content marketing strategy

Content Marketing As Conversation

“In fact, the Internet itself is an example of an industry built by pure conversation.” –The Cluetrain Manifesto 1

The consumer landscape of the last couple centuries has been littered with loud, droning demands for customers’ attention, without much consideration for their needs. From the mass production of the Industrial Revolution to the broadcasting of the Advertising Age, brands’ communication with customers was pretty one-sided: marketing messages largely focused more on the product than the customer.

As the authors of the The Cluetrain Manifesto presciently pointed out nearly twenty years ago, the Internet was a game changer, opening avenues of communication between brands and their customers. Conversation—the modus operandi of pre-modern marketplaces—was once again possible. Customers could ask questions, voice concerns, and even complain. Brands could use content to respond with answers, solutions, and sometimes apologies.

Much has changed since the landmark insights of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The digital sphere has become crowed and cacophonous. Sparking up a conversation with your customers requires much more than a simple “Hello.” Personalization is only one tool to break through the clutter by addressing individuals by name—but then how do you keep their attention? By speaking to their needs at that specific moment. A content marketing strategy can help you accomplish this—using audience research, search tools, and content that sparks conversation, you can reach your business goals by deepening your engagement with your customers.

Context: Join the Conversation at the Right Time

Context is the cornerstone of conversation offline and online. Sure, you’d know better than to shout in a library, but how can you determine context from behind a computer screen? This is where the customer search cycle comes into play. The search cycle consists of the various phases a customer passes through online prior to making a purchase. Understanding your customers’ intention and specific needs at each stage of their online journey can help you capture their attention amid a clamor of marketing messages across multiple channels and devices.

Thanks to smartphones and other mobile devices, customers are online all hours of the day. In fact, mobile accounts for nearly 60 percent of searches. 2 Reaching your audience requires not only crafting customized messages that speak to specific-yet-shifting needs, but also ensuring those messages find the right fingertips at the right time. The search cycle has five stages that can occur anywhere, at any time, across any device; a content strategy aims to meet users wherever they are with content that speaks to those particular needs.

Connecting with Customers Along a Complex Search Cycle

content search cycle

Customers need different types of content at each stage of their journey to an online conversion—content that speaks to them. Consider this example: a hypothetical local appliance repair shop, Mr. Appliance, assists a family with a broken washing machine and achieves a conversion by using content to meet their needs at each stage.


The washing machine for a family of six breaks down on a Sunday night. Money is a concern and they need to fix it ASAP.

Information Seeking

Through a mobile search, the father, Steve, finds Mr. Appliance’s local business and some washing machine repair videos from Mr. Appliance in search and watches some of them on YouTube.

Content Type ⇾ Video/YouTube Tutorial.

When a series of recommended fixes don’t work, Steve downloads the manufacturer’s manual from Mr. Appliance’s website onto his desktop. He’s trying to identify the parts and numbers on his washing machine to see if he’s capable of fixing it himself.

Content Type ⇾ PDF, Manufacturer’s Manuals.

Throughout the week as he tries to mend the machine, Mr. Appliance’s retargeted display ads follow him around online, displaying on Facebook and news media websites.

Content Type ⇾ Display Advertisements.


When his DIY attempts don’t work out, Steve decides it’s time to call in a repairman, and he already has one in mind: Mr. Appliance. He reads a few Yelp reviews to be sure he’s made the right choice.

Content Type ⇾ Yelp Reviews.


Using his iPhone, Steve asks Siri to pull up “Mr. Appliance,” hits the call button on the shop’s local search result, and sets an appointment for that day.

Content Type ⇾ Local Business Listing.

Post-Purchase Support

Satisfied with the prompt service and repair, Steve leaves a positive review on Mr. Appliance’s Yelp page.

Content Type ⇾ Yelp Review.

Steve also signs up for a monthly email newsletter from Mr. Appliance’s website about household appliance routine maintenance. Each month the newsletter offer tips to prolong the life of major appliances and also piques the interest of his inner handyman. This strengthens his brand loyalty to Mr. Appliance’s business.

Content Type ⇾ Email Newsletter.

As a repair business, Mr. Appliance may have been apprehensive about creating DIY content for potential customers. What if that content helped them fix their appliances and prevented them from making service calls? As counterintuitive as it seemed, offering repair assistance through content first is exactly what Mr. Appliance had to do for Steve to become a customer.

Steve chose Mr. Appliance because its content communicated the right messages at each stage of his journey to conversion across devices and channels. Using valuable, useful, and comprehensive content to meet users at each stage, Mr. Appliance successfully keeps the conversation going with his target audience, building favorable brand recognition by continuously solving his customers’ problems.

3-Point Strategy: Search, Content, Audience

How can you emulate Mr. Appliance’s content marketing success? A 3-point strategy focusing on search, content, and audience can ensure you’re meeting customers at the right time with messages that resonate with them all along their consumer search cycle.

  • A search strategy ensures you know what customers are looking for so you can tailor content to those questions and make sure they find you online.
  • Audience research helps you learn what marketing messages are valuable and impactful to your customers based on their needs.
  • Strategic content aligned to the search cycle allows you to spark up the conversation and keep it going—before, during and after conversion.

A Closer Look at Strategy

1. Connect: Search

Beyond the general rule of adhering to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, here are some other important considerations for successful search marketing. Customers are on the go and so are their queries: more people search via mobile than desktop these days. Give them a great user experience across devices by having a mobile-friendly site built of Accelerated Mobile Pages.

You can also expand your online reach by targeting content for multiple channels, such as organic search, display ads, pay-per-click ads, social media ads, and email campaigns.

Wherever your customers find your content, make sure it matches their needs. Use keyword and topic research to uncover their queries and intent, and then optimize your content for both.

2. Communicate: Audience

While there are several avenues to gaining deep insights into your customers and their needs, market segmentation and personas are two tools that have proven effective over the years.

Here is a basic overview of their mechanics: once you’ve gathered enough data on your target market, you can segment it into subgroups based on similar characteristics, such as demographic or behavioristic.

Then you could create fictional characters called personas to represent the attitudes and pain points of these groups. Equipped with this knowledge, you can customize your marketing messages for them.

2. Converse: Content

Create content that meets your customers’ needs at each stage of their purchasing decision, whether that means answering questions, solving problems, or merely making them smile—just as you would if they were standing in front of you in your place of business.

Adhere to a content strategy and quality standards that ensure your content is always empathetic and valuable to your customers. This means developing a content process, including clear objectives and quality assurance. The bottom line: Your content process works better when you prepare before publishing.

Stay Competitive with Strategic Adaptation

Meeting customers’ needs with your content across their conversion journey, devices, and platforms is an essential goal of any current content marketing strategy. Whether you’re a mom-and-pop boutique just starting to blog or a mid-sized business seeking to ramp up content, understanding your audience and adapting to the shifting technological landscape helps you have the conversation that your customers want.

Give your audience what they need with meaningful, strategic content so that it’s easy to stay connected to you—and not your competitors.

Additional Sources:

1 – Title: The Cluetrain Manifesto; Authors Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger; 10th Anniversary Edition; page 157
2 –

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