As marketers, salespeople, or executives, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to get people to click "buy now." We also think about how to convince people to choose us instead of our competitors. These are important questions that we should be thinking about, but these questions assume that people are even considering hitting our "buy now" button.
There are two questions that we have to answer first before that prospective buyer is anywhere close to making a purchase: "How do we get people to understand that there's a solution to their problem?" and "How do we make them aware of our brand?"
The answer to these questions is content marketing. Specifically, it's awareness stage content. By understanding what the awareness stage is, why it matters, and how to create it yourself, you'll be able to capture an audience's attention and become a reliable source for information.
Every buyer goes on a journey before they make a purchase. This buyer's journey has three distinct stages that ultimately make up the marketing funnel:
During the buyer's journey, most people drop off along the way. You may discover that a lead is not in a position of authority within their company to make a purchasing decision or your product is outside of their budget. The leads become unqualified and exit your funnel before reaching the bottom. This is why the marketing funnel is shaped like a funnel, with a larger number of people at the top and the fewest at the bottom.
Even though most leads will drop off before becoming customers, the first stage is your chance to cast a wide net and attract a large group to add to your funnel. Let's explore the power of making a strong first impression in the awareness stage.
For the buyer, the awareness stage is when they realize they have a problem or opportunity. They become aware that there's an issue, like their clients are dropping off suddenly or their business is not retaining employees. They likely don't fully understand their problem yet, but they know it's there and are going to seek answers.
For you (the brand), the awareness stage is about attracting the prospect's attention. This is why HubSpot also calls it the Attract stage. During the awareness stage, your business goals are to attract attention, introduce your brand to your audience, and establish your brand as an authority in your industry.
The awareness stage is critical because it's your first and sometimes only opportunity to capture a person's attention. Since only 19% of B2B buyers want to talk to a sales team during the awareness stage, content is one of your only real ways to make a strong impression.
By providing valuable information with no strings attached to people during this stage, it's like saying, "Hi, nice to meet you. We have all the information you're looking for, and we expect nothing in return." Before the person even knows that they're going to be in the market for your product, you can charm them with your brand's industry expertise, knowledge, and usefulness.
For B2B, especially for highly specialized or technical industries, it's normal to think that no one would ever read a blog post about your niche. However, this is not the case, because when people have a problem, they want to find a solution. They're ready to learn about your niche because they have a problem that they don't understand. For the moment, your niche has become the most interesting thing in the world to them. This is why you need to seize this opportunity to grab their attention by sharing your useful knowledge and thought leadership in the form of awareness stage content.
Marketers think of it as "content," but a better word for it is "information." Awareness stage content provides information that helps the buyer understand their problem.
When a person realizes that their company is having communication issues, they don't typically go to Google and immediately type in a brand name. Instead, they may ask Google "how to fix communication issues at work." Thanks to the many blog posts that come up, they may realize that their problem is actually that their team doesn't have a good way to manage projects remotely. The company that wrote the useful blog post is a project management software company, but the person didn't realize it at first because the blog was so useful and educational. This is awareness stage content.
Now, when the person needs more information about project management tips, they may return to that website for more great info. After reading many useful articles on that website, they may decide to subscribe to the company's email newsletter for more helpful workplace tips. This person just moved down that company's funnel without a single interaction between salesperson and buyer. That's the power of awareness stage content.
For the buyer, awareness content should give them answers. It can also provide them with expert insights and a look into your brand's values, expertise, and credibility.
For the brand, successful awareness stage content can:
Good awareness stage content is useful, informative, and valuable. It's not salesy or promotional. It's not about explaining why your product is great. Make this content about your audience, instead of about you.
The best awareness stage content is also:
Awareness stage content usually involves blogging, search engine optimization, and social media. Since awareness stage content is supposed to be educational, neutral, shareable, and discoverable, it's commonly found in these formats:
Keep in mind that many of these content types also fit in other stages, depending on how specific the content goes into your brand or product. For example, according to a 2018 study about B2B content per stage, whitepapers and webinars are more effective in the consideration stage but still exist in the awareness stage too.
The specific search queries that people use during the awareness stage range drastically, from "my pinky toe hurts" to "fix wobbly desk chairs." Even though the search queries vary on a case-by-case basis, awareness stage content tends to stick to a few common formats:
For example, "How to keep my passwords secure" and "5 cybersecurity tips you need to know" are both titles you may see for a password manager company's awareness stage content.
