[09] How to Know Exactly What Content You Should Create

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In this week’s episode we proceed to the next step in our series on content marketing strategy by discussing how to know what content you need to be delivering to achieve your content marketing goals.


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Jerod Morris: Welcome to Sites, a podcast by the teams at StudioPress and Copyblogger. In this show, we deliver time-tested insight on the four pillars of a successful WordPress website: content, design, technology, and strategy. We want to help you get a little bit closer to reaching your online goals, one episode at a time.

I’m your host Jerod Morris.

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Welcome to Episode 9 of Sites.

Last week we discussed strategy, outlining 10 content marketing goals worth pursuing. Assuming you are focused on pursuing at least one of those goals, and hopefully many more than one, it’s now time to resume our series on content marketing strategy.

In Episode 1, we outlined the three-step process for creating a winning content marketing strategy: the who, the what, and how.

Then in Episode 5, we took a deep dive into the first step in that process, the who, by analyzing how to attract your ideal customer with perfectly positioned content.

And in this week’s episode we proceed to the next step, the what, by digging into a decision that can be, at times, really exciting and fun, and at other times somewhat challenging and even frustrating.

We’re going to discuss how to know what content you need to be delivering to achieve your content marketing goals — one of which, I assume, is to convert more prospects.

And since the blog post that I am adapting for this episode was written by Brian Clark, you won’t be surprised to find out that there is discussion of the hero’s journey and examples from Star Wars right around the corner.

Let’s dive in now and learn how to know exactly what content to deliver to convert more prospects.

How to Know Exactly What Content to Deliver to Convert More Prospects

Back in the 1940s, psychologists Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel conducted an experiment. They showed study participants an animated film consisting of a rectangle with an opening, plus a circle and two triangles in motion.

The participants were then asked to simply describe what they saw in the film.

Before you continue listening, if you want to take a look at the film yourself, go to the show notes for this episode at studiopress.blog/sites09. There’s a link to the film on YouTube right there at the top of the link bullets. It’s a short film, about a minute. I’ll be here when you come back.

So … what did you see?

Out of all the study participants, only one responded with “a rectangle with an opening, plus a circle and two triangles in motion.” The rest developed elaborate stories about the simple geometric shapes.

Many participants concluded the circle and the little triangle were in love, and that the evil grey triangle was trying to harm or abduct the circle. Others went further to conclude that the blue triangle fought back against the larger triangle, allowing his love to escape back inside, where they soon rendezvoused, embraced, and lived happily ever after.

That’s pretty wild when you think about it.

The Heider-Simmel experiment became the initial basis of attribution theory, which describes how people explain the behavior of others, themselves … and also, apparently, geometric shapes on the go.

More importantly, people explain things in terms of stories. Even in situations where no story is being intentionally told, we’re telling ourselves a tale as a way to explain our experience of reality.

And yes, we tell ourselves stories about brands, products, and services. Whether you’re consciously telling a story or not, prospects are telling themselves a story about you.

Are you telling a story? And more importantly, does that story resonate with the way your prospective customers and clients are seeing things?

This is the key to knowing what your prospect needs to hear, and when they need to hear it, as part of your overall content marketing strategy. And in a networked, information-rich world where the prospects have all the power, this is your only chance to control the narrative.

What kind of story should you tell?

You need to tell a Star Wars story. And by that, I mean you need to take your prospects along a content marketing version of the mythic hero’s journey.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell identifies a “monomyth” — a fundamental structure common to myths that have survived for thousands of years. Campbell’s identification of these enduring myths from disparate times and regions has inspired modern storytellers to consciously craft their work following the monomyth framework, also known as the hero’s journey.

Most notable among those inspired by the hero’s journey is George Lucas, who acknowledged Campbell’s work as the source of the plot for Star Wars. As a content marketer, you can also consciously incorporate the monomyth into your launches, funnels, and general editorial calendar.

If you go to Brian Clark’s original post, at copyblogger.com/what, you’ll find an image that shows the general elements of the hero’s journey.

