Marketing has always been about connecting the dots between buyers and sellers, but over the years, the game has arguably grown more complex. The introduction of technology and data to the marketing mix has brought opportunities to create more accurate and detailed buyer personas. That has since been taken a step further with the concept of journey mapping.

Now we not only have visibility into who a target customer is, but also when, where and how they consume information, as well as what they consume. In other words, we can now map our buyer's end-to-end experience with our organizations, and to a certain extent several steps before that.

Mapping your content to the buyer's journey will help ensure you hit them at the right place and right time with the most relevant, high-value content that will spur them into a desired action. Thus, going through this process will help you build a more solid content marketing strategy.

Why? If you're able to be there with the right information at the right time to help them solve a problem, answer a question or speak to an immediate need, you'll instantly become a valuable and trusted resource. So, where do you start?

Ethnographic research ups the ante

Some great methods for gathering customer insights include conducting market research, identifying trends among your target audience and collecting demographic details. But ethnographic research is the real key to success. While this is a study commonly used in anthropology, the premise of it applies here, as it involves visiting with customers, observing them and listening to them in a more natural, organic way.

Ethnographic research was designed to be long-term, observational, and field-based, but there are some ways to glean the same insights in a shortened time frame. You might add a few questions to your new customer enrollment process, such as where they get their news and information, biggest challenges they're currently facing, how they found you, etc.

Quick phone surveys and one-on-one interviews are good options as well. Keep in mind, while email surveys can provide a great deal of information (and may be the best path to your target audience), they don't allow for follow-up questions. And that's often where the real gold lies.

Data doesn't paint the full picture

Analytics are an imperative part of a successful content marketing strategy, but if they aren't looked at in the context of the full picture, it can provide a limited view. For example, it can be easy to mistakenly assume, based on website data, a customer is interested in particular product or service because they spent a good deal of time on a certain page. But, in reality, they may have inadvertently left the tab open in their browser, or they could be confused or lost.

For effective journey maps, you'll need both anecdotal and analytical research. Journey maps should include details around the following:

  • Context -- Where is the customer completing a step? What life stage are they in (i.e. graduating, getting married, searching for a home, etc.)?
  • Influence of others -- Who else may influence their decision making process (i.e. a spouse, friends, colleagues, staff, etc.)
  • Real-world interactions -- Did a customer arrive at your store, website or app and get what he or she needed easily?

This data will inform the content you create and help direct where to place it. Through this research, you might find email works well for one group and one particular topic, while the blog or in-app messaging works better for others. The goal is to look for touchpoints along their journey that can help continue to move them forward.

Put your content to work

Based on your personas and journey maps, you can start to build content that will serve as important touchpoints for your target audience. Now keep in mind, this doesn't just have to be for prospective clients and customers. You can strategically use content to expand current relationships and deepen loyalty.

What does this look like? For prospective customers and clients, this could be a series of strategically timed post published to LinkedIn (which you know is an ideal outlet based on your persona development work) that hit on a timely issue your prospects are dealing with. These posts might include a link to download a step-by-step guide on how to solve their challenge.

At this point, you may have collected their email address and can pepper them with relevant and useful information all geared around solving the challenges they experience day in and day out. One of these emails could have a link to a video or invite to webinar they'd find valuable. The goal is to get useful, relevant information into their hands at the right time to help them progress along their journey and enrich their experience with your brands.

Keep in mind, too, as technology advances, the targeting, timing and delivery of content may change. For instance, as the use of beacons becomes more mainstream, content can be triggered to be sent as customers enter your store or complete certain transactions. This may not be something your company has to deal with just yet, but is something to keep in the back of your mind as you build your content strategy.