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Aligning SSLIM and FAST Content Marketing Methodologies to Buyer Journeys

We’ve been thinking about content marketing and the strategy behind it. I was lucky enough to have heard a colleague Steve Porter present on the subject and this got me thinking. Here are my thoughts on his presentation, which he himself was inspired to create based on a content marketing strategy piece produced at the end of 2015 by Horizon Peake. In addition, I’ve looked at my own experiences, taken info from those around me and tried to include some useful content from others.

Content marketing has become somewhat ubiquitous in the world of digital marketing of late and you’d be hard pressed to find a marketer that doesn’t have some understanding of content marketing. However, there has been a great deal of talk recently about the impending content crunch; with so many companies out there creating content visitors may be starting to become content blind and where businesses need to produce so much content that it becomes uneconomical. Mitchell Kapor says: “Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” But who really tries to drink from a fire hydrant?

The thing is, people are never going to become completely content blind, they’re just going to become better at sourcing the right kind of content, so as marketers we need to get better at producing the right kind of well thought out, well researched, quality content.

There is a huge variety of content you can create, however it’s important to really understand the types of content people are looking for, and the types of content your audience is looking for. I’ve often been an advocate of throwing a lot of mud at the wall the beginning of a content marketing campaign to see what sticks, however after years of carrying out content marketing activities, and after strategy is maturing, we should be looking at the collective learnings about content marketing and use this to guide our content creation techniques.

Historically, I created a lot of content to soak up traffic from search engines purely as an SEO orientated tactic and Google always has, and still does deliver a good amount of traffic when you engaged this methodology effectively, but the thing is, search is declining in favour of other methods of finding content. About 6 years ago I coined the phrase finding strategist to define what I did, because I foresaw that calling myself a freelance seo consultant (which is how I was referring to myself) wouldn’t always be accurate. These days, I’m more than happy to simply call myself a marketer. A marketer of content, which is where Rachel puts her emphasis, has to be someone who can create a lot of different types of content that will appeal to a number of people, at different stages in their buying journey and should be someone who has an effective understanding of how that content can be promoted.

Thinking about content marketing and the buying cycle

Buying CycleWith so many businesses jumping on the content band wagon, those carrying out content marketing professionally have shifted towards a two pronged strategic route. The strategic creation of content pieces for positioning and awareness, and the alignment of content marketing activities with the buyers’ journeys.

When thinking about the buying cycle we’re talking about the following stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Interest
  3. Evaluation
  4. Retention
  5. Advocacy

Most content marketers are great at creating content that sits well in the Awareness and Interest phase, however Evaluation, Retention and Advocacy are where they tend to fall down – and this is where the greatest opportunities are to be had right now.

The most important thing is organisations make the content that’s created, available through the right channels during the above stages.

Buyer Awareness

This is where we get the buyers warmed up. They don’t know anything about the company that’s creating the content, or perhaps they have a small understanding but they don’t fully get what the company’s all about. This is about entertaining and engaging the audience. Here you should be thinking about medium length pieces of content, we’re talking about pieces of content that are around 1,000 words, videos that are couple of minutes long.

Tactics that you probably want to think about in this stage include:

Blogging – these should be well thought out pieces of content that are long enough to retain someone’s interest, but not too long that they become a tome.

News Jacking – one of my favourite tactics: get up early in the morning before the journalists and repurpose some news content putting your company’s spin on it, again you should still be looking at making them weighty, most press releases are around 500 – 700 words long with corporate news sites being significantly longer, so you need to be thinking about how you can add value to the content you’re repurposing in order to bring it up to the thousand word mark.

Lists – everyone loves a good list, and my favourite kinds of lists are those that name people, because people love to see their names on a page of content and will activity promote it for you. If you produce something about the industry thought leaders you’ll be in a good position to get noticed. Be careful with lists though, they should be used sparingly because users are getting wise to thin content lists – there has to be a reason to do it and it has to add real value.

Videos – it’s getting easier to create videos. Don’t be scared, just don’t try to produce hours of video content, simply try for a one take wonder which you can then add to sites such as vimeo, youtube and which can be embedded in a blog. Remember if you embed them in your blog you should be transcribing them so you’re getting the most from the content from a search marketing perspective.

