Awareness phase of the buyer’s journey

Content marketing: how to brand during the awareness phase

If you’re a fanatical content marketer like me, you’ve probably read thousands of pages of books on branding, devoured hundreds of branding-related blog posts and even authored a few posts and talks yourself. You’ve probably authored a few brand manuals and gone through more positioning and messaging sessions than you’d care to admit.

And I reached a point of clarity this week on an aspect of branding in particular: the ebb and flow of branding in each phase of the buyer’s journey is different and requires not only careful content creation and curation but also a keen sense of what level of branding is appropriate at each level. While everyone knows the brand experience should be coherent and consistent for the customer, what we talk about less is what that actually looks like for each phase of the buyer’s journey.

Start with the buyer persona

If you haven’t already, it’s worth it to take the time to develop your buyer personas. Every piece of content you generate should be directly targeted at one (or more) of your buyer personas, so take the time to develop them carefully.

HubSpot offers a good blog post and free template to help you create buyer personas.

Branding content in the awareness phase

Once you have your personas fleshed out, you’re ready to start creating and curating content for the first phase of the buyer’s journey, awareness. In this phase, the buyer is not only unaware of your brand but is not yet fully aware that she even has a problem. They may be browsing trade publications or searching for broad keywords on search engines.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it: this is not the time to sell your product. If the buyer doesn’t yet know they have a problem, your sales pitch will fall on deaf ears.

Let’s say our buyer is gender-neutral Sam. Sam is Director of IT for several large call centers, spends an inordinate amount of time on maintaining the system and is being asked to add 500 more seats in an unrealistically short period of time.

So Sam might be browsing favorite sites and doing keyword searches to find the latest tips and technology for scaling call center infrastructure. How can you reach Sam in this phase, and what type of content would be the most relevant?

While an entire book could be written to answer those questions, the simplest answer is topical educational materials, such as:

· analyst report on the trends in call center infrastructure

· blog post on the top mistakes people make when trying to scale rapidly

· infographic showing the resource results of a change

· ebook on the challenges facing IT today and how to overcome them

What kind of branding is appropriate for this phase? While it may be tempting to slap your logo, color palette and product on everything (because it’s awareness, right?), a lighter branding touch works best in the awareness phase. At this point, your buyer doesn’t know or care who you are. You have zero trust with them. They do know which analysts they trust, and they do know when a blog post presents solid research rather than blatant self-promotion.

Let the content speak louder than the branding

Visual branding graphics during the awareness phase should be small and relatively subtle. To build trust, you first must give awesome, relevant content that isn’t selling you or your product. In fact, you should mention your product sparingly in this phase, if at all. No selly-sell.

Instead, your content should be laser-focused on the needs of your buyer persona rather than on your messaging. Let me say that again: the customer needs come first, and your branding desires follow.

The customer needs come first, and your branding desires follow.

A great example of awareness-level content marketing with light branding is the MindBody blog, which is populated primarily with user-generated content. So not only do they have third-party brand ambassadors giving the brand credibility, they wisely keep the design-level branding to a minimum (just a logo in the upper left) to let the community content shine through.

Excellent awareness-level content marketing: focused on buyer persona’s needs with little to no branding

Your content IS your brand (so make it relevant)

At this phase, your content is your brand. The best way you can represent your brand to visitors is by giving them fantastic content that helps them with their key challenges and isn’t directly selling you or your products. The content is about them, not you. Your buyer cares only about the relevance and credibility of the content you’re providing. In this phase, a fluffy blog post with no external links, a branded photo and a call to action to buy your products will turn your potential buyer off faster than a fart in an elevator.

Avvo, a website devoted to demystifying the legal process, hosts a plethora of blog posts and how-tos for everything from how to prepare for divorce court to how to apply for American citizenship. Each blog post is a practical how-to that is also downloadable as a guide, with nary a logo in sight.

Avvo does a great job of addressing its buyer personas’ immediate needs with very little “selly sell”

The awareness phase is an excellent time to let others speak for you. An analyst report that mentions you in a favorable light is the gold standard of third-party credibility. A well-researched blog post with well-sourced links is another good bet.

Best branding practices for awareness-phase content

To recap, successful content in the awareness phase should be:

· Targeted to the needs of your buyer personas

· Educational

· Well-sourced

· Produced by a third party if at all possible

· Focused on the buyer persona’s specific needs

· Minimally branded

What are some of your favorite awareness-level content examples, good or bad?

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