The trouble with the majority of what gets portrayed as content out there is that it's really nothing more than gussied up sales literature. It's why there is a general consensus that most of it is, well, crap.
Does this mean we should abandon content? Absolutely not. People love content and want more of it. They just want the real stuff. The useful stuff. Not the click bait that's masquerading as valuable help.
So how do we give 'em what they want (and further our cause at the same time)? We create a content plan. Now creating a "plan" sounds like a dreary chore. So we're going to make this easy by keeping it quick and dirty. We just need to answer three questions:
- Who am I helping?
- When am I helping them?
- What do they need?
Who am I helping?
We start by really understanding those that we're trying to help. You'll notice I didn't say, "…those that we're trying to sell." Prospects will reward us (delivering results that hard selling can only dream about), but only after we help them. If we're going to create this kind of success, we have to buy in to this way of thinking. To do this, we'll start our content planning by segmenting our prospects and creating personas.
Segments are groups of likeminded prospects. A simple example is a bank that segments its prospects into individual customers and businesses. Start with just a few segments. We can add more as we go or even add sub-segments (ex: individual customers looking for a home loan). This is an iterative process. It's more important to get it going and refine than it is to get it perfect from the get go.
A persona is a portrait of a segment. It paints a vivid picture of the type of person in this segment. In fact, we're going to find a picture of a person to represent this segment. Then we're going to fill in the details. We want a description of who they are. We want to know their needs or what is essential to them. We want to know their wants or what they desire. We want to know their stereotypes or their preconceived notions about us. And finally, we want to know their emotions or what they are feeling about us.
This is inspired by a framework that Disney uses called the Disney Compass. You can make these personas as detailed as you feel necessary. Just remember that this is an iterative process. We'll learn and refine as we go.
With segments and persons in place, we can start understanding the journey our prospects are on.
When am I helping them?
Every prospect goes through a journey to become your customer and, hopefully, your advocate. Here are the 6 stages of that journey:
- Defining - what is my need?
- Discovering - how will I solve it?
- Evaluating - what are my options?
- Deciding - which solution will I choose?
- Reviewing - did I make a good decision?
- Advocating - I want to tell others about this.
At each of these stages, we are going to ask three questions.
- What are they thinking? (What is on their mind at this point of the journey?)
- What are they feeling? (How are they feeling as they navigate this stage?)
- What are they doing? (What methods and channels are they using at this point?)
Put all this in a matrix. It will create an illuminating picture of the process your prospects go through. It also gives us a treasure map of sorts. It shows when your prospects need help as well as what kind of help they need at that point. All of which leads us to our third and final question we need to ask.
What do they need?
We know who they are. We know the journey they take. And we know the needs they have along the way. Now we just need to match up the right kind of help with those needs.
We'll know what kind of posture to assume. For instance, if they are in the Discovering stage, we don't want to hit them with the hard sell. At this point of the journey, they may not even be sure they want a solution from our category. For example, at the Defining stage, they have identified that their problem is that they consistently have more month than money. At the Discovering stage, they are trying to figure out how to change that. If you're a bank, you may say, "We have an account that will help them with that!" But they're not just considering bank solutions. They're looking at all their options which could include enrolling in a personal finance class, or looking for a job that pays more, as well as maybe a better banking solution. So at this point, what they could really use is some generous, realistic, and engaging help that shows them how to make better decisions about money. If you are a bank and you sponsor this great help, you will create a connection with this prospect that will put you first in line when they move to the Evaluating and Deciding stages. How awesome is that?
It doesn't stop there. We will have also identified how they like to interact, so we'll know what form that content should take. If we identified them as a group that likes to hop over to YouTube when they want to learn something, then we might want to create a video that delivers that great help.
We can add this information to the matrix I mentioned above and now we have our content plan ready to go!
Evolving the content plan
The great thing about doing this quick-and-dirty content plan is that we can get started creating content. That's important, because once we start creating we can start testing. And once we start testing, we can continue to refine, refine, refine. Before long, that quick-and-dirty content plan will evolve into a well-informed and finely-tuned content effort.
Better yet, we'll be doing something that helps both our prospects and us. We'll be helping them avoid having to wade through that ocean of pseudo-content by giving them real and meaningful help no matter where they are in their journey. Imagine how they will reward us for that. Imagine how kick-ass that will be.