As we approach the New Year, here’s a big question for you, content marketers:
Which way is the content marketing wind blowing? 🌬️
I have some ideas.
In 2019, content marketing will continue to grow, and more and more brands will see its potential through to concrete, measurable successes.
Today and tomorrow’s great, standout marketing is all about building trust with your audience, and consistently giving them creative, nurturing, and strategic content.
And in order to get there, some things have to change. It’s time for some old, anti-trust practices to die — and it’s time to introduce and start more conversations around new, better practices.
One of these new practices I’m introducing today is a big wake-up call to the industry. (Hint: Goodbye sales funnel, hello Marketing Lifecycle.)
Knowing the foundational techniques that will boost your online game overall just became a basic requirement. Learning how to build real, lasting industry trust for your brand? That’s for the successful few. And we’ll be discussing that today. Ready to jump into today’s deep end?
Introducing The Marketing Lifecycle & 4 Other Content Marketing Trends for 2019 That Will Win With a Human Audience
Here are some of the top trends that (I’m hoping) we’ll see proliferate in marketing in 2019, starting with the biggest industry prediction I’ve ever made. Let’s begin.
1. Marketing Funnel Begone: Welcome The Marketing Lifecycle
I’m going to predict that the overly salesy marketing “funnel” (also called a “sales funnel”) will become obsolete in the next 12-24 months. Yes, I said it.
Why? It’s high time a new, pro-consumer lifecycle replaced the cold, ugly sales funnel.
I discussed the sales funnel death and the lifecycle idea with the students in my Content Strategy & Marketing Course recently. My student John said it eloquently: “The sales funnel deserves the guillotine.”
Why is the “sales funnel” so unreliable?
It doesn’t describe the way marketing should work anymore.
John Hall, co-founder of Influence & Co., broaches this idea in his Forbes rundown of 2019 trends:
“Right now, the marketing funnel as we know it accepts just about anyone and everyone, filters them through qualification processes, then spits them out at the end without much of a parting word. Too many companies see customers as gatekeepers to wallets; meanwhile, customers feel ignored at best – and insulted at worst – when the journey ends.”
Have I mentioned that I hate the term “sales funnel?”
We are content marketers. We should never just “grab” the attention of people who aren’t in our audience, for numbers’ sake: and we should never only focus on “dumping people” at the end of a funnel. It’s time to quit looking at our customers as if they are numbers, a metric in our system, a “wallet.” Our customers are so much more than their wallets. They are our friends, the people we want to help the most if we’re truly in business to make a difference. So, let’s take a more nurturing stance that encourages people to stay in our circle: join our community of readers, buyers, and evangelists.
Funnel, begone. It’s time for a new marketing flowchart.
Let’s Replace “Sales Funnel” with “Marketing Lifecycle”
Before I get into my original concept, the term “marketing lifecycle” itself isn’t new. Ardath Albee, an industry leader in content marketing, talked about a lifecycle on the Marketo blog not too long ago.
In the post, titled “B2B Tech Marketers Make the Shift From Funnels to Lifecycles,” she says: “…Marketers [must] shift their focus from buying journey funnels to full-on customer lifecycle management.”
The design that I’m about to reveal is 100% original and the collaborative effort of myself and my team. My designer and one of our lead copywriters worked on it with me, after I did some initial brain dumps.
Late one Sunday night in October, I brainstormed the first draft of my new lifecycle. Not kidding you: I picked up one of my kid’s markers and a piece of paper, and I drew it out. I’m going to show you my original brainchild in all its pure, messy, Crayola marker glory.
Now, to really show you what The Marketing Lifecycle I’ve designed is all about, study this generic Sales Funnel first. This is the typical model of Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. The concept is quite old: the AIDA concept was first proposed in Bond Salesmanship by William W. Townsend in 1924.
Typical sales funnel model
Not very pretty – was it ever?
Here’s what Townsend actually wrote in his book in 1924, which gave us our first usage of this “sales funnel” as associated today with the AIDA model:
“The salesman should visualize his whole problem of developing the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel which produces the specific and favorable consideration of one fact. The process is continually from the general to the specific, and the visualizing of the funnel has helped many salesmen to lead a customer from Attention to Interest, and beyond.”
Does that sound like a current marketing method that work today — at all?
“The salesman should…[develop] the sales steps as the forcing by compression of a broad and general concept of facts through a funnel.” Forcing your prospects? Does this really define the “sales” concept we should use in our marketing today? Jamie from 60secondmarketer.com says that the “sales funnel” simply doesn’t work with today’s smart consumer. I would agree. Here are a few more facts on why.