Some companies have mastered awareness stage content. Here are a few inspirational examples from B2B companies:
Salesforce understands what its target audience needs help with. Its audience wants how-to guides on improving customer focus, tips on holiday marketing, and an explanation of why inflation is changing customer behavior, so Salesforce made blog posts about all these questions. The blog posts are optimized for SEO and users, with keywords and easy-to-read content. When readers realize they are consistently turning to this blog for answers, they may take Salesforce up on the banner offer to subscribe to its email newsletter.
Moz, the marketing analytics software company, has created an educational video series called #WhiteboardFriday that gets people excited to learn about SEO, content, marketing, and more. The short videos are highly consumable, shareable, likely relatively easy for Moz to produce, and easy to binge-watch on Moz's YouTube channel playlist. Moz knows what types of questions its audience has, and then they create short videos that thoroughly answer these questions with expert insights. The videos don't ever push the product. Instead, they equip the viewers with the knowledge to handle marketing tasks on their own, but sometimes with a quick mention that Moz's products can make it easier.
By creating one convenient resource hub on its website, Deloitte made the complicated and dense subject of accounting and professional services much more approachable and accessible. Since Deloitte is involved with many industries and topics, the resource hub covers their huge knowledge base in one organized place. The blog posts, articles, videos, interviews, and more are conveniently sorted by topic and sector. It's easy to stay on the site for hours as you continue to click through more related articles to keep learning more from experts. This information hub establishes Deloitte as a useful resource for a wide range of topics.
Sometimes, awareness stage content is about showing people what your company values. It can also be about changing the way your company is perceived by providing surprising, unique content. When General Electric released a science-fiction podcast, people saw a new side to this energy empire. People started interacting with their content because it's entertaining, innovative, and never sounds like an ad. This unique awareness stage content was once even number 1 on iTunes podcast charts.
Infographics are a great way to illustrate complex subjects, while also displaying them in a format that people love to share online. Imperva is a cybersecurity company that excels at infographic marketing. For example, Imperva turned an interesting yet complicated topic about cyberthreat defense research findings into an easy-to-understand infographic, with icons, graphs, and short text snippets. Original content like this spreads online through social shares, and even though it's not about Imperva, the Imperva logo is always present on the top. This is how brand awareness spreads.
Creating awareness content takes time, but it's ultimately worth it when you start seeing brand awareness spread, leads generating, and increased website traffic.
Creating a content strategy can be overwhelming, but it's important to have an overall plan to keep you organized and on track. It's also essential to set specific goals for each piece of content, so you know how to measure success later on, like" drive X amount of traffic to your website."
Before you start creating content, you have to know who your audience is. This requires research, conversations with your sales and customer support teams, customer interviews, social listening, and more. You should have a good understanding of your target audience's pain points, motivations, goals, buying behavior, and demographics. With this information, you will be able to better target your audience with your content.
You should also research your competitors' content to give you an idea of what to try to beat. BuzzSumo's Competitor Analysis tool is one way to see which content performs well for your competitors.
There are a million ways to find topic ideas, but here are just a few:
Here's where you perform administrative and pre-production work, like assigning content creation roles, hiring writers, performing keyword research for your keyword strategy, creating content briefs, and more.
It's time to write, shoot, or create your content. Remember that the goal is to educate your audience about a topic, which means you need to explain concepts thoroughly and appropriately for your target audience.
For most awareness content, don't forget to include a top-of-funnel call to action, like "check out our website" or "schedule a sales call."
This step depends on what type of content it is. For example, if you made a Facebook video, you'd do things that optimize the content for Facebook, like adding video captions, writing an optimized short caption with hashtags, and uploading the video natively for maximum views.
You need to publish and promote the content for it to do its job. Social media and your website's blog or resource hub are great options for awareness stage content.
Once you release content, don't just forget about it. Monitor and analyze the analytics for each piece to see which content best meets your goals. For example, you can track website traffic for blog posts in Google Analytics.
As you create more content, focus on the successful content you've made so far. You can also improve your content by getting better at SEO best practices, like using header tags, optimizing meta descriptions, and building an internal linking strategy.
Once you start creating a lot of content, it's important to organize both the content and your workflow. This step may include things like optimizing your blog structure for usability or hiring a social media manager and content writer.
Think back to the questions you should be asking:
With an understanding of awareness stage content, you are now equipped to tackle these two questions. By creating educational, useful, and discoverable awareness stage content, your brand will make a strong first impression, grab your audience's attention, and guide people down your funnel.
If you need help along the way, Steel Croissant's digital marketing experts are here to provide support and results. Contact us for help tackling your digital marketing needs and creating content fit for every stage of the marketing funnel.
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