Build a Content Architecture Model to Guide Customers on Their Journey
We've covered a lot of ground in our strategic messaging foundation blog series. Everything we've talked about thus far – value proposition, position and messaging framework, brand narrative, personas and persona journeys – has been laying the groundwork for your content marketing strategy. This foundation was designed to help you determine who your audience is, what they want and need, and how you can deliver it to them in an appealing way. Now, we're ready to talk about what to do with all of that in-depth research and planning.
No matter what kind of marketing you're doing, you need quality content to support it. Content, ultimately, provides answers to your customers' questions, and building a content architecture model can help you do that in an effective, efficient way.
What is a content architecture model?
In its simplest form, a content architecture model is where your strategy meets the road in a tangible plan for reaching anyone who's moving through your sales funnel. It lays out what content to put where across the buyer journey, taking into account your persona's specific feelings, actions and challenges at each point along the way.
The model we've designed is based on a basic X-Y axis, where X is the timeline of the buyer journey and Y is the volume or "weight" of the content you're delivering (more on that below).
First, let's consider the X axis – what kind of content does a buyer at each stage of their journey need to move forward to the next?
At the Awareness stage, your content should help people become explicitly aware of their problems, and that they are not alone, spotlighting the pain points or potential delights and triggering further action.
Next is Realize, where the customer is seeking to understand the breadth and depth of pains, opportunities, and risks of the given problems. Content here should help them realize their challenge and the brands that can potentially help.
Buyers in the Internalize stage are beginning to understand how the problems directly affect their industry/business and the impact it will have on their organization. Their priority here is pursuing a solution to the problem, and your content should appeal to that solution-oriented mindset.
When a buyer reaches Visualize, they are starting to see the steps and configuration of what they need to do to their life/business to embrace the promised transformation. Show them the way to that transformation with the content you create for this stage.
The Decide stage is perhaps the highest risk phase for your content marketing. The next piece of content you deliver to this buyer could make or break the sale. Give your customer the data they need to rationalize their decision to work with your brand, especially if they need to make a business case to their higher-ups, teams and other stakeholders. This stage is often over indexed, don’t just create content for this phase. It’s tempting, but ensure you cover the whole journey.
Finally, in the Evangelize stage, you'll want to give the customer plenty of encouragement to share their success story with the world. Empower your influencers by delivering content and experiences that facilitate the raving fan spreading their positive messages about your brand to their network.
For the Y axis, we've borrowed the academic world's "100 to 400" course level designations, where 100 is basic and foundational and 400 is complex and in-depth.
L100 is "bite-sized." It's easy to consume, skim and share. Examples: glossary terms, quotes, pictures, infographics.
L200 is for moderately interested parties who have a few minutes to spend on your content. Examples: short videos, articles, blogs.
L300 starts to get more in-depth and caters to the committed audience that wants to learn something from you. Examples: sales presentation, personalized tour, full website review.
L400 is typically longer and the most complex of the content volume levels. This content is for the highly committed or skeptical audience. Examples: downloadable eBooks, long-form video, self-assessment tools, and calculators.
Emotional vs. Rational
The other often over looked pivot of content marketing planning is to consider the structure of the human decision-making process. Humans make decisions based on emotion and justify based on data.
Starting on the left content should be more heavily weighted as emotional (the white boxes), shifting across the journey to more rational, detail driven content (the grey boxes).
Most technology companies not only over index on Visualize (case studies) and Decide (data sheets, white papers) they also tend to neglect the emotional vs. rational tone of content.
Getting this right is key to unlocking the way the human brain sequences information in the decision process. This is so important that we’ll come back to this shortly.
Filled out, a rough content architecture model might look something like this:
The 3 Ts: Determining your ideal pieces of content
Now that you understand how a content architecture model is structured, you're ready to determine exactly what pieces of content should go in each box. Refer back to your persona journey map as you design your content architecture model and use what we call the 3 Ts – type, theme and tone – to inform your recommendation of content at each stage.
Which medium or content vehicle will be most effective? Most types of content marketing assets fall into four main categories, each with varying degrees of complexity and depth. The goal is to create a healthy mix of content vehicles at each volume level across the entire customer journey.
Written content is the type that marketers and consumers are often most familiar with. When assigning a level to your written content, remember that it’s not just the number of words; it’s the size of those words. Ensure you are taking the piece's complexity into account. How hard is it to read? A 2,000-word article that covers a dozen high-level topics in a "readers' digest" format may only be L200, but a 1,000-word piece that dives deep into a technical concept could be L300 or 400.
Graphical content, including infographics, slideshow presentations and other visual assets, may vary in levels of complexity. Presentations may be a series of high-level “bite-sized” concepts strung together in important note form and could be considered L100, even if it takes 45 minutes to read through or present. A key note for example.
Animated/video content is a diverse category. Some videos might be quick hits that deliver a discrete emotional point, while others might be more in-depth and product-specific, like full-blown product demos. Timing is useful to rank weight, as is how much is jammed packed into those precious seconds. How easy is it to watch?
Tools, such as worksheets and interactive guides, can vary substantially in the level of complexity and associated effort to consume. Consider ease of access and learning curve when creating tools.
Next, you need to consider the overall theme or message of your content piece. Is there a particular topic that is particularly important at this point in the buyer journey?
