What Are Your Customers Afraid Of? Five Steps to a Content Marketing Plan
1) Who’s the buyer?
Infrastructure firms are often really, really good at designing products for end users. And that’s great, of course—without a product that end users love, you have nothing worth selling. But too often, infrastructure firms craft marketing plans that are focused on these same end users… and that’s not so good. The problem is, end users and buyers—the ones who will actually authorize purchases—are often entirely different people, and job titles, with entirely different concerns.
For example, if you’re selling a pipe bursting system, the end users are the pipeline crews that will actually be making it work in the field. They’re interested in the weight and durability of the equipment, the ease of training and set up, pulling power, etc.
But buyers of pipe bursting rigs are likely to be owners or vice-presidents of pipeline contractors, or directors of public works (DPWs) of medium to large cities. They’re concerned about factors like ROI, warranties, and required training, and they have bigger picture issues as well, such as whether their firm, or city, should be investing in pipe bursting at all—maybe they’re better off leasing as needed, or using some other technology entirely.
So, when you’re thinking about your marketing plan, the first step is to distinguish end users from buyers, and focus on buyers.
2) What are they afraid of?
It’s a cliché that people are motivated by fear, but of course it’s true. Your buyers, in most cases, are afraid of making a wrong choice. If they’re employees, purchasing on behalf of a firm or an agency, they’re afraid that their decision won’t work out and they’ll have to answer for the results. Or, if they’re owners, they’re afraid that they’ll lose money.
To return to our example, a DPW could really be sold on pipe bursting as a solution, but have reasonable concerns about buying equipment; perhaps he’d be better off subcontracting as needed. In this case, the DPW will not be moved by a brochure that proves your rig is faster than the competition… what he really wants to see is proof that his investment will pay off compared to subcontracting.
So, once you’ve identified your buyers, put yourself in their position and spend some time thinking about their fears.
3) What will ease their fears?
In most cases, your buyers are looking for solid, factual material that directly addresses their concerns. They don’t want to be ‘sold’, they want to be reassured that they’re making a decision that will pay off for them.
Therefore, marketing directors should consider preparing white papers, reports, case studies, and other factual, referenced content that addresses topics of interest to your buyers. In a real sense, this content will be competing with similar content produced by your competitors so it should be well written and there should be a lot of it. Studies show that buyers, on average, want to see at least five sources of information about a solution before purchasing.
Consider again the DPW looking into a pipe bursting rig. In his particular example, a case study that discussed the success of a city, like his, that purchased a rig would be highly motivating—it could easily be the deciding factor in his decision. If such a case study is available online, he’s likely to find it… wouldn’t it be nice to be the company who’s products were being used?
Preparing content is not a difficult proposition. Identify successful uses of your products for case studies, select topics for white papers, and work with a writer to prepare a suite of effective content.
So, figure out what your buyers will be looking for when they do research, and make sure that you have such material available.
4) Be your own publisher.
Rather than considering your firm as a customer of publishing outlets, like trade journals or e-newsletters, think of your firm as publisher in its own right. Your firm has a highly specialized audience (your buyers) and your task is to reach them with content that answers their questions and positions your products favorably.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t use, for example, trade journals as an outlet. But it does change the way you view media outlets; they’re not using you as a source of content, rather, you’re using them to distribute your content. For example, case studies can often appear as magazine articles.
But this also means that you don’t necessarily need other media outlets. Since buyers will be doing research online, with complex keyword phrases, you can publish your content online and expect it to be found.
There are various factors to consider—like SEO, AdWord campaigns, dedicated sites versus additions to your existing site, etc.—but in essence it’s simple: get your content online.
You can also publish directly to your prospects by creating your own newsletters and e-newsletters, by publishing books or mini-magazines, by conducting seminars, or by a dozen other methods. The point is, tools exist that allow you to reach your ideal buyers directly.
So, think of your firm as a niche publisher for an audience (your buyers) interested in the infrastructure solutions that you provide, and produce content aimed at that audience.
5) Follow up.
Since you are producing factual, lightly branded content of value to your target audience, you should have no hesitation about using that content as bait. Your content is valuable and you should get something for it. Usually, what you are after is leads. Several studies show that interested buyers are willing to register for relevant content. In other words, they will give you their names and emails.
The result is an extremely well qualified lead list; your registrants will have found you by doing research, and they have enough interest in your technology to register for, download, and read lengthy, referenced material. They will be good candidates for autoresponder email campaigns, phone calls, visits, and direct mail.
So, don’t waste your effort. Get leads in exchange for your content, and have a plan for follow up.
A bonus step: refocus and repeat. View the above five steps as a cycle. As you work these steps, you’ll learn more about your buyers, what content they’re looking for, what publishing methods work best, and how to follow up more effectively. Take what you learn, and work the five steps again… and you’ll keep getting better results and more sales.
My white paper, Long Sales Cycles and Skeptical Customers are Good Things, Information Marketing in Infrastructure, goes into more detail about content and publishing, and you can download it for free.