The 1,2,3,4 Step Approach to Get Started with Content Marketing

There are so many types of content, stages of the buyer journey, personas and mediums to think about, it can all get a bit overwhelming. Especially if you’re relatively new to content marketing or your company is just considering it as a marketing strategy.

It’s enough to make you feel like maybe you shouldn’t start, because you’ll never be able to compete.

However the key to a successful content marketing strategy isn’t to do everything, to spread yourself too thin. In fact, that’s the opposite of strategy!

Strategy is making trade-offs in competing. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Without trade-offs, there would be no need for choice and thus no need for strategy.

Michael E. Porter, ‘What is Strategy’ in Harvard Business Review

So, let’s put aside everything else and consider what you should be doing as a start. This might not work at, or apply to, every company, but if you really are lost, it’s a pretty solid place to begin.

This is the 1, 2, 3, 4 approach to get started with content marketing:

  • One Persona
  • Two Mediums
  • Three Funnel Stages (Awareness, Consideration, Decision)
  • Four Content Types

But how to you actually apply it in practice? Let’s dig in to the details!

One Persona

The easiest place to cut out clutter is in who you target your content marketing at. Rather than trying to capture the attention of every potential customer and their dog, get really focused and pick just one core persona to market to.

Let’s say you’re selling a cloud based HR solution – we’ll call you HRSoft – it might be applicable to enterprise companies, fast-growth startups, small family businesses and recruiters. Perhaps you have different levels and plans for each. However they all have different profiles, and different needs, so your content marketing would need to be different for each.

In this situation, you need to pick the type of customer you’re already enjoying most traction with – let’s say they’re enterprise companies – and for the time being, try to forget about the rest so it doesn’t over complicate your strategy (remember, strategy is defined by what you’re not doing) or bog down your execution.

So in this case your core persona will be HR Directors at large, enterprise corporations – and no one else.

Two Mediums

Mediums are the ways your content might be delivered to your persona, such as via your website, mobile, video, podcasting, live events, print materials etc.

Unless you very specifically know that your target person would favour something else, I would recommend you start by focussing on your website and mobile content; and unless you can afford to develop a native mobile app, I’d content yourself with having a responsive website in order to cover off both in one go!

This means no videos, podcasts, live events or print materials. A lot of wasted opportunity? Sure, but they can be layered in over time, once you’ve stared building momentum and gained a loyal audience of readers.

See how simple things start to become when you get ruthless!

Three Funnel Stages

Some companies have complex buyer journeys or marketing funnels, with many multiple steps and branches. For large teams with enterprise software to help manage the content flow across those journeys, this is great. But if you’re just thinking of getting started with content marketing, it’s way too complex and onerous to manage.

So, what are these stages? Using Hubspot’s funnel model, they are:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision

Awareness stage content (also known as top-of-funnel) is the broader, easily accessible type of content that helps your persona answer basic questions about their needs when they’re unsure what solution they need. Or it draws them into your brand via fun, entertaining and educational content that relates to, but doesn’t necessarily mention, your solutions.

It will generally relate to the broader industry you work in or needs of your customers, without necessarily tying back directly to your product or solution. This is because they may not know what type of solution will meet their needs, or they may never have heard of your brand before.

So for our hypothetical HR solutions software company, the kinds of content they create might be:

  • Top 10 headache inducing problems an HR Director has to deal with
  • How to attract millennials to work in large organisations
  • What kind of HR Director are you?

These all target HR Directors, to draw them into a conversation and gain their attention, without directly talking about software or HRSoft’s solution.

Consideration stage content will help draw in prospects further, and start to introduce them to your solution once they either have an idea your brand exists and / or they can articulate the kind of solution they want. This is where they have identified their need, and they’re actively seeking the options they have to help. They may still not know your brand name though.

This means that typically you will want your consideration stage content to help answer questions and target long-tail, non-branded keywords.

Again taking HRSoft as an example, their consideration stage content marketing may run along the lines of:

  • 7 ways software can save enterprise HR Directors time and money
  • How to assess the security of cloud based HR software
  • What does it take to successfully deploy HR software in a FTSE 500 business?

Decision stage content helps seal the deal with a prospect. At this stage they understand their need, the range of solutions available and are actively trying to identify the right supplier.

That means your decision stage content can and should talk specifically about your own solution, and will ideally target long-tail branded keywords.

Typical types of decision stage content will include product demos, pricing and technical sheets, feature comparisons and case studies. Here’s a few examples of what HRSoft’s might look like.