They include elements you’re likely familiar with if you’ve learned about the hero’s journey in the past:

  • The call to adventure
  • Meeting the mentor
  • Crossing the threshold between The Ordinary World and The World of Transformation
  • Helpers and Challengers
  • Into the Innermost Cave
  • The Supreme Ordeal
  • Seizing Your Treasure,
  • And finally, The Journey Home

It’s important to note that not all monomythic stories contain every aspect, but the original Star Wars faithfully follows almost every element of the hero’s journey.

Let’s focus on the first two steps of the journey, in the “ordinary world” before the journey truly begins. Here’s how those elements occurred in the original Star Wars.

  • Luke is living in the ordinary world of his home planet, working on the family farm.
  • The “call to adventure” is R2-D2’s holographic message from Princess Leia, the classic princess in distress.
  • Luke initially refuses the call due to his family obligations, until his aunt and uncle are killed.
  • Luke meets his mentor and guide, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who convinces Luke to proceed with his heroic journey.
  • Obi-Wan gives Luke a gift that determines his destiny — his father’s lightsaber.

How does this apply to content marketing? Simple.

Your prospect is Luke. You are Obi-Wan.

The mistake most often made in marketing is thinking of your business as the hero, resulting in egocentric messages that no one else cares about. The prospect is always the primary hero, because they are the one going on the journey — whether big or small — to solve a problem or satisfy a desire.

  • The prospect starts off in the ordinary world of their lives.
  • The call to adventure is an unsolved problem or unfulfilled desire.
  • There’s resistance to solving that problem or satisfying the desire.
  • A mentor (your brand) appears that helps them proceed with the journey.
  • You deliver a gift (your content) that ultimately leads to a purchase.
  • By making the prospect the hero, your brand also becomes a hero in the prospect’s story.

And by accepting the role of mentor with your content, your business accomplishes its goals while helping the prospect do the same. Which is how business is supposed to work, right?

8 core steps in the buyer’s journey

Brian Clark has been using the hero’s journey to teach marketing and sales since 2007. He has found that just the act of thinking of the prospect as the hero makes you a better content marketer.

When you think in terms of empowering people to solve their problem by playing the role of mentor, you’re naturally performing better than competitors who take an egocentric approach.

This is also the exact way we come up with content marketing strategies for our own launches, funnels, and general editorial calendar. After years of using this strategic process, I’ve found that every buyer’s journey contains key points where you must deliver the right information at the right time to succeed at an optimal level.

Remember, each journey is tied to a particular who that you have documented. Some people create content journeys for multiple personas, but my advice is that you pick one at first and focus. Even Apple stuck with one target persona for the entirety of the Get a Mac campaign, which we discussed back in episode 5.

You’ll notice I use the word “problem” here coming up, rather than “problem or desire.” An unfulfilled desire is a problem in the mind of the prospect, so it works on its own.

Here are the 8 core steps in the buyer’s journey:

1. Ordinary World: This is the world (and worldview) that your ideal prospect lives in. She may be aware of the problem that she has, but she hasn’t yet resolved to do something about it. You understand how this person thinks, sees, feels, and behaves due to the empathy mapping process.

2. Call to Adventure: The prospect decides to take action to solve the problem. It could be a New Year’s resolution, a longstanding goal, or a problem that rears its head for the first time.

3. Resistance to the Call: At this point, the prospect starts to waver in her commitment to solving the problem. Maybe it seems too hard, too expensive, too time consuming, or simply too impractical. As we’ll discuss in a bit, this is a key content inflection point.

4. The Mentor and the Gift: This is the point that you are initially accepted as a mentor that guides the buyer’s journey. The prospect accepts your offer of a gift, in the form of information, that promises to help her solve the problem.

5. Crossing the Threshold: This is the point of purchase where the prospect believes that your product or service will lead to the problem being solved, which will lead to transformation. The most important thing to understand is that, unlike flawed funnel metaphors, the journey does not end at purchase.

6. Traveling the Road: The customer begins using the product or service with the goal of achieving success in the context of the problem. Who cares if the customer stops the journey right after purchase, right? Wrong — too often this leads to a refund request; plus you miss out on the huge benefits that accompany a happy customer.

7. Seizing the Treasure: The customer experiences success with your product or service. What does this look like for them and you? How will you know when it happens?

8. The New Ordinary: The customer has experienced a positive transaction with you, and yet we’re just now getting to the really good stuff. This is a perfect time to prime them for repeat or upsell purchases or referrals. At this point, deliver content that aims at retention for recurring revenue products, and make savvy requests for direct referrals, testimonials, and word of mouth.

