Content marketing has become a buzzword in the digital marketing space, yet it’s often misunderstood and misapplied. To help you really nail content marketing for your SaaS company, let’s start at the beginning:
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing is about delivering the right kind of content to your customers relevant to their specific needs on their path toward buying from you. Sometimes it’s about asking for the sale, but usually not. Instead, you focus on providing educational and supremely helpful information that gives real value to the reader. In turn, they’ll consume and share more of your content and eventually view you as a trusted resource and expert. This leads not only to a sale, but to a long-term relationship with your brand.
This is easier said than done.
Thankfully, SaaS companies are perfect candidates for content marketing.
Think about it. The software you provide your customers contains powerful tools that help them solve complex problems. Much of the sales process is already about educating them on how to use your product. Content marketing is about creating educational content that is strategically delivered to your customers before, during, and after the sales process. In some ways, it is sales, but in other ways it’s about you becoming a publisher.
While blog posts and articles are perhaps the most common forms of content marketing, other examples of content include videos, webinars, slideshares, infographics, quizzes, and more.
How is Content Marketing for SaaS Companies Unique?
Perhaps the biggest content marketing challenge facing SaaS companies is the highly technical nature of their business, and being able to produce content that is easily consumed and understood. While your product experts may be incredibly knowledgeable, they aren’t always the best writers. So the first challenge is to identify experts within your organization who have the ability to produce excellent content, whether it’s a script for a video or an in-depth ebook. Another approach is to hire a writer with experience dealing with technical topics, and have them interview the experts within your company.
To further complicate things, SaaS companies typically have long sales cycles, although it can vary greatly from business to business. It can be difficult to create a strategic content strategy that is positioned to generate the greatest return on your investment, simply because there’s so much to cover. Where do you invest your time and money to produce quality content, first?
To answer that question, you’ll need to do some research into your target audience and their buying journey. You’ll need to gather concrete data about how your customers are currently interacting with your brand, so you can address deficiencies in the process first–that’s where you’ll get the best return on your investment.
Building Your Content Marketing Strategy
Content marketing is first and foremost focused on your customers. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s about telling your story. It’s always about telling your customer’s story.
It can be difficult to know where to start. Here is a good path for building an effective content marketing strategy for your SaaS company:
Step 1: Create a customer empathy map
Step 2: Chart your customer’s journey
Step 3: Leverage content ideas with data
Step 4: Brainstorm content ideas to address key points on the customer’s journey
Step 5: Build your content calendar
Step 6: Promotion and beyond
Step 1: Empathy Maps
An empathy map is an exercise in crawling inside your customer’s mind and understanding what makes them tick.
And while it can be beneficial to do on your own, your empathy map will be many times more beneficial if you can get the input of multiple individuals within your organization.
One popular take on the empathy map is from Dave Gray at Gamestorming. You come up with a fictional customer persona, and empathize with them in the following areas:
Basically, you’re asking yourself questions about what they are thinking, feeling, seeing, and doing in relation to the problem that your product helps them solve.
What do they think when they see your brand? What do they feel when they experience the problem that you’re hoping to solve? What are they actually searching for on Google when they want a solution to their problem? What do they see in the search results?
Truthfully, many SaaS companies skip the crucial step of empathy mapping. They think their customers are too diverse or that their product is too complex. But if you can craft an insightful empathy map, you may be able to find some surprising insights into the people you serve every day. These insights can be used in content marketing efforts, sure, but honestly they could help you with product development, customer service, UX, and much more.
This is an example of an empathy map courtesy of SolutionsIQ. Notice that they added a category for “Hearing” which has to do with influencers in their social circle. Additionally, the Pains are the problems you’re trying to solve, and the Gains are the benefits they get from using your product.
Step 2: Map The Customer Journey
Once you have a good idea who your customer is with your empathy map, it’s time to explore their journey from awareness to decision to buying from you.
In the broadest terms, the customer journey map should cover at least the following stages:
It may also be beneficial to continue the journey map past their decision to buy. For example, what’s their experience like with customer service? Are there some tutorials or educational articles you could create that would make using your software a more enjoyable experience?
Your customer journey map should be an actual document with a graphic representation of the key steps your customer takes along their journey. Ideally, your finalized customer journey map would be something you’d want to frame and put up in your office.
Example of a customer journey map. Source: http://cxday.de/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/KerryBodine.com-Intuit-journey-map.png
Step 3: Gather Quantitative Data
While many marketers approach content by brainstorming and coming up with strategies that they logically think will work, there’s nothing like good hard data to backup your approach.
What you’ve gathered so far is qualitative data. It’s the process of understanding the pain points and rationalizations your customers use. You don’t have a hard statistic yet, but you already have a lot of useful info.
Quantitative data, on the other hand, is the secret to making sure your content marketing is ROI focused. If you can identify the points on your website, for example, that have the highest user drop-off rates, then that’s some pretty powerful data. You know that increasing those numbers by such and such percentage will lead to gains in leads and purchases–in other words, actual dollars.
Gather quantitative data from the following sources:
- Google analytics
- Google Adwords
- Social media engagement tracking tools
- Information on lead generation and sales from your CRM, such as Salesforce, Capterra, etc.
- Sales and cancellations data
- Call logs, customer service data, etc.
You don’t have to stop there. Think about every aspect of your business that interacts with customers on a regular basis, and find a way to gather meaningful data from those processes.
Once you have qualitative data, align it with your customer journey map. Find the relationship between the data and the actual actions your customers are taking.
Step 4: Content Ideation
By this point you’ve got a bunch of really great data from your empathy map, customer journey map, and qualitative & quantitative data. Now it’s time to come up with content ideas!
There are some really powerful ways to approach the ideation process. First of all, focus on the customer journey map. For each crucial step of their journey, come up with some content ideas that correspond with where they are in the buying process. Are they barely gaining awareness? Then think of some content topics that have more to do with their pain points and the problems they’re trying to solve. And when they’re in the consideration phase, they’ll need some in-depth content that shows them how your SaaS product benefits them.
Step 5: Build your Content Calendar
You probably have a few dozen content ideas, and now it’s time to create an editorial calendar. Remember that the more realistic your expectations for writing all this content, the more likely that it will actually get done!
Here are a few tips for building your content calendar:
- Identify product experts within your organization who are open to writing content.
- Consider outsourcing your content creation to freelance writers and designers. You can have them interview your product experts for insights.
- Vary the length/depth and type of content. Consider publishing regular “anchor” content that goes into great depth, and separating them with several smaller pieces on your calendar.
- Consistency is more important than frequency.
Step 6: Content Promotion and Beyond
In all reality, this is just the beginning of your content strategy. In later blog posts, we’ll dive deeper into some of the tactics of content marketing for SaaS companies, including more tips for ideation and tips for promoting your content. Stay tuned!