Five Keys to Creating Content that Drives Awareness

StartCurrent marketing wisdom says content should be mapped to buying cycles. Yet according to a study from MarketingProfs and Junta42, 78% of B2B marketers say awareness is an objective of content marketing.

Question: Where is awareness most valuable in the buying cycle?
Answer: Early stage research and creation of a consideration set.

Question: Would it be better if prospects where aware of your company when they started the research process?
Answer: “Well, DUH!”

It is time to step back from planning content for the buying cycle and focus on Stage Zero Content. Stage zero content is intended to establish your brand, your expertise or your perspective in the mind of your target market, when they are not researching or considering solutions. This content is valuable to a far broader audience than even early stage buying cycle content.

Stage zero content is fundamentally different from buying cycle content. Here are five general characteristics of stage zero content.

  • No Investment Required. Ways to improve business or reduce cost that require purchasing your product are only valuable when I’m in market.
  • Current. Current information is critical when I’m looking to stay abreast of the industry. Noting the launch of Twitter lists today isn’t helpful.
  • Original. While there may few real original content opportunities, simply reposting from Mashable or CIO isn’t adding value. You can’t break the news, but you can at least bring a point of view.
  • Consumable. All content should be easy to read or consume, but this is critically important for stage zero content, when I don’t have a specific pressing information need I’m hoping your content will address.
  • Accessible. Minimize registration, your content, not your followup emails, are intended to drive awareness and perception.

Thought leadership is a viable stage zero approach to content marketing, however it isn’t the only solution. Practical, hands on advice can be appropriate stage zero content. Research can be stage zero content. Even content curation can be the basis for becoming a stage zero content resource.

One company that does an excellent job of providing stage zero content is HubSpot. The tools and research they offer are applicable to their marketing audience, even if they are not looking for a solution. And they have become recognized as a leader not for offering a simple solution, but for offering valuable information.

When I look for information on inbound marketing, I turn to HubSpot, and if I’m looking to work with anyone in the category, HubSpot will be the first company I call.

That is stage zero content. Isn’t that what content needs to do for you?

About Eric Wittlake

I am a digital and B2B marketer with a background in online media and analytics. I work with B2B clients on media and integrated marketing programs. You can connect with me on Twitter at @wittlake or in the comments here on my Digital B2B Marketing blog.

9 Responses to Five Keys to Creating Content that Drives Awareness

  1. Carmen Hill says:

    Eric, I agree with all your points on stage zero content. And for many organizations it may be a high–or even the top–priority. But I don’t think that means you don’t also need to create and map content to other stages of the buying cycle. Once a buyer becomes aware of your company they need the next level of information to confirm that your solution meets their criteria and then to justify/make a purchase decision.

    • Thanks for the comment, and maybe I should have asked you to review before posting! 🙂

      I certainly agree, buying cycle content is important. More importantly, buying cycle content is fundamentally different (I believe). Content that supports selecting an investment direction, a specific solution, or confirms ROI isn’t the content that connects with a broad audience or positions your company in the minds of that audience.

  2. Ardath Albee says:

    Hi Eric,
    Your Stage Zero content is pretty much what I call Status Quo content. The difference for me is that this content should not only be informative and educational, but should provide a way for prospects to take the first step to recognizing a problem exists and what comes next.

    This content should be thought of as a sort of launch pad, if you will. People can pull the trigger to move on to the next step or they can simply enjoy the value they receive from it. However, if the content isn’t getting them thinking about the implications of the problem your products solve, I’d argue that it’s a throw away. Awareness is great, but it needs to have purpose, as well.

    This said, your pre-requisites for Stage Zero content apply. And it’s a solid idea. I just want to see an extension in mind.

    Lastly, I’d like to argue that Stage Zero is part of the buying cycle. The reason is because the people you’re trying to engage with your content should ultimately be those who could buy from you if the need arose. HubSpot puts out tons of great content – all designed to help people like their ideal customers realize they can choose to amplify their marketing efforts with Hubspot’s help.

  3. Hi Ardath, thanks for taking the time to write a considered reply, this is something I wrestled with. Status Quo content is designed to Loosen the Status Quo.

    If awareness (such a broad term, and I will assume that includes establishing some attributes of the brand is included in the awareness response) is really the objective, can we focus on the extension, or the loosening, and still serve our audience and drive awareness?

    As marketers become publishers serving the needs of an audience, can they compete as publishers if they focus on getting someone past Status Quo?

    Maybe it is semantics, and as you say, Stage Zero is just the first stage of the buying cycle. I can certainly get behind that view, but that first stage then seems to be an underserved portion of the buying cycle.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment, these are the fun questions, and you have given me more to think about!

    • Ardath Albee says:

      Hi Eric,

      My pleasure to contribute. And I just want to say that I’m in total agreement that Stage Zero or Status Quo – regardless of what we call it – is definitely an under served portion of the buying cycle.

      Often I find this comes from sales input where they’ve told their marketing counterparts that leads already know they need to buy the product – so don’t bother with that. And I respond by saying – Really? Who educated them?

      If it’s not their company positioning that education, then they’re starting from a deficit position and trying to unseat the company who did and now has more credibility with the prospect. This is where the two mindsets need to really come together. It’s not about one end of the funnel or the other, but the entire process, starting from ground zero.

  4. Marcus Schaller says:

    Yours is one of the few posts I’ve seen actually address this issue. When I wrote The Lead Ladder in 2005 (pre Twitter et al), I laid out an approach to content marketing that focused on addressing problems related to the offerings of your company. The point was to engage that audience before anyone else by simply sharing valuable content to make their lives and jobs easier.

    Once that is in place, rather than be limited by buying cycle alone, I argued that each rung on the “ladder,” or additional offer, should become more personalized as you earned their trust. So if initial offers were white papers and email newsletters (remember, 2005), then the next offer could be a live seminar, and the follow up offer to that could be a personal consultation.

    Of course, this was a very linear approach, and now with social media the tools have created their own opportunities and challenges. The point is that a reader’s place in the buying cycle can be determined once that initial engagement is achieved, and the appropriate content can then be delivered as needed. But it does all start at Stage Zero…creating solutions and sharing resources through content.

    Great post. Thanks!

    • Thanks Marcus! Sounds like I’m only six years behind, that’s a big improvement. Thanks for the comment and have a great weekend!

      • Marcus Schaller says:

        Ha! Yeah, I wish I could say I was ahead of my time! More like treading water in an ever changing current. Have a fantastic weekend as well and looking forward to your next post!

  5. Pingback: 5 Steps to Building a Solid Content Marketing Foundation

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