Of the eight, only Traveling the Road isn’t universal — if you’re an electrician, you show up and either fix the problem or don’t. But if you’re selling software-as-a-service, for example, content that gets users engaged with the platform is critical to reducing churn.

These core steps can provide you with a beginning framework for a detailed map of the buyer’s journey. The next step is to add the touchpoints that are unique to your product or service.

Your unique journey map

You may be thinking about how exactly you’re supposed to map this out. Fortunately, there’s already an established procedure for this, just as during the who phase.

An experience map is a visual representation of the path a consumer takes — from beginning to end — with your content, and then with your product or service.

By mapping the journey, you know where the additional crucial touchpoints are, and what content can empower the journey to continue.

There is an example of an experience map in Brian’s original post at copyblogger.com/what.

The map demonstrates the journey a consumer would take while riding the trains in Europe. It follows her from the early stages of research and planning to the end of her trip.

You see what she is doing (searching Google, looking up timetables), what she is thinking during each action (do I have everything I need, and am I on the right train?), and what she is feeling (stressed: I’m about to leave the country and Rail Europe won’t answer the phone).

Do you see the correlation with the empathy mapping exercise you did back when developing a snapshot of your ideal customer in Episode 5? It’s no coincidence that we’re now applying what the prospect is “Thinking,” “Seeing,” “Doing,” and “Feeling” in their ordinary world to the journey they need to travel.

In a piece called the Anatomy of an Experience Map, Chris Risdon at Adaptive Path suggests your experience map should have these five components:

1. The lens: This is how a particular person (or persona) views the journey. Keep in mind, this journey will not be the same for everyone. You will more than likely have more than one experience map.
2. The journey model: This is the actual design of the map. If all goes well, it should render insight to answer questions like “What happens here? What’s important about this transition?”
3. Qualitative insight: This is where the Thinking-Seeing-Doing-Feeling of an empathy map comes in handy.
4. Quantitative information: This is data that brings attention to certain aspects of your map. It reveals information like “80 percent of people abandon the process at this touchpoint.”
5. Takeaways: This is where the map earns its money. What are the conclusions? Opportunities? Threats to the system? Does it identify your strengths? Highlight your weaknesses?

If you want more insight on customer experience maps, I’ve placed a link in the show notes to a post on Copyblogger by Demian Farnworth that does a deep dive into the subject.

Like empathy mapping, it can be done solo, but works even better as a collaborative process, so that everyone on your team understands the journey from the perspective of the prospect and subsequent customer.

Mapping the 7 key influence principles

When you consider influential content, you may naturally think that it’s about how you present the information. While that’s true from an engagement standpoint, which principle of influence to apply and when to emphasize it is an exercise in what as well.

In other words, beyond the raw information of the what, you’ll also want to identify the order of emphasis for things like reciprocity, social proof, authority, liking, commitment and consistency, unity, and scarcity.

Every successful digital marketer I know purposefully applies those seven principles in their content and copy, because they all treat the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini as their bible. If you haven’t read it, you should — but in the meantime check out two additional links I’ve included in the show notes, at studiopress.blog/sites09: one a short video that explains the original six principles of persuasion, and then also an article by Sonia Simone on the all-important 7th principle of unity.

At Rainmaker Digital, we think in terms of four different types of content when mapping the buyer’s journey. Keep in mind that great marketing content contains all of these elements; you’re simply selecting a category based on the primary aim of the individual piece at the appropriate time.

First up we have Attraction content, otherwise known as “top of funnel” information.

This corresponds best with the Resistance to the Call point of the hero’s journey — it addresses the problem while also addressing common objections to moving forward. In addition to creating the feeling that “you’re reading their mind,” you’re also invoking early influence through reciprocity, social proof through share numbers, and establishing authority.

Next up, you have your cornerstone influence principle thanks to Authority content.

The important thing is that you demonstrate authority, rather than claim it. Your Attraction content sets the stage, and your Authority content should be gated behind an email opt-in. At this stage, you’re establishing clear authority, continuing to leverage reciprocity and social proof, and adding liking, plus commitment and consistency thanks to the opt-in.

