Many technology marketers have more content than they’re aware of. What they lack is a consistent and disciplined way to categorize and apply it. Rob O’Regan, whose background is equal parts editor and content marketer, shares how marketers can adopt a structured and rigorous process to identify opportunities and content gaps in IDG’s MarketingFit webcast series. According to O’Regan, the approach can be scaled across the entire marketing team and adapts to nearly every kind of content.

Start with the philosophy that content strategy should always be aligned with business outcomes and marketing objectives, O’Regan advised. Examples of objectives are hard metrics like lead generation, as well as softer goals such as improved thought leadership.

The strategy works from the assumption that different stages of the purchase process require different approaches to content, a fact that has been borne out by years of IDG research. For example, buyers tend to consult technology content sites and thought-leading white papers during the early and middle stages of the sales funnel but seek peer reviews, recommendations and demos as they near a decision.

This process isn’t carved in stone, though. It may vary by factors such as industry dynamics, urgency of the decision and the customer’s knowledge level. For example, research conducted by IDG, for a client that sought to reach CIOs in the education sector, found that those executives value case studies earlier in the buying decision than CIOs in other industries. Using customer personas – a topic covered in the previous MarketingFit webcast – the company was able to sculpt the right content strategy without trial and error.

A good rule of thumb to use when developing new content is to focus on what causes the prospect pain, O’Regan said. “Think about the day-to-day activities of an IT decision-maker,” he advised. “What sets their hair on fire? What are the challenges they face every day?” Showing empathy helps establish trust and shortens the sales cycle.

Content Audit and Gap Analysis

Content can take many forms. O’Regan advised marketers to expand the definition beyond the usual assets like white papers, webcasts and case studies to include such elements as blog posts, instructional videos, slide presentations and even technical documentation. Many marketers are surprised at the number of tools in their arsenal, he notes. Content can even be people, so don’t forget subject matter experts who can tell your story.

Conduct a content audit to create a master record of all assets so you can decide how to leverage them. Identify topic, location, content type, keywords and date information for each and assemble the list into a master spreadsheet. Don’t forget content stored on 3rd party sites such as YouTube and SlideShare. Note the freshness of each item. Now is a good time to plan to update or remove content that’s gotten a bit stale.

To help you map content topic and type to the buying process, we have created a worksheet, which you can download from this webcast. The goal isn’t to fill every cell in the grid but to match assets to the content buyers look for at different stages of the buying process. Content partners like IDG can share research and tools that maps buyer preferences to the sales funnel.

Your audit will quickly highlight any content gaps, or stages in a persona’s buying journey for which you currently lack content in the preferred format. Gaps need not be expensive to fill. Think creatively about how you can reuse content in a different format. For example, a narrated PowerPoint presentation can become a video, a series of thematic blog posts may be combined into a thought leadership paper or a subject matter expert can be recorded delivering a video “chalk talk.”

Pay particular attention to what O’Regan called “hero assets,” or big, ambitious projects like surveys and 3rd party research reports. Hero assets can often be repurposed, excerpted and repackaged in multiple formats, such as a series of blog posts or podcasts. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” he said.

One difficult question many tech marketers ask is about what content should be kept behind a registration wall. In most cases, that decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. As a rule of thumb, content intended for the early stage of the buying process should be easy to access. Registration walls are generally more effective with low-funnel content because prospects are more invested in the decision. Don’t be afraid to ask for contact information if you think the content merits it. “IT decision-makers will register if they believe they’re going to get value,” O’Regan said.

IDG’s research supports that statement; 83% of IT decision-makers shared that they’ve registered for technology-related information in the past six months and 58% said they will register for content that helps them make more informed buying decisions.

Different stages of the purchase process require different approaches to content, and your marketing strategy must reflect that. Performing a gap analysis will allow you to consider what content and format will best resonate with decision-makers throughout their buying journey and allow you to leverage new and re-packaged content to reach decision-makers with the right content, in the right place, at the right time.

Register for the MarketingFit Content Marketing Webcast series today to gain more first-hand content marketing insights