Infographics – I love a good infographic and believe that business should be belting these out regularly. There are so many infographics out there you should be able to repurpose existing infographics, perhaps combining a couple of them but you must remember to introduce some of your organisation’s own stats to give some kind of value. As with videos it’s always a great idea to have a write up of the infographic for use at the bottom of the page they’re on so search engines can pick up on the content and so those people who prefer to read have that option.

PR – there’s a great deal of PR you can do in this phase so don’t be afraid of shouting about what the business is up to. In the olden days of online marketing I used to create a lot of PR for the sake of the potential links, however now I believe the benefit is the eyeballs that actually see the content, the citations and links you can get from them as well as the permanent record and story that can be created online.

Interest / Educating Buyers

Educating buyers is so important. You want to let them know that your organisation is an authority. This gives them a reason to keep coming back for content whilst also creates a sense of confidence in what you’re trying to achieve with your product/services.

Whilst producing this type of content yourselves, you should be speaking to thought leaders and industry experts to get them involved in producing white papers, e-books, slide-decks, how to guides, longer-form well researched blog posts and longer videos. In addition, you should be looking at outreach to place your content on other organisations’ websites.

Whatever you’re creating, remember to steep this in the core brand ethos and integrate the campaigns in the non-evergreen pieces so the journey feels consistent at each touch point for the buyer.

Let Buyers Evaluate Your Business

So you’ve shown your potential buyers you can produce great content, but how do they know for sure you’re a great company? You’ve got to let them know that other people think you are a great company.

In this stage think about how you can get the right kind of case studies together and I don’t just mean 300 words written by a marketing exec, I’m talking about genuine content that really reflects the thoughts of your customers.

Encourage your customers to complete reviews of your product and service, because customers are going to search for you, and they’re going to want to make their own mind what you’re all about.

In addition you’re going to need to create data sheets and comparison charts, and perhaps have some videos of product demonstrations, or the service you offer in order to help people understand what your product/service and what the business ethos is really all about away from the content.

It’s at this evaluation stage that you’re getting the buy in to the product from the audience. It’s at this point that they will decide if they product is right for them and take the plunge.

After purchasing

Once you’re audience has bought into what you’re doing and have actually become buyers, it doesn’t end there. Now you’ve got to be thinking about you can keep them informed and up to speed. You’ve got to think about tip sheets, user guides, product updates, product focused blog posts etc.

Much of this will be delivered through email marketing, however you need to be thinking about all the touch points. How can you feed this in from social media marketing? Is there a way your customer services team can send through this content via email when they’re talking to clients? If you’ve got an App or a Login section on your site can you have a feed set up for content in this stage? Whatever you do, it needs to be a consistent approach and message that’s delivered strategically through every channel.

Creating customer advocacy

At this point you want to be getting your loyal customers to stay loyal and fall in love with your brand. This is a phase where you want to be communicating what you’re doing as a business. At this stage you want to be encouraging and empowering your loyal customers to become part of the conversation online perhaps by creating a community or gamifying some elements of your content. You might want to consider certain features, offers and gated content for your customers who are at this point in their buying cycle. By helping your customers to fall in love with you, you’re going to ensure they recommend you and they promote you, giving you a form of marketing most operations could never really afford.

What does the research on content marketing say?

Probably the market leaders in all things search and content marketing reckon that over 85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content, understanding this represents a fir advantage when creating a content marketing strategy.

Research from Buzzsumo, looking at over 100 million articles found that longer form content outperforms short form content. Long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content

keep calm and create slim contentCreating Content that’s SSLIM

A SSLIM strategy is one which is:

Standalone – to make sure you’re content is standalone you should review it and consider whether the content could be used on other websites without need for modification. I always suggest you should be using a piece of content three times to get the most value out of it. Although you absolutely should be referring to your brand and core values in each piece of content, you need to be doing this in such a way that doesn’t presume the audience already has an insight.

Strategic – you should have a strategy in what you’re doing. Choose your direction and set a course and don’t diverge from it if you’re clear you’re being targeted about the content that’s being produced. All of this content should be produced with a bigger content marketing strategy in mind. If you only do blogs you need to be thing about how they can be used through email. Quality strategic content is essential, however don’t rest on your laurels, be in no doubt that if you want to succeed online velocity and quantity is also an important factor, so work out how you can economically produce lots of strategically orientated content. SSLIM content isn’t the normal content that everyone else is producing, it should be exceptional.