Next is Affinity content, which solidly positions you as a “likable expert,” but it goes beyond that.

This is where you let your core values shine. You reflect the prospect’s worldview back to them in a completely authentic way, prompting the powerful principle of unity. Never underestimate how often people choose to do business with people they like, and who also see the world like they do.

Finally, it all comes down to Action.

You don’t look for ultimate action at the beginning of the journey. But you do rely on smaller actions along the way, especially at the bridge between Attraction content and Authority content. That said, the key influence principle at this stage is scarcity, which you’ve earned the right to employ thanks to the other six principles. People fear missing out more than they desire gain, so make sure to use it ethically.

This is the outline of your story

It’s tempting at this point to try to imagine how you’re going to execute on your strategy, but you’re not quite there yet.

For now, map the journey experience. In addition to your character, you’ve now got the plot points in the narrative you’re weaving.

All that’s left is to figure out how to tell the story. That’s coming up in four weeks when we hit Content again and continue our series on content marketing strategy.

Now stick around … this week’s hyper-specific call to action is coming up.

What you just heard was adapted from Brian Clark’s blog post How to Know Exactly What Content to Deliver to Convert More Prospects, originally published at Copyblogger.com. You can find a link to the original article in the show notes at studiopress.blog/sites09. It’s a pretty simple link: copyblogger.com/what.

Now to this week’s hyper-specific call to action …

Call to action

As usual with these episodes adapted from Brian’s content marketing strategy series, the CTA is pretty simple and right there in the post.

For this episode, it is to map the journey experience you want your audience to go on as they interact with your content.

Think about the 8 steps in the buyer’s journey that we outlined in this episode, and then figure out how the four different types of content — Attraction, Authority, Affinity, and Action — will help you create that experience.

You can use the experience map example in the show notes to help you, or you can devise your own style of mapping, or even just describing this experience.

At a minimum, think about it. Take some step toward being intentional and strategic about the experience you want your audience to have as they go through your content.

And remember: THEY are the hero, not you. You are the mentor, the guide, but it’s THEIR problems you’re looking to help solve, THEIR goals you’re looking to help them achieve, THEIR objections you’re looking to overcome.

This call to action may take you a little bit longer than the others, but it’s worth it.

Coming next week, it’s back to design. We’re going to talk about a specific type of design: UX design, or user experience design, and how doing this right is an investment that pays off in numerous ways.

That’s next week, on Sites.

Finally, before I go, here are two more quick calls to action for you to consider:

Subscribe to Sites Weekly

If you haven’t yet, please take this opportunity to activate your free subscription to our curated weekly email newsletter, Sites Weekly.

Here’s how it works: Each week, I find four links about content, design, technology, and strategy that you don’t want to miss, and then I send them out via email on Wednesday afternoon.

Reading this newsletter will help you make your website more powerful and successful. Go to studiopress.com/news and sign up in one step right there at the top of the page. That’s studiopress.com/news.

Oh, and I should mention, we occasionally include special offers in these emails too — stuff that isn’t otherwise marketed publicly. So if you like StudioPress products, keep your eye out for special deals in your Sites Weekly email. Again, it’s studiopress.com/news.

Rate and Review Sites on Apple Podcasts

And finally, if you enjoy the Sites podcast, please subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts (formerly known as iTunes), and consider giving us a rating or a review over there as well.

One quick tip on that: to make the best use of your review, let me know something in particular you like about the show. That feedback is really important.

For example, here is a recent review we received Apple ID Enlightenment Through Food: “I was looking for some advice on setting up my site, but I didn’t realize how important my content and strategy is. It doesn’t matter how pretty your site is if you aren’t getting your message out and creating an audience. Thank you for helping with this piece of my site puzzle!”

You’re welcome Enlightenment! Thank you for listening, and for being so open to additional ideas for how to create a thriving web presence.

To find us in Apple Podcasts, search for StudioPress Sites and look for the striking purple logo that was designed by Rafal Tomal. You can also go to the URL sites.fm/apple and it will redirect you to our Apple Podcasts page.

And with that, we come to the close of another episode. Thank you for listening to this episode of Sites. I appreciate you being here.

Join me next week, and let’s keep building powerful, successful websites together.

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