How to align your content strategy to your business model
Marketing exists to make sales easier. This may seem so obvious as to be self-evident, and yet the reality is that many, many companies see their content marketing deliver increases in traffic but no corresponding increase in revenue.
There are, of course, several reasons for this, but this article is going to focus on the most critical ones: that the company either has the wrong strategy in place or is failing to execute any strategy at all. More specifically, this article is going to help CMOs and Heads of Marketing return to basics, with a practical guide on using the company’s business model and maturity to align its sales and content strategies, and identifying the most valuable types of content to align the content strategy and content funnel.
And while those first two steps will correct the strategy problem, the necessary third step is to visualise and balance out the content funnel to ensure content teams are properly executing on the strategy and contributing to the company’s bottom line.
Business models, stages of maturity, and sales models
A strategic approach to content begins with a thorough, internal understanding of the business, meaning how it works, who it serves, and how it attracts and engages those clients.
The best place to start for that information is with the company’s business model – its cost structure, channels, customer segments, and so on – to identify the company by its sales and product categories. For example, one company might fall into a high-touch sales and a high Average Contract Value (ACV) category, while another might also be higher ACV, but serve more of a free-trial, low-touch, or self-serve audience.
Another significant factor to consider is the company’s stage of maturity. This is because earlier-stage businesses often require higher-touch, founder- and/or sales-driven sales models than more established companies in their same category. They might also need less client volume despite their lower price point, or simply not be able to onboard a high volume of clients due to more limited resources.
As a rule of thumb, it is therefore important to consider contract values, sales models, and so on relative to a company’s – and, in the case of a new product, the product’s – context and needs.
Generally speaking, from a content point of view, companies that fall under the high-touch, high-ACV category can be considered as Enterprise-model companies, while high-ACV, lower-touch would be a mid-market model, like HubSpot, Ahrefs, and Slack. Finally, there are the low-touch, low-ACV “main street” companies like productivity tools and online marketplaces.
Each of these models comes with its own set of content needs, and it’s again worth repeating that these models and needs must be considered relative to the company’s and product’s context.
We’ll go into in the content needs in the next section, but for this first step, it’s important to remember that content strategy doesn’t start by copying what other “model” companies are doing. Content strategy starts as an internal exercise. It starts with a clear understanding of the key indicators, so that companies can develop a strategy that is dynamic, scalable, and aligned with its specific needs.
Mapping out the content funnel
Where the first step placed the company “geographically”, this second step explores the tools, because strategy is just as much about the “how” as it is about the “why”.
However, the “why” question should always be in the background: it’s one thing to understand the conventional stages of a funnel, but it’s probably more important to understand the ideal and non-negotiable types of content for each business model. This understanding will help shape and balance the company’s content funnel.
The logic goes something like this: if Enterprise-model companies (and early-stage companies) use high-touch sales models, they will need more sales enablement content. This includes audience-targeted guides, case studies, research- and network-based content, etc. – what some people call “original content”. This type of content gives more weight to the middle and bottom of the content funnel.
Mid-market players usually have a larger search-based audience to address, as well as more competitors, so the mid-market model will see more of a hybrid sales approach. This includes a high degree of branded and organic search content, like comparison articles and “how-to” posts. But because SEO rarely helps differentiate a company, Thought Leadership and other types of original content also play a key role for mid-market companies.
A further note on SEO: just because Enterprise and early-stage companies benefit more from original content doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from SEO. Without getting side-tracked into the problems with SEO, companies simply need to understand and consider how they’re using it as a channel. So, while it might act as a good acquisition channel for mid-market and main street companies, it will also act as a good credibility and nurture channel for Enterprise companies.
Understanding that there are ideal, and even non-negotiable, types of content for each business model or maturity stage does not negate the need for other types. It should, however, inform the ideal shape of a company’s content funnel, and in the next step, we will look at creating a visual of this funnel to ensure company’s a properly executing on their defined strategy.
Execution: Balancing actual versus target content funnel
The third step is about being able to compare “actual” versus “ideal”, as developed in the previous steps. It is also the most practical of the three steps.
The first thing to do – and the most difficult – is to develop an internal framework for what the company considers to be top-of-the-funnel content, middle-of-the-funnel, and bottom-of-the-funnel. This is difficult because there tends to be overlap between the stages, where different pieces of content can serve different purposes at the same time.
Once the framework is in place, though, the content team can go on to audit and tag their content, which they can then use to create a bar chart, pie chart, or other form of visualisation.
As in any other measurement, the key here is to have the target funnel shape (developed in step 2) for comparison. Enterprise models will want to see a smaller top-of-the-funnel range with equally balanced middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel. Mid-market models should have more top-of-the-funnel.
By comparing “actual” versus “ideal”, content teams can identify gaps and adjust their funnel as needed. These adjustments can be improvements, or they can mark dynamic shifts as the company or product scales and matures into its target market.
Overall, content/business success depends on more than just the right strategy. It also requires that the strategy be properly executed. Developing a good labelling framework, and then tagging and visualising the funnel can make this a lot easier, while providing content teams with the tools to adjust as required.
Aligning content and business
If there’s one thing to remember from this article, it’s that the “one-size-fits-all” approach rarely works well for content strategy. The typical consequence there is that companies might see a good increase in traffic, but rarely will they see a corresponding increase in revenue.
Instead, success really comes from taking the time to understand the business from the inside out, by determining how it works, how it sells, and what it needs. In other words, content marketing adds to the bottom line when the content strategy is anchored to business strategy.
And so, content and marketing teams should start with an understanding of the relationship between the business model and its related content needs. They can then use that to map out their funnel with the content types that will have the biggest impact on their specific business. Finally, creating a visual of their content funnel will help ensure they are properly executing on their strategy.
On the surface, these three steps might look simple, but they take time, attention, and discipline to carry out. The results, though, will speak for themselves, in a scalable, sustainable, and cost-effective content programme, specifically tailored to the company’s unique needs and goals.