buying cycle?
Meet with your sales and marketing team to understand what pieces of content will most influence a particular stage of the sales process.
Create fresh content or tweak existing content and distribute accordingly. Huddle with your customer advocates in person or via phone. Discover what attracted them to your company and why they remain loyal. Here’s a closer look at how to build content that caters to the sales funnel.
▶ Top of the funnel: Awareness (not sales ready leads). PR shines at the top of the funnel, where you are creating brand awareness.
The top of the funnel is where you educate on a broader topic and position yourself and/or other senior executives as thought leaders. This is not an opportunity to sell a specific product or service, but to demonstrate your industry knowledge.
Imagine your company sells green-friendly cars. At the top of the funnel you might publish a blog on, say, commuting and the environment or write a similar piece for an industry magazine. You discuss the value of green- friendly cars, but not the benefits of your green cars over your competitors’.
Create easy-to-read and informative pieces, and include infographics and videos.
Remember, your primary job in PR is to support marketing to drive awareness, which generates sales leads. Top of the funnel leads must be qualified before being passing onto sales. Never pass unqualified leads to sales.
▶ Middle of the funnel: Consideration (possibly sales-ready leads). As customers move down the funnel and show interest, they will engage more deeply with your brand. This is an opportunity to create content for the consideration phase, when prospects begin evaluating solutions that may meet their needs.
At this point in the funnel, present your audience with customer case studies, testimonials, white papers, webinars, and ROI calculators. This content allows prospects to consider your products and conduct research about your products and services.
Consider a sales incentive program rewarding reps for securing customer testimonials. When managed by PR, this program keeps communication lines open with sales regarding customers. In addition, sales will appreciate the money and you will gain valuable customer content to fuel PR programs.
Back to our green-car company example. In the middle phase you might offer factual pieces about the benefits of buying a green-friendly car.
Partner with industry thought-leaders to co-author this type of content. Develop strong analyst or industry-expert relationships to back up your value proposition.
▶ Bottom of the funnel: Validation (definitely sales ready). At this late stage, prospects demand proof points to support their purchase decision. Develop a solid customer reference program.
The best selling-tool is a satisfied customer showcasing your brand. Identify news hooks to pitch your best customer stories to media outlets read by your prospects. The third-party credibility factor cannot be overemphasized.
Regardless of the stage in the sales funnel, meet regularly with marketing to gain insight into the digital body language of each engagement (how consumers interact with your content each step of the way). This insight gives you a comprehensive view of the process, so you can adjust the PR budget and messaging, if necessary.
It’s crucial to understand what happens later in the sales cycle, when the qualified lead is passed to sales. As we have shown, it also is important for PR to understand all phases of the sales funnel and tailor content accordingly.
Liz McClellan is CMO of North Plains Systems. She can be reached at LMcClellan@northplains.com
This article originally appeared in the January 19, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.