Today’s Customer Journey: A Big Reason to Embrace the Marketing Lifecycle
Today’s typical customer journey is far more unpredictable than the customer of the previous century.
1980’s and prior sales journey.
When the concept of the sales funnel came out (1924), the internet didn’t exist! But think about today for a second.
Over 40,000 searches happen on Google per second, 1.49 billion people log onto Facebook daily, 84% of buyers trust online reviews (BrightLocal), and 47% of B2B buyers read 3-5 blog posts or content pieces prior to talking with a salesperson (DemandGen). 45% of Americans use Twitter (Pew Research Center), and 77% of Twitter users (Twitter) feel more positive about a brand when their tweet has been replied to.
That means that a typical buyer’s journey could look a lot more like this, and there could be a lot longer of a time period between the first and the last stage than the funnel represents.
On the flip side, if the brand’s site is user-friendly, and the content is extremely good, and the prospect has a hot, burning need: the sale can still happen quickly! (The good news? If we allow for a journey and not a pushy “funnel,” we will get better results and happier customers all around.)
The sales funnel really gives companies, and executive teams, the wrong idea of who is buying from them. A human is buying from us. Not a percentage. Not a robot. Not a “conversion ratio.” A human, in the end. I think sometimes many of us forget that simple fact. What I wanted to portray was a path real humans that are interested in a brand’s offering are actually taking these days, with no closed walls, and fresh, up-to-date, more accurate “stages.” I’ve been studying the pathways of the inbound customers we have this year, as we approach our first $1.5 million gross annual sales. There are three things I’ve noticed that consistently happen around the sales journey that really does not match up to today’s sales funnel at all (see AIDA model, above).
First: we can’t truly and accurately predict where a lead is at. Ground-floor level, we don’t know what’s in a human buyer’s mind. Software can’t heat-map a lead’s “brain,” even though it’ll promise you that it can try. Your lead could be ready to buy, or they could be months away from buying. It’s their decision, not yours, on how and where they should spend their money. Patience with our human prospects, and realizing we aren’t mind-readers pays off. We allow them to make the decision, and if we’ve held up our end–our salespeople are strong, our products are strong, our quote was sent out on time, etc., we simply need to wait. We let them know it’s up to them. This is what today’s buyer wants from us as “sellers.”
Secondly: I consistently see one of the most important stages left off all sales funnels. Yet for us, this is when we see our biggest sales, trust, and ROI happen! This is the loyalty stage, which happens AFTER the interest, decision, and action stages. Their actions after that first big action (purchase, sale) denote their loyalty to your brand and subsequently more business for you, if you’ve served them well enough, and maintain that relationship in a way that encourages them to tell others about how much they love you.
Thirdly: The metrics and KPIs around the “stages of the sales funnel” are grossly off, if we want to reflect KPIs that influence potential sales and direct profit. For example, one of the biggest “metrics” for actual sales from content are the conversations you’re having with your leads. If our team isn’t having calls, live chats, email conversations with new leads that come in, then we revise and improve our inbound strategy. Conversations are by far the biggest metric that lead to a sale. Get that lead on a call, on live chat with you, reading your email and responding, and the chances of a sale are huge. Yet I never see “conversations” factored as a KPI in the sales funnel! Most of the time it’s “open” rates on emails, whitepaper downloads, subscriber growth — when none of that matters half as much as the conversations you’re actually having with your people.
So, those three factors were heavily considered in the new Marketing Lifecycle I’ve developed. Without further ado, here it is. Keep scrolling past the images for a little bit more about the story of this Lifecycle.
Spread the word! Save, download and re-share: grab the PDF here, and correctly cite if you use by linking back to this post
The story around my new concept is that there are four true stages to an authentic, customer-centric Marketing Lifecycle journey.
Want to save and read the full description of all four stages later? Download as a PDF here.
Lead is: In Awareness
Brands need to focus on: Authority building in the industry, via high-quality content on a key site “house,” in a variety of formats. Consistency, velocity are key.
This is the traffic and awareness stage when someone first hears about you and has a potential need for what you might offer. Your content and work here should be value-focused, first and foremost. Don’t be promotional or you risk turning leads off. Comprehensive, high-quality blogs are huge winners to build on your site for attracting more leads in the awareness stage.