  • How the Director of HR at XYZ bank used HRSoft to transform their hiring process (and saved £1,540,730 in the first 6 months)
  • Use this sheet to help sell HRSoft as the right solution to your CEO
  • How HRSoft shapes up compared to other leading HR software providers

Hopefully you can see why it’s important to have a mix of these content types to help potential buyers at each stage of their journey.

Four Content Types

So, this brings us to the section most likely to worry a business just starting out with content marketing – what should you be creating, and how do you know it will work?

Hubspot has this infographic showing 44 different types of content – and I’ve come across a fair few others that aren’t on that list because new formats are constantly being innovated. So how on earth do you keep up? Where do you start? Here’s my suggestion..try to start with just these 4 content types:

  • Influencer (Awareness)
  • Social (Awareness)
  • SEO (Consideration)
  • Lead capture (Decision)

Let’s run through them in a bit more depth:

Influencer Marketing is a great place for just about any company to start. It’s actually inherently social, (the influencers you involve will probably share it) will very likely help your SEO (they will probably link to it too) and taps into new audiences that you want to reach. In some instances the influencers will create most of the content too, you simply act as a catalyst.

It might sound too good to be true, but it’s something a huge number of companies and individuals use on a daily basis to grow their audience and build awareness of their brand.

There are lot of variations on influencer marketing, but here are a few simple ones that SoftHR might do:

  • Create a list of the top 20 HR Director at FTSE 500 companies by compiling their profiles into a single list.
  • Ask 50 HR Directors with the biggest social media followings for the answer to a single question, e.g. “What do you think the key challenge in human resources at large corporations will be by 2020?”
  • Do a written ‘day in the life of’ Q&A with a high profile enterprise HR Director.

It is particularly useful at the awareness stage of the buyer journey, but it can be used across the funnel including consideration and decision (via case studies) which is why it comes out top as the single most important type of content you should focus on.

Social content is created to appeal to audiences on social networks, or where the primary purpose is for readers to share the content with their own networks, and so it builds a ‘viral loop’ that gets your brand name out into the world relatively efficiently.

The best way to look at this is Buzzfeed style content, where the topics are relatively light-hearted, identity-led and might feature lists, quizzes and plenty of visuals.

However it doesn’t have to be frivolous or just for consumer content. In the case of SoftHR, they might do some pieces like:

  • 12 signs you were born to work in HR
  • 10 movie clips that every HR Director will love
  • 7 reasons HR Directors are the most important person in your company

As you can tell, these are just made for HR Director to share with one another – or for their friends to share with them. They’re inherently social.

SEO content is created to answer long-tail questions that your target persona are likely to ask on the journey towards buying. It’s unlikely they’ll ask what movies they should love, why they were born to work in that position or why they’re the most important person in the company, which is why those topics work best as social, top-of-funnel awareness content.

The best way to look at SEO content is whether it answers a question someone is likely to type into Google (obviously), or if it answers a question likely to be found on Quora (or any other industry-specific industry forum).

So for SoftHR, a few pieces of SEO content might be:

  • How much should HR software cost?
  • What FTSE 500 companies are using HR software?
  • 10 advantages of adopting HR Software in 2015

Again, it’s pretty obvious this content is designed to answer specific questions for HR Directors at larger companies, which should help them perform well on Google due to their specific intent match.

Lead capture content is the fourth essential ingredient to any nascent content marketing campaign. Without any inducement to share their contact details with you, all of your website visitors will unfortunately remain just statistics. And it’s hard to build meaningful relationships with stats alone.

So you need some content that will encourage your visitors to at the very least share their email address with you.

From there, you can bring them into your nurture programme, send them regular content updates or communicate with them in some other more meaningful way.

The types of content you usually create for this will vary, but many companies focus on white papers, reports and templates – things of substantial value. For SoftHR, this might be:

  • Business case builder: A ‘Board-friendly’ interactive template to create the business case for HR Software
  • Implementation checklist: the big list for successfully rolling out HR Software at enterprise companies
  • Pricing guide: 5 leading HR Software solutions compared side-by-side

Typically the depth and specificity of lead-capture content works well for the decision stage of the buyer journey; and by the time they’re at this stage, they should also be more willing to share their details with your company anyway, because they’re starting to consider you as a potential solution to their problem.


Like most things in life, the hard part of content marketing is getting started.

That’s why you want to simplify everything. Avoid being paralysed by complexity and too much choice.

One person, two mediums, three stages, four content types. That’s it. It’s more than enough to sink your teeth into, make a genuine impact and prove the value of content marketing.

What are you waiting for?

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