As an example, if your persona's challenges in the Realize stage are about understanding what other people like them are learning and doing, the theme might be "best practices from the community."
Your persona journey leg work will provide a wealth of inspiration for content theming.
The stage your buyer is in will determine the tone of your content. As we discussed earlier and in our last blog, buyers move from a place of emotion to rationality when they make a purchasing decision. This shift is reflected in the content architecture model, where content moves from being emotionally-weighted to rational and data-driven.
As you're brainstorming content ideas, consider how the persona might be feeling at that particular point in their journey. Are they feeling excited? Worried? Concerned? Do you need to support and inspire them at this stage, or do you need to fuel their confidence? (P.S. – The "sentiment" notes in your persona journey map will help tremendously here.)
It's important not to get the emotional or rational tone wrong at any point in journey. It's like asking someone to marry you on the first date – you will scare people off if you come on too strong, too soon. Likewise, if you're still talking about aspirational or emotional themes when someone is looking for hard, rational data to help them make a decision, they'll walk away in search of a brand partner that's willing to get more serious.
Customizing, implementing and testing your model
Once all of these planned content assets have been created, the model serves as a ready-made plan to tailor your marketing efforts to any given business lead. Depending on where they a particular customer is in their journey, you can use your marketing automation system to send them the piece of content at the appropriate "level" for their interests and their familiarity with your brand and product. For example, a customer in the Awareness stage with a good base knowledge of your market might benefit most from a 400L thought leadership article, while a 200L infographic might appeal more someone who is in that same stage, but is less familiar with your product category. As they consume and you track their progress you can deliver the next content accordingly. And yes, this is possible the old fashioned way as well (i.e. without marketing automation and lead scoring).
Start testing your model at the macro and microlevel. A/B test diff themes/topics within tone at micro, macro level – are people moving across the journey. If things are going particularly well, zoom in and see what's happening so you can replicate it. By the same token, if something isn't working the way you intended, put it under a microscope to see what you need to improve. As you're doing that, keep the big picture in mind and monitor the performance of lead flow across the whole experience.
Remember, our content architecture model is just that – a model. This template has 24 boxes, but yours can certainly have more or less. You may not have the budget to do a ton of content, so you'll have to collapse our model down to one core piece at each stage. We do recommend a more granular approach, but you are welcome to follow the blueprint in whatever way works best for your brand and its resources.
Content architecture models in action: Real-world examples
To fully appreciate how successful content marketing can be, let's go back in time to the late 19th century, when John Deere – yes, the tractor company – essentially originated the concept. In 1895, John Deere published its first issue of The Furrow, a quarterly journal for American farmers.
Rather than promoting John Deere's farming equipment, the publication chose to focus on the farmers who purchased that equipment. Its articles are about helping farmers do their jobs and run their businesses better.
This approach quickly catapulted The Furrow's popularity among America's rural farming communities, who could truly relate to and see themselves in the subjects of these articles. Today, The Furrow reaches 2 million global readers using the same successful content marketing strategy it has always relied on:
" Even the most technical subject has to have a human story behind it," explained David Jones, the current editor of The Furrow. "We've always been able to convince the management that the content shouldn’t be about John Deere equipment. We've stuck to that over time.
It's this relatable "human" element that separates good, helpful content marketing from ham-fisted advertorial content. The Furrow has survived for nearly 125 years because it's all about what real farmers are doing in their everyday lives. It's about the farmers' tips and tricks for success. In short, it's about people, not about selling a tractor.
This is why creating a value proposition is only the first step in effective branding and marketing. Everyone's selling something and talking about their product's features and benefits. You, of course, have to identify and highlight those benefits to convince your potential customers to buy from you. But storytelling does this in a way that cuts through that noise and reaches a real human being.
When John Deere talks about its farming equipment in The Furrow, the equipment isn't the hero of the story. The hero is the farmer, who uses that equipment as a means to an end – to become a better farmer, so they can support their family and maintain their lifestyle. The articles published in The Furrow are specifically designed to resonate with the story its readers are living and breathing every day.
To that end, John Deere publishes a mix of content that supports customers at every stage of the buyer journey. The Furrow caters to readers who are new to farming and need the inspiration and "case studies" from successful farmers to get started, as well as readers who have been farming forever and want to learn what they can do to keep improving and evolving. Every piece of content can be placed in a specific spot along the X-Y axis, intended for a specific person at a specific point in their own marketing journeys.
Ultimately, that's what building a content architecture model is all about. It's a guide to meeting people where they are, with a very intentional, calculated content strategy. Meeting them on their journey, in their story.
Think about building a box out of wood and nails. You have the right materials, and with a hammer in hand, you have the right tool for the job. But you won't build a functional box unless the wood and nails are intentionally placed and affixed together in the correct way. With a content architecture model, you have a solid blueprint for building your marketing box. A carefully planned strategy will ensure that you're hitting the proverbial nail on the head for your prospects, no matter where they are on their journey with you.
Go Narrative is a marketing consultancy that assists business leaders in technology firms to build and implement advanced marketing strategies. Our secret sauce is storytelling for business growth and transformation. We can help you cut through the noise and improve your reputation. We love helping business leaders understand, use and apply storytelling in business via writing, presentations, video, strategy and actionable plans. Get attention. Be heard. Sell more.
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