What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:
- High-quality, comprehensive, SEO optimized blogs for inbound site traffic (I’ve trained my best writers on a service we offer called authority content for this reason)
- Focus on building a community around your brand – create intimacy with your niche through content
- Round-ups or original research studies (can publish as blogs)
- Brand awareness blogs, creative stories (executive, employee or client stories–must be real-life, and not stiff or testimonial-style)
- Web pages & site guides (example: our What Is a Strategist? site guide for my course)
- Social media content, videos & copy
- Maintain relationships at the fourth stage for more word-of-mouth referrals
- Published books by executive team/CEOs (see mine for an example)
- Lead magnets and ebooks & building list size and leads to nurture with opt-ins
- Ad campaigns (cold audience)
2. Interest & Intent
Lead is: Interested & Has Potential Intent to Buy
Brands need to focus on: Conversational marketing, assigning live calls with prospects to strongest team members, offering client-specific or seasonal coupons
In the sales funnel, this is usually broken up into two stages: Interest and Desire. However, the pattern with smart buyers today, especially those buying online (digital and physical services), is that a lead can go from interest to desire very quickly. Brands need to anticipate that more. For example, I see too many brands write off their leads — we’ll call him Joe — just because Joe hasn’t emailed back in over a year. Never, ever do that. This does NOT mean to pressure your leads. Just don’t write them off. Send them your occasional coupons and specials. We’ve seen clients come back out of the blue time and time again.
And guess what the #1 factor is in moving someone from interest to a decision? A real, live human conversation. After 7 years and $4+ million in sales, all conducted not in person and over the “internet” virtually with clients using our website, we consistently see conversations as the #1 factor in moving someone from interest and intent to decision. 41.2% of salespeople said their phone is the most effective sales tool at their disposal, says Hubspot. Since our leads at Express Writers are 100% inbound and already warm, getting them on a call is easy – and once they have a conversation with one of our capable staff members, 60-80% of the time, they buy. Allowing the lead to choose phone, chat or email, and then being quick to take initiative, pick up the phone and call our inbound prospect when there’s any hesitation, is the #1 component of all of our sales. (We’ve never used a single webinar to sell our services at Express Writers.)
Also, our top salesperson is not a salesperson. We stopped doing commissioned sales back in 2015! Instead, our top salesperson was first an editor and project manager who naturally progressed up our ladder and is now our Content Director. We’ve found there is no one better than the person who oversees our writers to also have the key conversations that move to a lead to decide on purchasing. Live chat is another way to facilitate these conversations. There’s a reason 150,000 businesses including some of the world’s top brands are using the same live chat we are, Drift. Messenger bots are another great way to hold more live chats with your prospects.
I can’t recommend this enough: Have more conversations with your leads. Talk about the conversations you’ve had in your boardroom with executives and team members.
Another powerful factor in moving a client through this stage is by using coupons and offering them more. This is another opportunity I think a ton of brands miss out on! Coupons with an expiration really give a lead a reason to move from interest and intent forward to the next stage. We’ve had many sales happen because specific leads who asked for a deal, and qualified for that deal by buying volume, were given an account-specific coupon. Never underestimate the power of offering a good deal. Don’t cheapen out, but don’t be afraid to offer your best price.
Remember your email marketing efforts here too. Emailing your content marketing pieces generates a 38x return for every 1$ spent (CampaignMonitor).
What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:
- Conversational marketing (live chat, phone appointments with leads & best company representatives)
- Messenger bots & live chat apps
- Have your best (human!) representatives at the end of the app & booking live calls with leads
- An easy-to-navigate site with CTAs and contact forms
- Lead magnets around your core message
- Ebooks to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise
- Whitepapers and case studies showing off client success stories
- Email marketing and list building efforts (write and send great emails consistently)
- Webinars (not necessary unless it fits your specific offering and/or niche)
- Ad campaigns (retargeting)
Lead is: Ready to Buy
Brands need to focus on: Having samples, previous happy client reviews, and quotes ready to go: booking sales calls
This is the action stage. The main action here is sales. If the other stages are done correctly, and your content has built a great presence, you offer a solid service and products, and you or your team has answered every question, the prospect should buy.
What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:
- Conversational marketing (live chat, calls, prompt follow-ups with clients to answer every question)
- Have a team that acts fast on sales quotes. The recommended time to get back to someone who contacts you online now is 0 minutes – 4 hours, max.
