Content+Growth: Susan Su on Two Frameworks for Content Marketing

This is my third in a series of posts on talks I heard at the Weapons of Mass Distribution conference hosted by 500 Startups in San Francisco last week.

We’ve all been there: you write a brilliant blog post, hit publish, and expect it to go viral… only to hear crickets chirping quietly in the background. Experiences like these may prompt us to exclaim:

Our content marketing isn’t working! There’s no return on investment, no distribution! Why?!

But it’s not really surprising: there is so much content being produced. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, 1.97 million blog posts and written every day, 1 million books published each year. How can you make your voice heard amongst all this noise?

Susan Su, a venture partner at 500 Startups and head of marketing at Reforge, provided two content frameworks for building a high return on investment strategy from the ground up: content/market fit, and the customer awareness lifecycle.

Framework 1: Content/market fit

We all talk about product-market fit. But for building a successful content marketing strategy, we need to talk about content-market fit. Here are five questions to ask yourself:

1. Is there a market for your content?
2. Does it have enough reach to bank your growth on it?
3. Does it reach your audience segment
4. Is there a demand among your segment for your content type
5. Is there someone who already has the audience that you could work with?

And we’re not just talking about blog posts. “Content” can mean articles, video, podcast, books, etc. Susan gave the example of Ipsy, a beauty subscription box company. They didn’t write a single blog post, but saw massive growth through makeup tutorials on YouTube. YouTube provided a demographic fit (millenials) and genre (most video searches start with the words “how to”), and they partnered with individual YouTubers who already had the following they were going .

Framework 2: Customer Awareness Lifecycle

Trying to sell a retirement plan to a high-schooler? Good luck! It would be a tough sell, because a teenager is simply unaware of the problem your product solves. There’s a mismatch. Enter the four stages of the customer awareness lifecycle:

  1. Unaware: Once upon a time brushing teeth wasn’t a “thing”
  2. Problem Aware: Then, people became aware that lack of dental hygiene was making their teeth rot.
  3. Solution Aware: After becoming aware of the problem, people then realized that brushing their teeth would prevent the problem.
  4. Product Aware: Once people know the problem and the solution, you can then make them aware of your product. Crest toothpaste!

You’re probably talking to customers at the fourth stage, but you should actually be engaging them across the first three stages too. Educate before you sell.

Let’s face it, if you’re not providing the content that nurtures their early awareness, then one of your competitors will. Fostering that early awareness can increases the likelihood of a customer buying from you by 3x. Susan recommends following a 90/10 rule of thumb:

90% of your content should aim to nurture, 10% to convert.

Susan gave the example of AdEspresso, a Facebook Ads management tool. They spend 95% of their time and resources talking to people earlier in the lifecycle — blog posts at the unaware phase; video courses, newsletters at the problem stage; ebooks and webinars at the solution stage. And it’s paying off: they recoup their customer acquisition cost in the first month.

Recap

“Build it and they will come” is a myth. To avoid chirping crickets, you need to use the content-market fit framework to make sure that you’re both producing content that your audience wants, and have an effective distribution strategy around it. Second, you should spend more effort educating people earlier in the customer awareness lifecycle.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Tyler Tate’s story.