My Goodness! A Guest Post!  Today’s post is from Stephanie Tilton, a marketing consultant and one of the amazing bloggers behind the Savvy B2B Marketing blog, one of my favorite blogs for B2B marketing advice.  Enjoy!

In their rush to churn out content in support of product launches, many start-ups fail to strategically address their content requirements. As a result, they struggle to nurture prospects throughout a buying process that can extend for many months.

Let’s say you produce only a white paper or brochure. What are your prospects supposed to do next? It’s highly unlikely they’re going to call in their order after reading a single piece of information from your company – especially if your product costs thousands of dollars.

Your potential customers need many questions answered along the path to purchase and your content needs to provide the right answers at the right time. By adopting best practices around content marketing, you’ll establish a solid foundation for marketing your offering and engaging prospects throughout the buying cycle.

Step 1: Understand your prospects’ concerns and preferences. Before you develop any content, conduct research to understand what your ideal customers care about and how they go about making a buying decision. Hopefully you uncovered this while performing the market research that helped shape your offering. If so, you will have found that buyers don’t want to hear about your product at the beginning of the buying cycle. Instead, they want to understand industry trends, options for addressing the challenges they face, and recommended best practices and approaches. Later on they’ll want to know the ins and outs of your offering, how it compares to the competition, and how other companies have used it successfully.

You also want to find out what content types prospective customers prefer at each stage in the buying cycle. For example, a business decision maker might prefer a combination of in-depth information and quick summaries, while a technical evaluator may be looking for detailed information about your offering and a demo. The user might prefer high-level information accompanied by trial software. The key is to gauge whether or not there’s a pattern around these preferences so you can develop your content accordingly.

Step 2: Identify 2-3 major themes. Once you figure out the top issues keeping your prospects awake at night, plan your content for the year around those themes. This will give you a solid framework for producing content, and help you stay disciplined and focused in your content production efforts. Instead of just working down the checklist of collateral types, you can plan content that will attract and engage prospects.

Step 3: Interview SMEs. Take the time to get a brain dump on everything your subject matter experts know around the themes you’ve identified, moving beyond details of your offering to consider all the angles that might concern your prospects. Cover everything from industry trends and best practices, concerns of each buyer involved in the purchase process, options for addressing the issues, and the role your solution plays. Don’t forget to interview partners, beta customers, board members, and industry experts. You want to gather as much information from as many channels as possible to create this foundation document. With this in place, you’ll be able to identify where your company’s expertise intersects with your prospects’ concerns so you can focus on the sweet spot.

Step 4: Develop a content plan. Now you’re ready to start mapping out the issues you need to cover and the various content formats you need to produce. Ideally, before launching your product and any marketing campaigns, you’ll produce content that answers your prospects’ major concerns at each stage of the buying cycle. Pull from the foundation document you created as a jumping-off point.

I know it can feel daunting to produce all of this content, so keep in mind these tips:

  1. Write a series of short articles or blog posts that you eventually fold into a white paper or eBook.
  2. As you interview subject matter experts to create your foundation document, record the discussion as audio or video and post bite-size snippets on your site.
  3. If one of your executive presents at a conference, record the presentation and post it to your site.
  4. Record a customer’s success as a video or audio that you post on your site; you can always write an in-depth case study down the line.
  5. Dissect your white papers or eBooks into standalone pieces, such as a list of 10 best practices or a checklist of considerations when evaluating possible solutions.
  6. Consider aggregating and curating relevant content from third-party sources to create an information-rich hub that attracts and engages prospective buyers; HiveFire offers software (http://www.getcurata.com/) that helps you do this.

Stephanie Tilton is a content-marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that engages prospects and customers, nurtures leads, and advances the buying cycle. You can follow her on Twitter @StephanieTilton or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B Marketing.