- Have work samples ready to show at request for new clients making a decision
- Testimonials and reviews from prior happy clients help new clients buy with confidence
- Optional, based on specific company time: Demos (a complex SaaS, for example, could benefit from offering demos)
Lead is: Delighted & Willing to Send Referrals
Brands need to focus on: Great service, delivering a great product, following up and checking on client happiness levels, fixing or repairing any reason for dissatisfaction
This is where you connect with and delight your customers on a regular basis. They become advocates for your brand at this point. This is one of the most important parts to building a long-term presence and profitability as a business, yet it is so often left off of the sales funnel! Your customers’ loyalty reflects the strength of your brand. You should be reaching out and making sure your customers are happy, checking in with them, and sending them occasional gifts or thank-yous to maintain that relationship and loyalty. It’s up to you as the brand to make sure the customer is delighted. If at any point they’ve been dissatisfied, it’s also imperative to find out why and repair whatever could be broken.
What brands should create or do to encourage customer activity at this stage:
- Followups and seasonal check-ins: build relationships with customers without being pushy
- Send gifts and thank-yous
- Email marketing: nurture buyers’ loyalty by sending them your new guides, blogs and customer stories/team stories
- New products, books, etc. can also build loyalty and reoccurring interest
- Good service and strong products are #1: revise and maintain your offerings and team to ensure strength in the market
Some Notes About the Marketing Lifecycle
In the Marketing Lifecycle, notice that there is no wall: a human can walk right over into “decision” if they want to, by going through the middle. This is important. It is time we predicted our prospects’ intentions more as a journey and a lifecycle with pathways, instead of a funnel. And this was an important part of the lifecycle. There are no walls or pushy funnel tactics here. Customers aren’t treated like a “metric” or a “number.” We give them a path, and expect a journey, in which our role is to add value to their journey and guide them, without being annoying or pushy. Also, the beautiful part of this new story is that it all connects. Marketing done right should do just that. It should encourage the building of a community: that community should be inspired to tell others about you, which means that increased loyalty to your brand will grow your awareness, reach and traffic, which will continue to fuel growth continually.
The trend in the lifecycle going forward, I think, is that more brands will realize the need for live conversations with their prospects and use innovative apps like live on-site chat, messenger bots, and more. There will need to be a human at the other end serving the lead with the final call or conversation–a bot can’t fully replace a human. Gartner has said that by 2020, conversational marketing will be a recognized channel of B2B and B2C customer engagement and revenue, displacing a large combination of marketing, sales, and service activities.
This kind of marketing is not simple or easy, it is definitely advanced: but it is customer-centric. The types of brands that will win in tomorrow’s Marketing Lifecycle are those who invest in quality and take time and care to serve well at each stage. If your website, email marketing, authority-building blogging, Facebook ad retargeting, whitepapers, lead magnets, customer testimonials, serves your leads well and is set up well in a high-quality, congruent, value-focused manner, you’ll see results. Remember, your offers must be strong, and your CTAs present but unobtrusive. Your team members must serve your clients well, and your products must be amazing. Invest without hesitation to build strength at each stage of the lifecycle. Your leads will feel better served and you’ll get far better results than trying to half-ass your way through these stages.
Download the three stages as a PDF – no email required.
2. Content That Wins Love and Trust
Now that we got that big whammy out of the way, here’s my second most important content marketing prediction.
Trust-based content is going to be the Content Leader (King, Queen, you-name-it) in 2019.
Authenticity, the founder’s real backstory (from failures to successes), transparency in the executive team, and real-life anecdotes on company blogs – those will win buyer trust in the content calendar for 2019.
In other words, be real. Be realer than you’ve ever been, and don’t be afraid of the “TMI” barrier. People–your readers and buyers–want to hear your transparency and your failures, maybe even more than they want to read about the award you won or the tradeshow you sponsored.
Let’s tell real stories.
More than ever, great, unique content isn’t just about presenting your audience with factual research, opinions, or comprehensive information in an amazing format.
It’s about human connection. And how better to bridge that gap than through telling real stories?
In 2019, traffic and leads will go to brand leaders and marketers who focus on winning their audience’s love and trust. Those two things are what truly build engagement and bring a community together.
What wins love and trust? A few things:
The mechanics of building great content (format, style, structure, platforms) are common knowledge by now. To build those relationships, a bigger factor to nail in your content is WHY you do it.
- WHY should the consumer choose you and not the other guy?
There is SO MUCH content produced daily:
Standing out will keep getting harder.