Longer Form – if you’re regularly producing content that’s over 1,000 words long then you are already onto a winner here, and if you’re not you need to start thinking about how to get your content up to that level. That means research and well thought out written content people want to download.

Intelligently Distributed – before you start writing any content you’ve got to have a plan for how you’re going to distribute. What’s the point of creating content if you can’t promote it or if it won’t resonate with your buyers? At all points you should be considering your customers buyer journey to work out how the content fits in that cycle.

Measured – everything you do should be measured and reviewed to get as many learnings from each piece of content as possible. If you’re not measuring the outcome of the activity how do you know if you’re producing the content that works? Also, with content marketing it’s really easy to produce a load of content and then find it hard to point to any discernable ROI, measuring gives you a chance for this.

Integrating SSLIM and FAST methodologies

I think the SSLIM acronym is a good place to start, however I do sometimes question if as online marketers we forget about the power of awareness in all stages of the buyer journey. Sometimes I think we don’t recognise the power of a recognised brand to increase click through rates, to increase conversion rates, or to get under the skin of the potential customer so they convert because they feel there’s an awesome fit between them and the business. So whilst you work out how to get the top level SSLIM content off the ground, be sure to continue to develop some shorter form, super frequent, reactive content as well – but don’t go off half-cocked – make sure it’s strategic as well.

We call this frequent, often reactive, potentially shorter-form content methodology FAST:

Keep calm and create fast contentFactual – As this content makes up part of the content haze, it’s really important to use the word factual when talking about fast content. This content is often targeted around seasonality or current events. It’s more reactive than SSLIM content, however you’ve still got to do your research and even when news jacking, you should still be looking to check every source, referencing it with links and adding links to your existing content that back up your contribution to the story. When working FAST you need to get across that you understand the subject and make the audience believe your business is an authority.

Authentic – As part of the emphasis behind working with the FAST methodology is about creating content quickly it can be easy just to include information about the topic in hand whilst forgetting to include information that helps tell the story of your business. It’s essential that every piece of content you set live give the audience an understanding about what you’re all about.

Strategic – You need to have a plan for shorter-form content otherwise it can run away with you and can result in you producing anything and everything. If you’ve got some analytics data already you may be able to figure this out however the reality is most businesses won’t fully understand what their audience wants until they get into the medium term of creating content. As with SSLIM content, FAST content should sit in your nurture and automation flows.

Life of a news storyTimely – As the name suggests when working towards a FAST content marketing methodology you should be looking at how you can get content live before other people. There is a competitive advantage to getting content live quickly as you’ll often become the resource from which everyone else copies. One of my favourite tactics is getting up early and repurposing news articles and promoting them before the journalists get to them. In addition, seasonal content needs to be set live before your audience starts thinking about that season, but it will also be active over short bursts than SSLIM content. On top of that, industry news and company news may only be relevant for promotion through social media and through your newsletters etc.


Thinking about why you’re creating content

  • Consider your purpose when creating content
  • Create content that showcases your brand and boosts your credibility
  • Teach your audience a thing or two about your area of expertise
  • Plan evergreen content that gets used over and over again in a variety of ways
  • Protect budget and space in the plan for SSLIM content
  • If necessary, test short form content before investing in long form
  • Do your research before article
  • Plan the distribution process

I’d argue that when you create your content objectives you should be looking at where these two content marketing methodologies can be aligned with the business objectives, remembering always that content helps achieve business objectives, not content objectives.

The amount of FAST content you produce versus SSLIM content will be determined by the requirements of your audience. For example a B2C business may need to produce more FAST content and less SSLIM content, whereas a B2B business may produce more SSLIM content over FAST content.

FAST content is also a great way to test content themes before developing full blown SSLIM content pieces or campaigns and it’s through testing FAST content you should be able to determine what the minimum viable content (MVC) is, which will feed into determining how long the SSLIM content should be for you audience, and for the different content categories you’re targeting.

As Anne Handley says, Content Marketing is growing up, and although we shouldn’t stop telling stories, it’s time to make sure those stories are reliable and valuable. After all, content marketers may have had a misspent youth, but now it’s time to make sure content marketing pays the bills.

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