I’ve built three SaaS content marketing programs from the ground up and discovered that coming into a new company and creating order out of content chaos is my sweet spot. I came to tech with a literature and creative writing background — so I had the storytelling part down. The marketing piece, however, I definitely had to learn along the way.
What I learned is that content marketing is an art and a science — without the passion for narrative and voice, all the analytics in the world won’t matter. And without purpose and data about your audience, it doesn’t matter how brilliantly you write. I learned, through a lot of trial and error, that you can’t just put pen to paper (or fingers to laptop) the way you would in a creative writing exercise. In order to create a successful content marketing program, you have to take a few strategic steps beforehand.
Here, the three steps you must take before launching your content marketing campaign:
Know Your Target Audience: Create Buyer Personas
Content isn’t created in a silo, and shouldn’t be created by guesswork. You’re shouldn’t be writing about what’s interesting to you but to your target audience. Here’s where that marketing piece comes in. When your content is dependent on traffic and lead gen, you need to know what your SaaS platform target market wants to read.
Chances are you’re not client-facing, so the very first step to building a content marketing program is to schedule sitdowns with the people on the frontlines — sales and customer service.
From their input, you’ll create buyer personas, or fictionalized composites of a few groups of average customers. Buyer personas are crucial; they’ll inform your content topics, tone, and media. I’ve found there’s generally 3-4 composite types.
Think about journalism: Elle Magazine has a particular demographic — 20s – 40s, female, urban, professional, some disposable income — in mind when they create their editorial calendar, so they choose different topics than, say, GQ. It’s the same in content marketing: Hubspot’s blogs caters to sales and marketing, whereas Intercom’s blog speaks more to product and design teams.
Start with sales — they’ll tell you their prospect sweet spot. They’ll tell you who’s buying, why, the anxieties and pain points they hear in every demo, and what they have in common with other buyers. Next, customer service can tell you what the pain points and successes are along the customer journey for each ‘bucket’ of customers.
The commonalities may surprise you. I’ve come in assuming that buyer personas run along specialties or verticals, but found that the commonalities are actually in the stage of business growth and their resultant anxieties, and goals.
For instance, in my current position at a growth practice platform for healthcare providers, I found it didn’t matter so much if someone was a chiropractor or allergist; the buyer personas centered around if they were just starting out, starting to expand on their offerings (e.g., a dentist offering cosmetic procedures like Botox), or trying to rebrand their practice. On top of this, some health care practices have a marketing and operations person or team — a buyer persona requiring much different content.
Once you have your notes, create fictionalized composites for each persona based on general statistics — age, sex, demographics, socioeconomic status, location (rural? urban?), practice revenue, patient base, etc. Give them a name and find a photo to represent them. It will help you, your writers, and freelancers when trying to picture their audience.
Define and Document: Create a Brand Style Guide
Just the way a brand has a logo and visual look, each brand has their own editorial voice — it’s a matter of finding/creating it, documenting it, and implementing its use company-wide, in each piece of client-facing content.
A brand’s voice must communicate the brand’s personality, promise and values and it should fit seamlessly with its look, value and product promise. In fact, it’s actually working best when it goes unnoticed. A brand’s copy should complement; if the language doesn’t ‘work’ or feels ‘off’, it’s not accurately representing the brand.
It may seem that the brand voice will naturally emerge as you write — and a brand book should be a living document to allow for those sort of changes (Google doc, website, reference guide that’s frequently updated).
But it’s actually crucial to create a style guide before — or in the early stages — of your content launch. You need a benchmark for brand voice when you scale your in-house and/or freelance content team and it’s crucial to get your organization on the same page across all public-facing content (e.g., sales enablement materials, marketing emails). A guide means that you’re not the sole brand voice, that you can get team members up to speed quickly, and that your team, including you, has a quick reference guide when they’re not sure if you use title or sentence case in email subject line.
If your organization has established brand traits, start there. But if your organization is new enough that there aren’t brand traits (not to be confused with company values), sit with the founder or CEO, product manager, creative director — anyone with insight into the product and customers — and ask them to tell you their initial dream, why they chose that aesthetic, what features they prioritize, what customers say….
Distill the core themes into traits, e.g., If the CEO started the company because he saw his single mother drowning in credit card debt, the motivation behind the organization is empowerment, gaining independence.
I’ve also found it helpful to brainstorm adjectives with the executive team until you settle on the ones that keep coming up; e.g., If you’ve brainstormed strong, powerful, robust, tough, it’s clear that strength is a brand trait.
Now, take the brand traits, and describe how to communicate them through writing tone and tactics. Use actionable examples.
For instance, before I wrote a sentence at PatientPop I checked out the brand traits doc, and started creating a brand guide from the traits we had aligned with. I had an idea of how i would write for our brand — we’re a well-funded, tech start-up in Santa Monica. We have young, enthusiastic founders, the employee base is young, and fun. Of course, I want to be conversational and hip to show that we’re fun, and we’re on the cutting edge of technology.
At the same time, our audience is physicians who own their own practice — it’s an incredibly diverse marketplace united by a desire to improve their marketing.
Here’s an example template from our own content style guide:
|We are fresh. We are a young, modern company and a fresh face on the marketplace. From our aesthetic to our writing, we represent friendliness, ease, and accessibility.
In our copy, we walk the line between being fun, but not silly, smart, but never stodgy. Our language is fresh, clean, smooth and avoids stuffy academic language. We communicate that we’re on the cutting-edge of marketing and technology, but we don’t intimidate our clients with technical or marketing jargon.
We use “we” when we speak about PatientPop (the business) and the singular “you” in our writing. We never use language like “our business” or “our esteemed customer”.
We use contractions when possible — they’re conversational and casual.
Now comes the fun part of the style guide (at least for grammar nerds like me!): Getting into the nitty gritty of grammar and spelling. Spelling and grammar mistakes are unacceptable always; but inconsistencies look bad, too. For instance, using 5 p.m., five P.M., 5:00 pm all in the same email makes a brand — therefore company — look incohesive.
Don’t get overly creative — 99.9% of the time I use AP Style Guide rules. Use a living document for spelling and grammar. That way when someone approaches you with a style decision not in the style guide — e.g., eBook vs. Ebook — make the call and immediately document it. Both are correct, but ensure everyone is using the same version.
Don’t Brainstorm Alone: Where to Find Content That Resonates
The Sales and Customer Service teams do more than teach you about your audience, they essentially fill up your content calendar. They know your clients’ anxieties and what they want to learn, whether that’s HR, billing, leadership, marketing. Your content doesn’t just need to address the problem your SaaS solution solves — use everything Sales and CS tells you to create a robust content calendar.
The Product team is another crucial content ally: Meet with the Product team to figure out the release schedule and get on top of release notes so you can include new features in your blog/newsletter as we;; as product tips (e.g., How to Use Our Newest Feature to ___ “). Stay on top of the Product’s team Trello/Jira/Basecamp to see what’s in the queue, and, of course, in close contact with our Product Managers so you never make the cardinal mistake of announcing a release that ends up delayed. (Hell has no wrath like a customer promised a new feature… that doesn’t see it in their account.)
So there it is — the roadmap to beginning a successful content marketing program. Happy writing!
by Aylin Cook
Aylin Cook made the transition from journalism to SaaS content marketing eight years ago… and never looked back. She’s currently the Sr. Content Marketing Manager at PatientPop, a rapid growth startup which created the first all-in-one practice growth platform designed for health care providers. When not directing the content initiatives, she voraciously reads, listens to podcasts, enjoys running, exploring L.A., and searching for the perfect burrito.