So, instead of just publishing great content, marketers will need to push themselves further to create content that earns that love and trust – stuff with deep originality, fresh angles on old topics, imaginative ideas, and a big dose of fun.
This trend is already reflected in the data. The majority of marketers (56%) are reporting that content creation is the one area where they have overwhelmingly increased spending, according to CMI’s Benchmark report for 2019.
Of course, you don’t necessarily need to increase your budget to increase your originality – instead, think about increasing your commitment, care, and dedication to serving your audience. Love and respect them, and you may just get that in return.
3. Content Backed by a Strategy
Content marketing is no longer in its infancy. The experimentation phase is at an end – we know what works and what doesn’t.
So, what consistently wins? Content marketing backed by a strategy.
In fact, this trend is one reason I launched my Content Strategy & Marketing Course.
In past years, many marketers were not aware of the need for a content strategy. That’s changing – the 2019 CMI report findings show a staggering 81% are now aware of this need, including why it’s important.
The top benefits of a content strategy include:
- Content strategy helps align content marketing teams around the agreed-upon mission/goals (81%)
- A great content strategy makes it a lot easier to figure out which types of content to develop/produce (81%)
- Content strategy keeps the team focused on documented content priorities (73%)
Strategy-wise, things will keep growing, growing, growing – both the need and the awareness for the need!
And, as brands and businesses get wise to strategy, including how to use it effectively, content marketing’s worth will grow, too.
Remember when the predicted industry worth was around $300 billion by 2019? Now market researchers are saying it will be worth upwards of $400 billion by 2021.
4. Marketing Will Become Content Marketing
As early as a decade ago, content marketing was a totally new idea. Thus, it was often a side project or experiment for marketers.
Today, the script has flipped. Content marketing is edging out what we think of as “traditional” marketing. Pretty soon, when people mention “marketing,” they’ll mean content marketing – and vice-versa.
It’s happening because consumer preferences and attitudes are not what they once were.
Salesy tactics are now equivocated with the word “slimy.” They make consumers feel uncomfortable, and they don’t fool anyone.
According to Marketing Land and Blockmetry, 32.4% of ALL internet pageviews are impacted by ad-blocking software. On mobile devices, that number is three times higher: 62.9% of mobile pageviews are affected by ad blockers.
Today, consumers want the power. More than that, they HAVE the power to research the right brands for them, connect with those brands, and buy from those brands. They’ll ignore the rest of the “noise” – pushy ads, intrusive pop-ups, and slimy sales calls.
Creating valuable content that meets the consumer’s real need acknowledges their power and gives them that choice of connecting with you or not.
It’s respectful marketing. It’s not slimy. It’s what today’s consumers want.
5. Retargeting People Who Know, Like, and Trust You
Another trend that goes hand in hand with content marketing: retargeting.
This process taps into the segment of your audience who have seen your content, like your content, and like YOU, but may not have acted on any of that yet.
Wordstream gives a quick visual of how retargeting works in general:
Sometimes “retargeting” and “remarketing” are used interchangeably to refer to the same process. In general, the only difference between each strategy is the platform you use to carry them out. (Remarketing, for instance, is usually done with email.)
According to Wordstream, conversion rates actually increase the more times a user sees an ad AFTER they have visited your site:
Retargeting only targets individuals who have some kind of relationship with you already. Plus, if you do it on platforms where they expect ads, it’s not intrusive at all.
For example, you could add low-spend ads to your budget to retarget people who have engaged with you on Facebook.
AdEspresso has some great strategies for retargeting on Facebook to try. First, you need to install a Facebook pixel on your site.
Then, you can create a custom audience to retarget based on which pages they visited, how recently they visited, and more factors.
Screenshot via AdEspresso
This ad strategy ties neatly into your content marketing because it gently reminds visitors that you exist and they have shown interest in your brand in the past. This is sure to be a bigger trend in 2019 alongside the continued rise of content marketing.
How to Win with Content Marketing in 2019: Stay Ahead of Trends
Want to win with content in 2019? You need to know the trends, sure – but you also need to know how to stay ahead of them.
Follow this guide and use it to propel your brand/clients to the top of the content heap. Most importantly, keep pivoting your strategy. Stay light on your feet and agile enough to make changes as necessary to your marketing.
No marketing plan will ever stay static. Make sure the ability to grow is baked into your strategy, and you’ll have a much bigger, better chance at success.
Need great content? You know who to call.