Buyers are doing more research than ever during their journey, both before and after contacting someone in sales (or, in retail, going to the store).

Content marketing can build the brand of the company. And companies are finding that leads generated via inbound marketing are higher quality and more likely to close than leads generated through cold calling and many other intrusive methods.

Here are five keys to making your content marketing program more successful:

1.    Create personas

Most companies have many different kinds of buyers. Different personas have different customer journeys and need different messages and offers.

For a B2B company the definition of those personas can include a wide variety of factors including size of company, industry, department in the company, and reason for buying.

That’s not even getting into the personal and psychographic factors such as whether the individual is an influencer or a decider, career impact of the purchase, how they make decisions, and so forth. 

In a one-to-one world, you could conceivably have an infinite number of personas, and with some marketing automation software you effectively do. Some companies identify 20 or 30 personas – or more. But for creating a successful content marketing program you need to focus; your resources aren’t unlimited.

Start by working with sales on identifying the most important personas. Apply the 80:20 rule and focus first on the personas that most impact sales, then expand out over time to the less important personas.

2.  Create content to guide buyers throughout their journey

One of the most common failings of content marketing programs is that they focus too much on top-of-funnel content and not enough on content to help later-stage buyers.

Top of funnel content tends to be ungated and can include introductory materials such as webinars, Infographics, ebooks, and short whitepapers.

Lower funnel content is for people who are narrowing in on perhaps a few brands or products, are doing one-to-one comparisons and and may need to justify the purchase to senior management.

For people in an advanced buying stage the content may be gated (it’s valuable, and you want to make sure you get contact information for your sales team) and can include ROI calculators, in-depth case studies, spec sheets and demonstrations.

And don’t forget to create the content that your sales people need to close the sale. They need presentations and customizable materials that they can tailor to specific opportunities.

If you don’t create those materials for them, they’ll do it on their own. Which would you prefer?

3.  Make your content available

What if you created content and nobody saw it? That’s too often the case. The internet provides a wide range of free and paid methods to get your content in front of the right audience.

Make sure your content is keyword rich and that you apply sound SEO practices, such as high quality page titles, URLs, photo alt tags and meta data, so Google is getting as many cues as possible about what this content is about.

Socialize your content through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, etc, and use hashtags as appropriate. (The addition of appropriate hashtags on Twitter alone can get your content in from of a much, much wider audience.)

Once something is posted to a social channel, others in your company can comment, share, like and otherwise help spread it, and +1’s will help with Google presence.

Use paid media, such as text and display ads, Facebook and Twitter ads to get your content in front of people who are searching for or reading about your products. You could remarket to people who have come to your site with links to your content, too.

Syndicate your content through other sites. There are free and paid ways to do this (although, as I’ve written before for Econsultancy, there are problems with some of the paid services).

At the most advanced end of the scale you can undertake a complex multi-channel campaign so your target audience has multiple impressions and opportunities to engage with your content.

4.     Emphasize effective over creative

It’s easy to be creative. It’s a lot harder to be effective. A really funny video might get a ton of views and go viral, but is it getting in front of the people you want it to? Is it communicating important differentiators about you and your company?

Creative is great when it’s also effective — like GoPro videos and Felix Baumgartner’s space jump — but it’s not an end in itself unless, perhaps, you’re selling a creative service.

5. Use analytics

At the end of the day, be ruthless about judging your work because others will be.

And only by using analytics can you determine what worked in actually increasing your KPIs, be they views, downloads, form completes, qualified leads or ultimate sales. (In most companies marketing contribution to sales will need to be quantified if you want to keep getting funding for your content marketing.)

Perhaps the most visible recent B2C content marketing campaign was the one for Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman 2” movie that opened in December.

It was a highly creative campaign that included the Ron Burgundy character doing ads for Dodge Durango, conducting interviews on ESPN, an elaborate social media presence, a Ron Burgundy memoir, and much more.

Many in marketing gushed about the campaign, focusing on how creative and ubiquitous the campaign was, but the problem is they didn’t look at the actual results.

The campaign failed: the movie opened with a significantly smaller first weekend box office than the first “Anchorman” movie, despite ticket prices now being 25% higher. In this campaign they violated all but rule #3:

1.      They treated all people the same whether they were big fans or marginal fans of Will Ferrell and Ron Burgundy (some people, of course, wouldn’t be interested regardless of the marketing).

2.      The campaign was too much for those on the margin and their interest in seeing the character was sated by the campaign, rather than being intrigued by it. They no longer had a need to see the movie.

4.      The marketers were totally focused on being creative, and succeeded, but weren’t effective at getting butts in the seats

5.      They declared victory without looking at the actual numbers.

Don’t you make those mistakes. If you apply these five guidelines to your content marketing, you are likely to see a significant improvement in your content marketing results.